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Translated by Marta Ines Merajver. It analyzes the literature by dividing it in accordance with two different approaches: one that assumed that economic performance was conditioned by structural factors, and another that attributes it to decisions on economic policies and conjunctural circumstances.

Regarding the firts approach, it highlights the importance of colonial legacies, the asymmetry of international relations, problems related to the formation of capital, and the flaws of the entrepreneurial class that led the industrialization process. The last part of the study intends to underscore the role played in this process by the distance separating initial levels of development aided by natural resources and the levels of societal general development, chiefly in relation to the available human capital and to the quality of the institutions involved.

They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind. James Joyce: Ulysses , p. Could Argentina have escaped its fate of economic stagnation and relative backwardness in the 20 th Century? If we go by the perhaps more reasonable Australian rates 1.

In either case, it could be affirmed that Argentina would have been an altogether different country from the one it actually is. Its political system might be more stable, nationalism and populism might be more moderate in the social imaginary, the political range might be more temperate, and there might be lower levels of social exclusion.

Why Argentina evolved as it did is a classic question in the general history of economics, and not just in the history of Argentina. Practically every scholar who has broached our 20 th Century economic history have opened the discussion at this point, and many of the best-reputed economic historians or economists have occasionally contributed their reflections on the subject.

This paper intends to cast a historiographic and analytical look at the problem. Naturally, as has already been stated, the very size of the issue prevents me from expounding, in a few pages, the countless ideas and arguments formulated on the matter. Thus, the first section of this study will deal with a selected number of the analytical nucleuses of the problem in order to illustrate the approaches it has induced. It is my purpose to analyze the hypotheses proposed in terms of the conceptual systems from which they derive.

Some of the notions chosen rank among the most classic and influential ones, while others, perhaps less known, will serve to illustrate some of the aspects that I would like to underscore. There is particular emphasis on the type of explanation that different authors have suggested as a reason for the "Argentinean failure", especially when they have discussed whether it was due to structural factors or to particular historical processes.

The natural outcome of such theories is a question about the part played by economic policies in determining the course of events, together with the extent to which such policies conditioned structural features. There are also considerations about the relation between explanations that are solely grounded on the economy and others that stress political and institutional factors or other, wider, aspects of social development.

On the basis of historiographic analysis, Section Two posits some hypotheses for the interpretation of the phenomena. These hypotheses stem from a comprehensive perspective of such factors as affect economic growth.

Was the future of Argentina written into the very essence of things? As we shall see, the question admits of more than one answer, and the possible answers have complex edges. In principle, one could think that a Neo-classic standpoint 3 would necessarily favor the second choice, while dependentist or structuralist theories will predictably tend to lay emphasis on determinants that go beyond conjunctural decisions. However, the outlook is not that simple.

Structural explanations display numerous nuances, and there also those that appeal to classic or neo-classic analytical matrixes. In our common sense there prevails consensus about the fact that economic failure results from bad policies, often imposed from outside and embraced by a corrupt, opportunistic political class. Thus, curiously enough, theoretical or ideological lines of thought not always are relevant divides for interpretation models.

We shall also see that explanations inspired in neo-classic ideas run close to others whose sources lie in very different conceptual models. At times, viewpoints stemming from the "right" coincide with others from the "left" in more aspects than they would be happy to acknowledge. Because of the above reasons, I believe that a good way to approach the various views is to attempt a definition of some of the general models that constitute their guidelines.

Still, it is also true that there is great variation in the manners in which they combine. On the other hand, explanations about the past of Argentina do not always opt for either deterministic or historical notions. They often match hypotheses of different origins: some are of a more rigid nature, others depend on random variables.

It is quite probable that this study schematizes viewpoints hinging on this alternative. There is no intention to caricaturize arguments, but just to order conceptual tools. Perhaps the most frequent vision of the Argentinean failure in the 20 th Century is the one that associates it with a past legacy that the country cannot overcome.

Many variants have been devised around this notion but, on the whole, they tend to place the origin of our evils in a legacy that almost invariably dates back to the colonial era.

Thus, it is remarkably consistent with one of the most frequent prognoses formulated by those who spread the idea before the great expansion that occurred in the late 19 th Century. However, there are other conceptual traditions that promote this connection with the past. Perhaps the most classic of these approaches is inspired by a vague functionalist sociology that relates backwardness to a pre-modern social order. Its most salient political features are supposed to lie in authoritarianism and caudillismo I , added to the survival of an oligarchic elite rooted in the concentration of land 4.

This notion, generally prompted by "progressivism", suggests that the elite held power for so long that it thwarted the initiative of the economic change potentially brought to the country by the new immigrant class. One particular yet notable aspect of this dynamics might be the difficulty to develop an industrial base. In more general terms, development requires an open society that may stimulate individual progress, which is said by some to have been inhibited by the Spanish tradition.

Dominance by an aristocratic, traditionalist elite, and the ensuing authoritarian populism engendered by it are thought to be insurmountable obstacles for the type of progress whose nature is intrinsically democratic. Based on arguments that are less dependent on functionalism, ideas akin to these have been commonly found in vernacular readings of our past. Their most simplistic expression is the one that reduces Argentinean history to a confrontation between the "people" and "oligarchy", a most useful resource to justify populist policies.

