The protests in Chile are yet another example of civil unrest due to rising inequality

The widening gap between rich and poor is causing world-wide rejection of modern economic policy

Protestors have taken to the streets in the millions in Chile. Photo: Susana Hidalgo

By: Kelly Grounds, Peak Associate

It seems that the entire world is protesting right now. From Lebanon to Catalonia and Iraq to Pakistan, protests seemed to constantly erupt throughout October. One of the most prominent protests to emerge is the one currently gripping Chile. These million-person-strong demonstrations started as a result of a proposed $0.04 increase in subway fares in mid-October.

The protests are not solely about the subway fare, however. If that were the case, they would have ended when the Chilean president repealed the proposed increase soon after declaring it. While there is no unified goal laid out by the protesters so far, the root cause of the protests is clear: decades of inequality.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Chile remains the most unequal of the 30 richest countries. There are gaps in reforms within the pension plans, the public health system, and tuition system. With all of these issues colliding and being ignored for years, it becomes easier to understand why a fare increase — no matter how small — on the metro would be enough to push the country over the edge.

Considering that the protests in Chile are largely centered around the economy, it is important to understand how it got so bad. Chile’s economy is based on the model created by the Chicago Boys, a group of Chilean economic students who were sent on exchange to Chicago in the late 50s. Upon returning to Chile, the group implemented a neoliberal economic model based on what they had seen in the US. The model focused on minimizing government involvement in the economy and has remained in place since with minimal changes. 

Similarly to all of the other protests, Chile’s was born out of peoples’ frustrations over being ignored for so long by their government. For years, the people of Chile have been asking for a reform of the country’s social and political systems in order to give everyone a fair chance. The explosive nature of the protests as well as their longevity shows that leaders cannot ignore their citizens without consequences. As global inequality continues to worsen, other leaders should take note of Chile and take their own citizens’ complaints seriously. The consequences could be dire if they do not.