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Demonstrators stand near a large inflatable doll depicting former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva during his corruption trial. Photo: Denis Ferreira Netto / AP.

In Latin America, where inequality has been falling for a decade, the growing middle class is facing a crisis of expectations, as wealthier citizens now expect better roads, schools, hospitals and law enforcement. Only 15% of people in the region approve of their political parties, and barely a third think their governments are doing a good job, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Four of the region's largest economies – Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico – will pick new leaders in the next year, and anti-establishment candidates are increasingly competitive in all of those races. This is the most unpredictable electoral cycle since the region's transition to democracy three decades ago.

  • Pervasive graft is one key problem, as it depletes the resources needed to build infrastructure, and it makes it harder to contain spiraling crime and violence. It's no coincidence that corruption scandals have erupted across the region, rocking the public's faith in current leaders and opening the way for candidates from outside the political mainstream.
  • Another problem is that the recent economic boom years are over – meaning governments have to make do with less, precisely as their people have come to expect more. That's not an easy circle to square even in the best of times, but plummeting faith in government institutions makes it that much harder.

Look for this trend next in Asia, where hundreds of millions of people joined the middle class in over the past decade. How will their expectations shape the region's democracies? More to the point, how will they shape the region's autocracies? (Looking at the dragon in the room here, yes.)

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Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."

Justice Department drops insider trading inquiry against Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) walking through the Senate Subway in the U.S. Capitol in December 2020. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The Department of Justice told Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Tuesday that it will not move forward with insider trading charges against him.

Why it matters: The decision, first reported by the New York Times, effectively ends the DOJ's investigation into the senator's stock sell-off that occurred after multiple lawmakers were briefed about the coronavirus' potential economic toll. Burr subsequently stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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