Skip to main content Accessibility help

Structural power in comparative political economy: perspectives from policy formulation in Latin America

  • Tasha Fairfield

Structural power is a critical variable that merits more extensive and more explicit attention in Latin American political economy and in comparative politics more broadly. Assessing structural power in conjunction with its counterpart, instrumental power, can provide strong leverage for explaining variation in policy outcomes that affect business interests. However, structural power must be carefully defined and operationalized in order to capture its core attributes and nuances. This task requires wedding the concept's “structural” underpinnings with policymakers’ perceptions and anticipated reactions. Moreover, the relationship between structural power and instrumental power must be carefully theorized. While these concepts encompass distinct channels through which business exerts influence, the two types of power may be mutually reinforcing. I argue that business interests shape policy outcomes when either their structural power or their instrumental power is strong, yet business influence will be more extensive and more consistent when structural power and instrumental power are both strong. However, electoral incentives, and more importantly, popular mobilization, can counteract business power. I illustrate these theoretical points with a case study of Chile's 2014 tax reform proposal, a major policy initiative with important distributive consequences that received international press attention.

Corresponding author
* Department of International Development, London School of Economics, London, UK, e-mail:
Hide All
Avelino, George, Brown, David, and Hunter, Wendy. 2005. “The Effects of Capital Mobility, Trade Openness, and Democracy on Social Spending in Latin America, 1980-1999.” American Journal of Political Science 49 (3): 625641.
Becerra, Martín, and Mastrini, Guillermo. 2009. Los Dueños de la Palabra. Buenos Aires: Prometeo.
Bennett, Andrew, and Checkel, Jeffrey. 2015. Process Tracing: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Block, Fred. 1977. “The Ruling Class Does Not Rule.” Socialist Revolution 33: 627.
Boas, Taylor. 2013. “Mass Media and Politics in Latin America.” In Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America, edited by Domínguez, Jorge and Shifter, Michael, 4th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Campello, Daniela. 2015. The Politics of Market Discipline in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Charman, Andrew, and Fairfield, Tasha. 2015. “Bayesian Probability: The Logic of (Political) Science.” Prepared for the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, September 3–6.
Conaghan, Catherine, and Malloy, James. 1994. Unsettling Statecraft: Democracy and Neoliberalism in the Central Andes. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Culpepper, Pepper. 2011. Quiet Politics and Business Power. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Culpepper, Pepper, and Reinke, Raphael. 2014. “Structural Power and Bank Bailouts in the United Kingdom and the United States.” Politics and Society 42 (4): 427454.
Etchemendy, Sebastián. 2011. Models of Economic Liberalization. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Fairfield, Tasha. 2010. “Business Power and Tax Reform.” Latin American Politics and Society 52 (2): 5171.
Fairfield, Tasha. 2011. “Business Power and Protest.” Studies in Comparative International Development 46: 424453.
Fairfield, Tasha. 2015. Private Wealth and Public Revenue in Latin America: Business Power and Tax Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Fairfield, Tasha, and Garay, Candelaria. 2013. “The Politics of Redistribution in Unequal Democracies: Unexpected Reforms under the Right in Chile.” American Political Science Association, Chicago, August 29-September.
Fairfield, Tasha, and Jorratt, Michel. 2015. “Top Income Shares, Business Profits, and Effective Tax Rates in Contemporary Chile.” Review of Income and Wealth, doi: 10.1111/roiw.12196.
Feldstein, Martin. 1995. “The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act.” Journal of Political Economy 103 (3): 551572.
Garay, Candelaria. Accepted for publication. Including Outsiders: Social Mobilization, Electoral Competition, and Social Policy Expansion in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Garrett, Geoffrey and Mitchell, Deborah. 2001. “Globalization, Government Spending, and Taxation in the OECD.” European Journal of Political Research 39: 145177.
