The Politics of Inflation and Economic Stagnation: Theoretical Approaches and International Case Studies

By Leon N. Lindberg; Charles S. Maier | Go to book overview

3
Reflecfions on the Latin American Experience

Albert O. Hinschman

It has long been obvious that the roots of inflation--whether in Western Europe, the United States, Latin America, or elsewhere--lie deep in the social and political structure in general, and in social and political conflict and conflict management in particular. The disputes among Keynesians, monetarists, and other economists about the causes of inflation deal with the modeling of inflationary processes that unfold among the various spheres and sectors of economic activity and, consequently, with the improvement of economic policymaking. But it would be difficult to find an economist who would not agree that underlying social and political forces play a decisive role in causing both inflation and the success or failure of anti-inflationary policies.1

Economic theories of inflation dominate the field not because participants in the discussion are convinced that these theories hold the crucial variables, but rather because intricate analytical structures have been developed that lend themselves to ever further elaboration, some empirical testing, and--most important--the formulation of policy advice. In contrast, much of the writing on the (undoubted) social and political roots of inflation deals with vague notions--"rising expectations," "faltering social cohesion," "governability crisis"--that are neither intellectually articulate nor politically helpful. It is possible, however, to go beyond such obvious and almost tautological assertions about the sociopolitical context of inflation. In attempting to do just that, this chapter draws on the rich experience of Latin America.

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1
Even Milton Friedman is reported to have distinguished between the "proximate" cause (excessive increase in money supply) and the "deeper" social causes, in a seminar. See Arthur Seldon, "Preface," in F. A. Hayek, Full Employment at any Price? Occasional Paper 45 ( London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1975), p. 9.

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