That is what has been happening in Latin America for a decade. The latest political leader to underline the trend is the radical economist Rafael Correa, re-elected as president of Ecuador at the weekend with an increased 57% share of the vote, while Correa's party won an outright majority in parliament.
But Ecuador is now part of a well-established pattern. Last October the much reviled but hugely popular Hugo Chávez, who returned home on Monday after two months of cancer treatment in Cuba, was re-elected president of Venezuela with 55% of the vote after 14 years in power in a ballot far more fraud-proof than those in Britain or the US. That followed the re-election of Bolivia's Evo Morales, Latin America's first indigenous president, in 2009; the election of Lula's nominated successor Dilma Rousseff in Brazil in 2010; and of Cristina Fernandez in Argentina in 2011.
Despite their differences, it's not hard to see why. Latin America was the first to experience the disastrous impact of neoliberal dogma and the first to revolt against it. Correa was originally elected in the wake of an economic collapse so devastating that one in 10 left the country. Since then his "citizen's revolution" has cut poverty by nearly a third and extreme poverty by 45%. Unemployment has been slashed, while social security, free health and education have been rapidly expanded – including free higher education, now a constitutional right – while outsourcing has been outlawed.
And that has been achieved not only by using Ecuador's limited oil wealth to benefit the majority, but by making corporations and the well-off pay their taxes (receipts have almost tripled in six years), raising public investment to 15% of national income, extending public ownership, tough renegotiation of oil contracts and re-regulating the banking system to support development.
Many of the things, in fact, that conventional "free market" orthodoxy insists will lead to ruin, but have instead delivered rapid growth and social progress. Correa's government has also closed the US military base at Manta (he'd reconsider, he said, if the US "let us put a military base in Miami"), expanded gay, disability and indigenous rights and adopted some of the most radical environmental policies in the world. Those include the Yasuni initiative, under which Ecuador waives its right to exploit oil in a uniquely biodiverse part of the Amazon in return for international contributions to renewable energy projects.