The Economies of Latin America: New Cliometric Data

By César Yáñez; Albert Carreras | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION: LATIN AMERICAN
ECONOMIC BACKWARDNESS REVISITED

César Yáñez and Albert Carreras


Introduction

Prior research into Latin American economic growth was undertaken mainly by Luis Bértola and José Antonio Ocampo,1 using Angus Maddison’s GDP per capita data in the OECD data base.2 These authors focused primarily on the estimation of periods of convergence and divergence in relation to the leader countries. Our book revisits the subject, making use of the same data, but focusing on the magnitude of economic backwardness in order to highlight the degree of difficulty Latin American countries face when attempting to move beyond their current level of development. This research does not aim to question the value of the convergence criterion. On the contrary, it values the accumulation of historiographical knowledge and looks carefully at Maddison’s research data. It is surprising to note that in 2008 Haiti’s GDP per capita was US$686 at purchasing power parity (PPP), which is less than that estimated for all the countries in that region for 1820 (US$691 at PPP). This is not too different from Leandro Prados de la Escosura’s3 proposal of US$649 for the same year. This would indicate that the poorest part of Latin America (represented by Haiti) has the same level of wealth as Latin American countries had at the time of independence, roughly 200 years ago. Among the leader economies, the United Kingdom had a similar figure of US$761 at PPP in 1500, five centuries ago. Haiti however, is most certainly not representative of the whole of Latin America. Maddison’s Latin American average for 2008 is US$6,973 at PPP – ten times greater than that of the region in 1820. This figure is nonetheless worrying, since the United States had reached this level in 1929 and the United Kingdom in 1950. Economic backwardness has, however, only increased over time with the Latin American GDP of 1820 at half that of the US, in 1913 at one-third, and in 2000 at one-fifth.

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