The Crisis of Argentine Capitalism

By Paul H. Lewis | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FOURTEEN
Local Businessmen and Their Limitations

The failure of foreign capital to play the role assigned to it would not have mattered much if a local capitalist class had undertaken to lead the country. Instead, however, local private capital seemed content to play a relatively modest role, investing chiefly in urban real estate, commerce, and light consumer goods industries. Because Argentine entrepreneurs were willing to leave the development of basic industries to the state and to foreign capital, it was inevitable that these entrepreneurs would become increasingly marginal in the new economy. Why did Argentine industrialists, who had been the leaders of progress in the 1920s and 1930s, now settle for an inferior status? Guido Di Tella suggests that decades of excessive protection under import-substitution strategies made them too conservative. What Argentina needed in the 1960s, he argues, was a Schumpeterian entrepreneur: innovative and daring. What it got instead was a Colbertian type of businessman, inextricably linked to the state in a kind of neomercantilist arrangement. Shielded from competition and assured of making profits, Argentina's capitalists lost their entrepreneurial spirit.1

Most observers, both Argentine and foreign, had a poor opinion of the local business class. James Bruce, an American ambassador in the early 1950s, described Argentine industrialists in these terms:

Some have progressive labor and public relations ideas, but most have the same characteristics as our industrial leaders had a generation or two back. There is little public ownership of shares or accounting of profits. Porteño industrialists don't feel the public has a right to know much about their enterprises. Their social behavior and their economic and political creeds are inferior to those of similar groups in the United States, England, or prewar Germany. They make deals where they may, forget scruples when those interfere, and pile up what they can--making certain that as much as possible is invested out

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