Skip to main content

Commercial Policy in Latin America


Last week I taught my Raúl Prebisch class, in my Latin American Economic History and Development course, dealing with Import Substitution Industrialization (an annual thing now). The classic paper in English was published in the American Economic Review of 1959. The masters' students have to read the original paper. This follows my two previous posts (here and here) on trade. A few things that are important to notice.

Prebisch clearly says that industrialization (and hence the expansion of domestic production) is an inevitable part of the process of development, something that has been often forgotten as if strategies based on services or intensive agriculture are alternatives to industrialization. We still live in industrial societies (not post-industrial ones), and industry remains the main source for productivity growth (something that was referred to as Kaldor's Second Law of development).

Second, even if there is strong growth of productivity in the primary sector, these tend to be passed to prices and benefit the consumers, mostly in developed countries, whereas at least part of the increases in productivity in the other two sectors are retained by workers in the form of higher wages. So the problem of industrialization is associated to the ability to keep in the developing countries the fruits of technological progress, and not with protectionism for the sake of domestic special interests. Further, the workers expelled from the primary sector (if productivity is to grow there) must be incorporated in the other sectors, and as a result a preoccupation with what he calls (following Lewis) 'surplus manpower' (p. 255).

Last but not least, it's worth again emphasizing on the question of protection (since Prebisch is seen often as the Devil by Free Traders*), that Prebisch (p. 259) notes clearly that: "protection by itself does not increase productivity."

* The typical attitude is I did not read it, and I did not like it. The aversion of the mainstream to Prebisch is so strong that Dani Rodrik confesses in his Prebisch Lecture (see the irony?!) that a month before he had not read any of his works. Basically he found out that Prebisch: "did not favour indiscriminate protection. He anticipated his later critics by recognizing that trade protection on its own would not lead to increased productivity in manufactures, and that it might even resuit in the opposite."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A few brief comments on Brexit and the postmortem of the European Union

Another end of the world is possible
There will be a lot of postmortems for the European Union (EU) after Brexit. Many will suggest that this was a victory against the neoliberal policies of the European Union. See, for example, the first three paragraphs of Paul Mason's column here. And it is true, large contingents of working class people, that have suffered with 'free-market' economics, voted for leaving the union. The union, rightly or wrongly, has been seen as undemocratic and responsible for the economics woes of Europe.

The problem is that while it is true that the EU leaders have been part of the problem and have pursued the neoliberal policies within the framework of the union, sometimes with treaties like the Fiscal Compact, it is far from clear that Brexit and the possible demise of the union, if the fever spreads to France, Germany and other countries with their populations demanding their own referenda, will lead to the abandonment of neoliberal policies. Aust…

A brief note on Venezuela and the turn to the right in Latin America

So besides the coup in Brazil (which was all but confirmed by the last revelations, if you had any doubts), and the electoral victory of Macri in Argentina, the crisis in Venezuela is reaching a critical level, and it would not be surprising if the Maduro administration is recalled, even though right now the referendum is not scheduled yet.

The economy in Venezuela has collapsed (GDP has fallen by about 14% or so in the last two years), inflation has accelerated (to three digit levels; 450% or so according to the IMF), there are shortages of essential goods, recurrent energy blackouts, and all of these aggravated by persistent violence. Contrary to what the press suggests, these events are not new or specific to left of center governments. Similar events occurred in the late 1980s, in the infamous Caracazo, when the fall in oil prices caused an external crisis, inflation, and food shortages, which eventually, after the announcement of a neoliberal economic package that included the i…

What is the 'Classical Dichotomy'?