According to this view, the "oligarchy" hinders development in order to preserve its own dominance and privileges. But even manicheistic explanations presuppose that the weight of the oligarchic political legacy and the distribution of the land have constituted insurmountable obstacles to Argentinean growth.

This line of interpretation presents formidable problems. From an empirical standpoint, the pattern followed by the Argentinean State and economy prior to the Great War has been heavily brough into question by historical research in the past twenty years. Even if we leave these arguments aside, the assumption that development is associated to democratic contexts is indeed exceedingly questionable. It is not only the Asiatic countries that have succeeded in overcoming their economic backwardness within heavily authoritarian contexts.

The history of economics is teeming with examples that prove that there is not one single model to shape the relation between the political system, manners of authority, and economic growth. If Jeffersonian social democracy led the way toward growth in the U. Chile, a closer neighbor of Argentina, seems to be currently undergoing a somewhat similar experience. Nor can we think of an Anglo-Saxon model, since the social order that gave rise to British capitalism was very different from the one that furthered its development in the colonies overseas.

As we shall see, a question has been raised about the extent to which early social and political modernization may have obstructed the potentialities of an effective development model under an authoritarian regime.

One element that keeps coming up in this argument is the one referred to "mentalities". In the Anglo-Saxon world, a classic yet dated notion associated economic growth with "individualism" 6. And even though the notion of British particularism finds it difficult to hold its ground in our times, once and again the factor of local "customs and manners" raises its head among the elements that compose the explanation: backwardness results from a mentality that is disinclined to accept progress.

However, as anyone can see, this part of the argument is as vulnerable to objections as are the ones already formulated against other posits of the same theory. Or perhaps it should be assumed that immigrants, far from the modernizing role ascribed to them by Alberdi and Germani, did not affect the prevailing mentality. At any rate, any hypothesis that relates backwardness to a mentality typical of Southern Europe is hardly defensible as soon as one realizes that the per capita Italian GDP is similar to the British, and that the Spanish one is close on their heels.

The weight of institutions. According to this notion, the roots of backwardness should be sought in the wrong definition of property rights, which increase transaction costs. In a recent text, Jeremy Adelman, who has cultivated a variegated institutionalist interpretation of the Argentinean past 8 , has taken up the idea of the Latin American "colonial legacy" as the origin of an institutional system that has hampered economic growth 9.

Adelman makes a conscious effort to avoid determinist positions and to understand institutions as something else than a mere colonial legacy, for "institutional rules were the outcome of deep conflict" II Republic , p. This is how he highlights one of the typical problems posed by the institutionalist model.

If institutions determine growth, what causes institutional development? In due agreement with his model, ideology plays a significant part in the transmission of the legacy Other institutionalist approaches seek to reject cultural-and-determinist aspects involved in the theory of the colonial legacy.

Adelman calls it "the culture as destiny crowd" II , Colonial , p. This calls for a definition of property rights that does not go down well with modern capitalist development and here we approach once more the issue of the colonial legacy.

Nevertheless, the interesting thing about this hypothesis is that it resorts to a well-known model in Latin-American specialized literature: while the small-scale grain agriculture favors social democracy, the big tropical plantation gives rise to systems with greater concentration of property and power, not really suitable for growth. The same notion had been held by supporters of the staple theory 13 , with just a shade of difference: they laid greater emphasis on the different links of both systems and paid less attention to their institutional effects This is what Engerman and Socoloff try to work out briefly by means of ad hoc hypotheses intended for the preservation of their model Again, this is due to a problem that will have to be taken up further on.

Mercantilism does not constitute a legacy solely inherited by Iberian America. As North himself remembers, it took Europe a long process to abandon it. The question is: if institutional change is at the root of economic growth, what is the explanation for institutional changes? As we have seen from Adelman, many supporters of neo-institutionalist explanations are well aware that this is a problematic point in the theory. Still, in the concrete case posed by Argentina, a new problem arises.

Which were the institutions that enabled Argentina to grow until it had reached a privileged position within world economy and that then sank it back into underdevelopment?

In order to attempt an answer to this question, even within an institutionalist framework, it will be necessary to seek for nuances in the explanations that account for processes of institutional change. Still, we should examine other, more structurally based theses before proceeding to explore analyses of the accidental, short-lived span of politics.

A classic determinist explanation for the Argentinean failure associates backwardness and relative growth with foreign dependence. Here also we could find a number of variants. Let us not go deeper into this more than debatable interpretation of unequal interchange, with its characteristic implications of a distortion of relative prices in the international market that would be very difficult to correlate with the empirical information available.

At this point, the influence exercised by the prognosis made by CEPAL Economic Commission for Latin America acquires more visibility, as it predicted that the tendency toward deterioration of interchange terms for primary producer countries was marked by a structural, long term nature, and that a favorable turn of the tendency was not to be expected. External vulnerability becomes more evident because it can also be noticed in the investment sphere. Fluctuations in international capital availability point to the pace of domestic accumulation.

One variant of this thought states that excessive dependence on the British market brought about the ensuing fall


Economics in the Long View




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