This post is also available in: Spanish
CIEPLAN, one of Chile’s (and Latin America’s) leading think tanks, celebrated its 40th anniversary on November 7th in Santiago. The event, which attracted nearly 100 participants, featured presentations on CIEPLAN’s history and contributions to social and economic policy by Minister of Finance Rodrigo Valdés, Senator Ignacio Walker, and CIEPLAN’s President Alejandro Foxley. Four Dialogue members–Foxley, Sergio Bitar, Enrique Iglesias and José Octavio Bordón–were on hand, along with non-resident fellow Genaro Arriagada and many leading Chilean political and academic leaders. During his speech, Foxley thanked former Dialogue co-chair Peter Bell, former president Peter Hakim and former vice president Jeffrey Puryear for their support over the years. CIEPLAN distributed two edited volumes of writings and testimonials by current and former staff and collaborators, along with a Spanish version of Puryear’s book on intellectuals and democracy in Chile. As part of the celebration, CIEPLAN organized a second event on November 14th, featuring three former Dialogue co-chairs–Foxley, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ricardo Lagos–discussing the challenges facing Latin America in the 21st century.
CIEPLAN’s contributions over four decades have been impressive. Part of the story is sheer numbers: CIEPLAN has published hundreds of books and articles, and organized innumerable seminars and conferences, providing a steady supply of ideas, analysis, commentary and recommendations. It has produced fifteen ministers, including five ministers of finance. CIEPLANistas have served on the board of Chile’s Central Bank for 24 straight years. Many have served in the Congress, the Senate or in other high governmental positions. Few think tanks have produced so much for so long.
Another part of the story is quality: CIEPLAN’s work has been consistently first-rate, rivaling that of think tanks elsewhere in Latin America, and in Europe and the United States. It has regularly attracted talented and well-trained staff. It has combined high standards and a collegial atmosphere with a robust tradition of internal criticism and debate. It has addressed topics as diverse as macroeconomics, poverty alleviation, international trade, democracy, innovation and the middle-income trap. CIEPLAN played a key role in devising a successful economic policy for the democratic regime that replaced the military dictatorship in 1990, and has influenced economic policy from within and without the government ever since.
Perhaps most distinctively, CIEPLAN has been a leading advocate of political negotiation and compromise. It has tended to reject grand schemes in favor of understanding the concerns of diverse sectors and finding ways to address them. It has disavowed populism and radical change in favor of gradualism and sustainability. It has warned against simple solutions and shortcuts, and favored bottom-up over top-down approaches. Its emphasis on consensus politics, and step-by-step style, have occasionally led critics to brand it as conservative. But CIEPLAN argues that reaching agreements among key groups, and recognizing that there is no single best solution to problems is most likely to pay off over the long term. Sounding almost Hirschmanian, Foxley argued in his anniversary remarks that “short, easy and fast solutions are the only ones that are not sustainable over time” and that “…the road to reaching a solution is as important as the solution.”
CIEPLAN’s diverse and substantial impact on national affairs over four decades demonstrates the important roles that talented intellectuals (or at least social scientists) can play in modern societies–even though it is hard to specify in advance just what those roles will be. CIEPLAN’s experience bolsters the argument that intellectuals should be seen as a kind of strategic infrastructure, like good roads, electrical grids and the internet, that need to be put into place and maintained, so that they are on hand and ready when the need arises.