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IN THE LAST TWO EDITIONS of the Handbook (vols. 49 and 51), I noted that the general economic literature has focused on a few basic topics in recent years. These include: 1) the debt crisis; 2) methods to ameliorate the debt problem (e.g., debt cartels, equity swaps, etc.); 3) neoconservative stabilization and liberalization programs; 4) the impact of these programs on employment, earnings, and income distribution; and 5) regional integration. While these topics continue to receive the attention of serious scholars, their quantitative dominance is not nearly as striking as in previous years.
Volumes edited by MacDonald, Hughes, and Bott (item bi 93005824) and Feinberg and Ffrench-Davis (item bi 91001171) provide competent reviews of the causes, impact, and probable future outcome of the debt problem. Methods to achieve debt relief are analyzed by Williamson (item bi 91025757), Bouzas and Ffrench-Davis (item bi 91007455), and Sachs (item bi 93005885).
Those interested in learning about adjustment and liberalization programs will want to consult two review essays in the Latin American Research Review (LARR) by Edwards (item bi 93004726) and Sheahan (item bi 90002728). Also noteworthy is the volume edited by Meller on new paradigms in development theory (item bi 91025751) and the collection of articles edited by Williamson (item bi 90005991). Surprisingly, very little has been written in the nature of a "progress report" on the recent privatization of formerly government owned enterprises. An exception is an informative article by Cardoso (item bi 93004486).
In addition to the above list of "hot topics," other subjects of interest in this biennium include: 1) the current state of regional labor markets; 2) the informal sector; 3) the agricultural sector and determinants of productivity; and 4) income distribution and related issues of social equity.
An excellent review of recent empirical studies on the region's labor markets is provided by Hojman (item bi 91006383). Other noteworthy treatments of this theme are contributions by Tokman (item bi 90010841) and Contreras (item bi 91001160). Finally, I recommend a unique and interesting work by Psacharopoulos and Tzannatos on the employment and earnings of Latin American women (item bi 93002478).
The informal sector, virtually ignored two decades ago, has attracted increasing
attention. Tokman has produced the definitive work on this topic (item bi 91001162),
along with an edited volume (item bi 92019203). Also noteworthy are monographs
by Necochea Vergara (item bi 91026001) and Gatica (item bi 91001163). Finally,
no discussion of labor would be complete without noting that the Programa Regional
de Empleo para América Latina y el Caribe (PREALC) continues to publish
and support excellent studies on the region's formal and informal labor markets.
Recent work on agriculture reflects a more solid base in theoretical and empirical analysis rather than the conjectural nature of past work. The best broad overview of the present state of regional agriculture is edited by Twomey and Helwege (item bi 91026807). Dorner provides a retrospective analysis of theoretical and practical issues related to the past land reform efforts (item bi 92006735). Especially useful are the series of articles edited by Krueger, Schiff, and Valdés concerning the impact of government-induced changes in relative prices on agriculture (item bi 91026414). Janvry and Sadoulet continue to publish excellent studies on various agricultural issues (items bi 90012901 and bi 90012430).
The nature and extent of regional poverty is well documented by Feres and León (item bi 91025138), while Cardoso and Helwege provide an excellent review of the literature and data on this subject (item bi 92013982). Rural poverty, its causes, and policies to alleviate it are described in articles by Janvry and Sadoulet (item bi 93005662) and Janvry, Sodoulet, and Young (item bi 90011356). I also found informative an ECLAC publication on policies to achieve growth with equity (item bi 92000629).
In more specific areas, I was impressed by the quality and quantity of work by Looney on the impact of and factors affecting regional military expenditures (items bi 90012566, bi 90012543, and bi 91005481). Mesa-Lago continues to produce high quality articles and books on the region's social security system (items bi 90007920 and bi 92002253), and has also contributed an impressive study of health care systems, both public and private, for the region's poor (item bi 93000861). In the area of ecology and the environment, I found particularly noteworthy a volume edited by Tulchin and Rudman (item bi 91025752) and an article by Gallopín (item bi 93004983).
Finally, a brief word about two unique works: Brand's interesting article on economic thought persuasively argues that various regional scholars were precursors of modern monetary economics (item bi 91001205), and Melvin and Ladman's article measures the impact of illicit drug trafficking on the dollarization of Latin America (item bi 92014848).