Is Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) still possible?

For a very long time Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) was seen as a four-letter word. The notion was that ISI had led to extensive inefficiencies and that the debt crisis of the 1980s was its last breath. The old ideas about comparative advantage were back with a vengeance, and the prescription was for trade liberalization, encapsulated in the Washington Consensus. Export orientation was promoted, since it was widely believed that an emphasis on exports would force integration into world markets, more efficient allocation of resources, and that external markets would impose discipline by eliminating uncompetitive firms.

The problem with the conventional wisdom is that the ISI period corresponds to a high growth phase for most developing countries, one in which they caught up with the developed world despite the fast growth in the latter, which would not have been possible if ISI-driven growth did produce tremendous inefficiencies on an economy wide scale.

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