Extracting identity : universal social policy in post-neoliberal Bolivia



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Examinations of social policy often focus on their economic and social outcomes without much concern for their political dimensions. Since Evo Morales assumed the presidency of Bolivia in 2006, the Andean country has emerged as a powerful example of how social policy can be leveraged for political purposes beyond clientelism. The government's famous nationalization of natural gas resources along with a hefty hydrocarbon tax funded two major social programs: the Bono Juancito Pinto, an education conditional cash transfer, and Renta Dignidad, a universal old-age pension. Evidence from surveys, key informant interviews, reports, and official documents demonstrated that Bolivia's universal social policy was motivated by more than the goal of efficiently addressing the country's chronic social inequality. The Morales administration's implementation of these programs was a conscious decision to leverage windfall resource rents to build greater national solidarity and advance the MAS' political project to refound the country. Through a universalist approach to social policy, the MAS government has consolidated political hegemony, strengthened national solidarity, and secured the support of the armed forces. This political strategy, however, rests on shaky ground. The rentier model the government depends on to fund universal social policy fuels social conflicts that could destabilize the MAS' recently won hegemony and its attempts at nation building. Bolivia's experience with universal cash transfers lays the foundation for future study of social policy and nation building in the developing world; it is also important to examine how funding sources impact the efficacy of these programs. Considering cash transfers' exploding popularity and dissemination across the world in the last decade, this thesis calls for the more nuanced study of these programs in their political dimensions.