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Chile: Emphasis on Social Programs
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Evolution of the Economy > The Return to Democracy, 1990 > Emphasis on Social Programs


In seeking funding for new social programs, the Aylwin government made clear immediately that the only way of increasing social spending without generating unsustainable macroeconomic pressures was by finding secure sources of government revenue. Economists associated with Alywin's CPD coalition calculated in 1989 that in order to implement their antipoverty social programs, annual funds on the order of 4 percent of GDP would be required. They argued that these resources could be obtained through a combination of expenditures, reallocation, foreign aid, and increased tax revenues. In order to implement these programs rapidly, in April 1990 President Aylwin submitted to the newly elected Congress a legislative proposal aimed at reforming the tax system. The main features of the package were the following: the corporate income-tax rate was to be increased temporarily from 10 percent to 15 percent for 1991-93; and the tax base, which in 1985 had been defined as distributed profits, was to be broadened to include total profits. The progressiveness of the personal income tax was to be increased by reducing the income level at which the maximum rate was applicable; and the rate of the value-added tax (VAT -- see Glossary) would be increased to 18 percent from 16 percent. During most of the Pinochet government, the VAT rate had been 20 percent. It was only reduced to 16 percent prior to the electoral contest before the plebiscite on Pinochet's continuation in power. After intense and often frustrating negotiations between the Aylwin administration and the opposition, the tax reform was approved in late 1990.

Pinochet's labor reforms of 1978-79 had been, from the beginning, strongly criticized by the opponents of the military regime. Although the 1979 decrees had modernized labor relations in some areas, they had also severely limited the activities of unions and, as initially conceived, had made real wage rates unusually rigid. Reforming the labor plan was an important priority of the new democratic government.

After the support of some opposition senators was obtained, a mild labor reform was passed in 1991. An important characteristic of Chile's constitution of 1980 is that it stipulates the seating of nine nonelected senators in the legislature's upper house, as well as former presidents and former justices of the Supreme Court. The CPD coalition lacked a parliamentary majority because the nonelected senators had been appointed by Pinochet. Consequently, in order to approve legislation it had to obtain support from the opposition for some measures.

The new labor legislation restricted the causes for firing employees, increased the compensation that firms had to pay to lay off employees, and restricted employers' recourse to lockouts. Although there was little doubt that these new regulations had increased the cost of labor, it was too early to know the effect of the new legislation on job creation. It was known, however, that the reform of labor laws by a democratically elected government had greatly legitimated the modernization of labor relations. In a way, the concept of labor-market flexibility had ceased to be associated exclusively with the authoritarian military regime and had become generally accepted by the population at large.

Data as of March 1994

Last Updated: March 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Chile was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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