The Economies of Latin America: New Cliometric Data

By César Yáñez; Albert Carreras | Go to book overview

PREFACE

César Yáñez and Albert Carreras

One decade into the twenty-first century, and thirty years since the worst economic crisis in Latin America (the debt crisis of the 1980s – ‘the lost decade’), it is time to have another look at the economic history of Latin America and the Caribbean from a long-term perspective. We firmly believe that many of the ideas used to study Latin American backwardness, are twentieth-century rather than twenty-first-century ideas. In this sense, Latin American economic historiography has been marked by a period of pessimism about Latin America’s chances of overcoming economic backwardness. The tendency to take a shortterm perspective or to focus only on a few national cases has meant that research has been heavily influenced by debates centring on the failure of industrialization, the political cost of the military dictatorships, the social and economic impact of the ‘lost decade’ and the limitations of the subsequent recovery. The poor performance of Latin American economies in recent times has also influenced those who study the earlier stages, which helps to understand the success of a book entitled ‘How Latin America Fell Behind’ published in 1997.

This backwardness is apparent in the widening gap between GDP per inhabitant in Latin America and the Caribbean and that of wealthy countries. The ideas most frequently used in an attempt to explain Latin American backwardness point to institutional reasons, on the one hand, and the theory of ‘the curse of natural resources’, on the other, or to both simultaneously. These ideas share a certain sense of doom with regards Latin America’s economic prospects: institutions inherited from centuries of colonization whose modernization is slow and barely noticeable gave way to ‘macroeconomics of populism’ (to quote another influential title in Latin America) from which these countries have not been able to break free; or the abundance of natural resources distributed arbitrarily around the New Continent meant those countries attempting to move towards development by exporting their most prolific factor were at the mercy of this ‘lottery’. And in the event that the Latin American country is a coffee exporter, exporter of mining resources, or of wheat, maize or sugar, and has had recurrent

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