Is Geography Destiny? Lessons from Latin America

Is Geography Destiny? Lessons from Latin America

Is Geography Destiny? Lessons from Latin America

Is Geography Destiny? Lessons from Latin America

Synopsis

This publication challenges the premise that geographical influences need not be taken into account in economic development issues. It argues that, based on a better understanding of geography, public policy can help control or channel its influence toward the goals of economic and social development and poverty reduction. Using both an international perspective and a case study approach for individual countries, the book examines geographical factors, such as land productivity, the presence of endemic diseases, natural disaster frequency and market access, in order to explore development inequalities between and within Latin American countries. It also considers policy options for overcoming the limitations of geography for the region.

Excerpt

Sometimes the most candid questions are the most interesting. Why are some countries poorer than others? Why do some countries in Latin America fail to grow at a satisfactory pace even when they have followed all the suggestions prescribed by economists? Why are inequalities greater in Latin American societies than in other developing regions?

Although the Research Department of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is made up of economists, we recognized that answering such questions involves entering into terrain beyond economics. By 1998, we were already studying the influence of demographic factors and had launched some studies on the effects of political institutions on the quality of Latin American governments. But data and intuition were telling us that something was still missing. Inspired by the works of such noted authors as those cited in the introduction to this book, we began a series of studies on the influence of geography on Latin American development. Since the capabilities of the Research Department in this area were limited, those in charge of the project (Eduardo Lora and Alejandro Gaviria) decided to link up with John Luke Gallup, then a researcher at the Center for International Development at Harvard University. He was already working on the issue of geography with Jeffrey Sachs. We also decided to contract some exploratory studies in several countries under the auspices of the IDB’s Latin American Research Network. the idb created this network in 1991 to strengthen policy formulation and contribute to the development policy agenda in Latin America. Through a competitive bidding process, the network provided grant funding for nine case studies based on an open research agenda, so that each team could best utilize the information available in the country and explore different angles of research. It was a risky strategy, but one that ultimately proved . . .

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