The Economies of Latin America: New Cliometric Data

By César Yáñez; Albert Carreras | Go to book overview

7
ECONOMIC MODERNIZATION IN ADVERSE
INSTITUTIONAL ENVIRONMENTS: THE CASES
OF CUBA AND CHILE

César Yáñez


Introduction

Unlike what occurred in the central zones of the Spanish Empire in America, the Cuban and Chilean economies grew and modernized from the end of the eighteenth century. The expansion rate of production oriented to export markets appears to have been a stimulus for the modernization of productive structures and institutions. From early on, fossil fuel consumption, mainly coal used in steam engines, adapted to the economic activities of Cuba and Chile. In the early nineteenth century, this was a powerful sign of the adaptation of modern technologies in peripheral economies. Cuba and Chile’s lead position in the consumption of modern energies (coal, oil and hydroelectricity) throughout the nineteenth century was also related to the existence of an elite which was capable of generating a stable political order that favoured business and promoted institutional modernization, though without losing its oligarchic character. It was probably the oligarchic character of the political order which proved to be an obstacle to the conversion of economic growth into long term economic development.


Economic Modernization on the Periphery

In recent years, the explanation for the economic backwardness of Latin America has been based on three ideas which, despite their solidity, can be revised and enriched in the light of a study of the Cuban and Chilean experience. The first of these ideas suggests that adverse institutional situations, represented by the political chaos inherited from the wars of independence, would have been an insurmountable obstacle to social, political and economic modernization. Local elites were not able to agree on a political order favourable to modern growth. The second is the affirmation that the Latin American economy stagnated between the mid-eighteenth century and the mid-nineteenth century. The region would only have awoken, triggered by opportunities brought by the first globalization

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