Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 July 2008
This essay examines three recent historical approaches to the political economy of Latin America's relative economic backwardness. All three locate the origins of contemporary underdevelopment in defective colonial institutions linked to inequality. The contrasting view offered here affirms the significance of institutional constraints, but argues that they did not arise from colonial inequalities, but from the adaptation of Iberian practices to the American colonies under conditions of imperial weakness. Colonial inequality varied across the Americas; while it was not correlated with colonial economic performance, it mattered because it determined the extent of elite resistance to institutional modernisation after independence. The onset of economic growth in the mid to late nineteenth century brought economic elites to political power, but excluding majorities as inequality increased restrained the region's twentieth-century growth rates and prevented convergence.
Este ensayo examina tres enfoques históricos recientes en relación a la economía política de la relativamente atrasada economía de Latinoamérica. Los tres ubican los orígenes del actual subdesarrollo en instituciones coloniales defectuosas vinculadas a la desigualdad. La visión contrastante que se ofrece aquí señala el significado de las trabas institucionales, pero afirma que éstas no provienen de las desigualdades coloniales, sino que de la adaptación de prácticas ibéricas a las colonias americanas en condiciones de debilidad imperial. La desigualdad colonial varió a lo largo del continente y aunque no tenía correlación con el desempeño económico colonial, es importante porque determinó el grado de resistencia de las elites a la modernización institucional tras la independencia. El surgimiento de un crecimiento económico de mediados a finales del siglo XIX llevó a las elites económicas al poder político. Sin embargo, la exclusión de las mayorías mientras se incrementaba la desigualdad limitó las tasas de crecimiento de la región en el siglo XX y evitó una convergencia de proyectos.
Este ensaio examina três abordagens históricas recentes que tratam do relativo atraso da economia política da América Latina. Todas as três localizam as origens do sub-desenvolvimento contemporâneo nas instituições coloniais ligadas à desigualdade. A perspectiva contrastante fornecida aqui afirma a importância de restrições institucionais, porém argumenta que elas não surgiram à partir de desigualdades coloniais, mas da adaptação de práticas ibéricas às colônias americanas sob condições de fraqueza imperial. A desigualdade colonial variou pelas américas; mesmo ela não sendo correlacionada ao desempenho econômico colonial, isso foi importante, pois determinava a extensão da resistência das elites à modernização instituicional após a independência. O início do crescimento econômico do meio ao fim do século XIX levou as elites ao poder político, contudo a exclusão das maiorias à medida que a desigualdade aumentava restringiu as taxas de crescimento da região no século XX, impedindo a convergência dos projetos.
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18 Stanley L. Engerman and Kenneth L. Sokoloff, ‘Factor Endowments, Institutions, and Differential Paths of Growth Among New World Economies: A View from Economic Historians of the United States’, in Stephen Haber (ed.), How Latin America Fell Behind: Essays on the Economic History of Brazil and Mexico, 1800–1914 (Stanford 1997), pp. 260–304.
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21 Engerman and Sokoloff, ‘Factor Endowments’, p. 275.
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30 It is a separate question whether Latin America could have succeeded by working to increase the exports that Europe was demanding. Argentina did well doing so despite (or because of) weak government.
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32 These authors argue that ‘mercantilist’ institutions in the colonies, such as merchant guilds (consulados), the lack of competition in the Peruvian mining industry, and public monopolies in Ecuadorian wool production inhibited capitalist development, even after the Bourbon reforms began to open up colonial economies from the 1760s. Neither in these cases nor in others that the authors cite, however, was productivity blocked by lack of market competition. External trade increased after the Bourbon ‘free trade’ decrees opened participation to merchants and traders who were not consulado members (though cause and effect is not so easy to prove as simultaneity); the Peruvian mining industry collapsed not because of excessive competition but because ore quality declined and the smelters ran out of tailings to process; and woollen production collapsed in many areas because fully taxed English cottons imported legally via Cadiz in ships sailing under the Spanish flag were cheaper and better.
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