Chile: Lessons from Land of 15% Growth

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Economics: As the U.S. languishes, Chile posted a head-turning 15.2% yearly gain in GDP in March, and forecasts for the year are rising. Why can't we do that here?

A year ago, Chile lay in rubble, victim of the world's fifth most powerful earthquake. So Chile's 15.2% growth is a big bounce from a bad setback.

But it shouldn't be dismissed as an anomaly. It's a showy number, but not the only one.

The same day Chile released its data, Goldman Sachs raised its 2011 growth forecast for the country to 6.4% from 6%. In its annual regional business index, Latin Business Chronicle ranked Chile as having the best business climate in Latin America in 2011.

Such numbers are so alien to the U.S. in the economically debilitated Obama era, it makes sense to look at what Chile has done.

First, Chile's policies for long-term growth were put into effect in the 1980s by the group of Milton Friedman-inspired economists known as the Chicago Boys.

Under them, Chile's pension privatization cost nothing and left the country with no net debt. The private funds now hold assets worth 90% of GNP ($185 billion) - capital used to develop the country. Already, Chile's education and infrastructure are the best in Latin America as a result.

Second, there's free trade, of which Chile is a global champion, signing at least 58 treaties to gain access to 2 billion customers.

Subscribe to the IBD Editorials Podcast That's a big reason Chile is close to full employment and is scrambling to attract growth-hungry U.S. entrepreneurs - and getting them.

Chile's president, Sebastian Pinera, repeatedly emphasizes the need to focus on productivity as his nation's wealth grows.

So Chile's found ways to do more, "like the A student who finds a way to rise even higher," as Latin Business Chronicle Executive Editor Joachim Bamrud told IBD.

Bamrud says Chile has been turning heads with investors the past year and a half because of its emphasis on improving its corporate environment, its tax regime and its economic freedom, all of which rate highly.

"Chile has always been held out as a model for Latin America, but the reality is ... it's now a model for the U.S.," he said.

Corporate taxes are the second lowest in Latin America at 18%, behind Paraguay's 10%. The Latin average is 28%.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs' chief economist for Latin America, Alberto Ramos, says Chile has wisely fostered growth by reducing the size of government and not printing too much money.

In 2011, it cut government spending to 5% of GDP, or $700 million, more than its projected 5.5%. So GDP has room to grow 6.4%, rather than 6% as first estimated.

Those lessons could be duplicated here with the ideas found in the Ryan budget, the Tea Party's policy ideas or even from the Chamber of Commerce.

Chile shows that they lead to phenomenal results. The remaining question: Why can't the U.S. do the same here?


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