Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap between Latin America and the United States

Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap between Latin America and the United States

Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap between Latin America and the United States

Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap between Latin America and the United States


In 1700, Latin America and British North America were roughly equal in economic terms. Yet over the next three centuries, the United States gradually pulled away from Latin America, and today the gap between the two is huge. Why did this happen? Was it culture? Geography? Economic policies? Natural resources? Differences in political development? The question has occupied scholars for decades, and the debate remains a hot one.

In Falling Behind, Francis Fukuyama gathers together some of the world's leading scholars on the subject to explain the nature of the gap and how it came to be. Tracing the histories of development over the past four hundred years and focusing in particular on the policies of the last fifty years, the contributors conclude that while many factors are important, economic policies and political systems are at the root of the divide. While the gap is deeply rooted in history, there have been times when it closed a bit as a consequence of policies chosen in places ranging from Chile to Argentina. Bringing to light these policy success stories, Fukuyama and the contributors offer a way forward for Latin American nations and improve their prospects for economic growth and stable political development.

Given that so many attribute the gap to either vast cultural differences or the consequences of U.S. economic domination, Falling Behind is sure to stir debate. And, given the pressing importance of the subject in light of economic globalization and the immigration debate, its expansive, in-depth portrait of the hemisphere's development will be a welcome intervention in the conversation.


Literature tends to precede history and politics, to condense them, reveal them. Zavalita’s phrase in Mario Vargas Llosa’s famous novel, “At what precise moment had Peru fucked itself up?” has become the painful epigraph of life in Latin America. By asking “when,” Vargas Llosa was also asking how much, how, for what purpose, due to whom, and why. The question searched for an explanation and, secretly, a light, an exit. The character lived in a feeble country, one that does exist. He lived in a country that took the wrong path, lost opportunities, lived on dreams, tolerated sharp inequalities, tore its social fabric, and suffered many times under tyranny. However, he also lived in a country that held then, and holds now, an invaluable historical, artistic, and cultural treasure: its indigenous roots, those “subterranean rivers” to which José María Arguedas referred, and that miracle of mestizo convergence (communion) between the indigenous and the Spanish that is the unique essence of “The Inca,” Garcilaso de la Vega.

Then came the tumultuous but promising nineteenth century, with its poorly digested if authentic liberalisms and positivisms, followed by an inexhaustible flow of isms in the twentieth century, some noble (like those of José Carlos Mariátegui) and some abominable (like Sendero Luminoso’s Maoism). Peru was and is a land emblematic of an unresolved and perhaps insoluble tension between the deep presence of the past and the urgency of the inevitable future, a mythical paradise yet also an inferno for the conquistadores, a crucible and Babel of ethnicities and religions.

Zavalita’s celebrated phrase reached far and wide, as Vargas Llosa’s mention of Peru referred not only to Peru; his readers in every corner . . .

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