Gelleny, Ronald, and McCoy, Matthew. 2001. “Globalization and Government Policy Independence: The Issue of Taxation.” Political Research Quarterly 54, 3: 509529.
Gibson, Edward. 1996. Class and Conservative Parties. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gruber, Jon, and Saez, Emmanuel. 2000. “The Elasticity of Taxable Income.” NBER working paper 7512.
Hacker, Jacob, and Pierson, Paul. 2002. “Business Power and Social Policy: Employers and the Formation of the American Welfare State.” Politics and Society 30: 277325.
Hacker, Jacob, Pierson, Paul, and Thelen, Kathleen. 2013. “Drift and Conversion: Hidden faces of Institutional Change.” American Political Science Association conference, Chicago, August 29-September 1.
Haggard, Stephan, Maxfield, Sylvia, and Schneider, Ben Ross. 1997. “Theories of Business and Business-State Relations.” In Business and the State in Developing Countries, edited by Maxfield, Sylvia and Ross, Ben. Schneider, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Handley, Antoinette. 2008. Business and the State in Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hart, Austin. 2009. “Death of the Partisan? Globalization and Taxation in South America, 1990-2006.” Comparative Political Studies 43 (3): 125.
Hirschman, Albert. 1970. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Jacobs, Lawrence, and Shapiro, Robert. 2000. Politicians Don't Pander. University of Chicago Press.
Kaplan, Stephen. 2013. Globalization and Austerity Politics in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kaufman, Robert, and Segura-Ubiergo, Alex. 2001. “Globalization, Domestic Politics, and Social Spending in Latin America.” World Politics 53 (4): 553587.
Lindblom, Charles. 1977. Politics and Markets. New York: Basic Books.
Luger, Stan. 2000. Corporate Power, American Democracy, and the Automobile Industry. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Luna, Juan Pablo. 2014. Segmented Represenstation: Political Party Strategies in Unequal Democracies. Oxford University Press.
Mahon, James. 1996. Mobile Capital and Latin American Development. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Maxfield, Sylvia. 1990. Governing Capital: International Finance and Mexican Politics. Cornell University Press.
Offe, Claus, and Wisenthal, Helmut. 1980. “Two Logics of Collective Action.” Political Power and Social Theory 1: 67115.
Piketty, Thomas, Saez, Emmanuel, and Stantcheva, Stefanie. 2011. “Taxing the 1%: Why the top tax rate could be over 80%.”
Piketty, Thomas, Saez, Emmanuel, and Stantcheva, Stefanie. 2014. “Optimal Taxation of Top Labor Incomes.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 6 (1): 230271.
Przeworski, Adam, and Wallerstein, Michael. 1988. “Structural Dependence of the State on Capital.” The American Political Science Review 82 (1): 1129.
Schneider, Ben Ross. 2013. Hierarchical Capitalism in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Shadlen, Kenneth. Accepted for publication. Global Change, National Responses: The New Politics of Pharmaceutical Patents in Latin America. Oxford University Press.
Smith, Mark. 2000. American Business and Political Power. University of Chicago Press.
Thacker, Strom. 2000. Big Business, the State, and Free Trade. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Vogel, David. 1987. “Political Science and the Study of Corporate Power: A Dissent form the New Conventional Wisdom.” British Journal of Political Science 17 (4): 385408.
Weyland, Kurt. 2007. Bounded Rationality and Policy Diffusion: Social Sector Reform in Latin America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Wibbels, Erik, and Arce, Moisés, 2003. “Globalization, Taxation, and Burden-Shifting in Latin America.” International Organization 57: 111136.
Winters, Jeffrey. 1996. Power in Motion. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Woll, Cornelia. 2014. The Power of Inaction: Bank Bailouts in Comparison. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Yagan, Danny. 2014. “The Effects of the 2003 Dividend Tax Cut.”∼yagan/DividendTax.pdf.
Ziegler, Nicholas. 1997. Governing Ideas. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Business and Politics
  • ISSN: -
  • EISSN: 1469-3569
  • URL: /core/journals/business-and-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed