After several years of abuse by the Sandinista regime of President Danny Ortega, it looks like surprise pension reform is the straw that broke the Nicaraguan’s backs. Yet even with “broken backs,” Nicaraguans are standing up to Ortega. Protesters have filled the streets and faced tear gas, rubber bullets and violent police as they demonstrate their disgust for his administration.
Maybe it’s not as surprising as it seems. Most of Ortega’s previous abuses were abstract — fiddling with underlying rules of the game, stacking the deck in his favor, stealing from small numbers of citizens who could not effectively oppose him. But pension reform is one of those issues that affect everyone intimately…
Pensions everywhere are politically tricky. (It’s no coincidence that experts on Washington often refer to Social Security reform as the “third rail of American politics.”) It’s not that you can’t reform pensions; it’s that you can’t reform them unless you have the people on your side. You need their confidence. They have to believe that the government has their best interests at heart as it ventures to transform something so essential to their lives. In other words, you need legitimacy.
For more, read this interesting argument by Francisco Toro and Francesca Bosworth appearing the Washington Post.