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Volume 55 / Social Sciences

ECONOMICS: GENERAL


JAMES W. FOLEY, Associate Dean, School of Business, University of Miami, Coral Gables


IT IS NOT SURPRISING THAT THE DEBT ISSUE and subsequent economic reforms continue to attract the attention of economists interested in Latin America. But, while these topics continue to dominate the literature, in recent years we have seen a significant change in the focus of inquiry. Earlier literature on the debt was concerned with its causes and immediate impact on growth. These subjects now seem to have been exhaustively documented, and, accordingly, Latin American specialists have shifted their attention to evaluating the timing, sequencing, and results of neoconservative policy reforms and market liberalization programs and the macroeconomic impact of these policies on income distribution, employment, and growth.

Within this broad classification, I particularly liked volumes edited by Gustafson, (item bi 94009021) Ros (item bi 94008813), and Williamson (item bi 93025233). The latter is of particular interest since it analyzes the "political ingredients" of successful reform, a subject that is all too often ignored by theoretical economists. I also liked a neostructuralist critique of recent policy reform by Ramírez (item bi 93020035).

Within the area of income distribution, I was impressed with an extensive work done by ECLAC which documents the extent of poverty and indigence in the region (item bi 93020061), as well as a short article by Berry on "Distribution of Income and Poverty in Latin America" which describes changes in income distribution for individual countries during the 1980s (item bi 94001886). Also worth reading is a volume edited by Hausmann and Rigobón which empirically analyzes the impact of various types of government expenditures on income distribution (item bi 93022284).

In HLAS 53 (p. 193) I commented that it was surprising that so little has been written evaluating the success, or failure, of privatization efforts. This deficiency has now, in large part, been corrected. ECLAC, for example, has published an extensive bibliography on this subject, Documentos sobre privatización con énfasis en América Latina (item bi 93020243). Readers will also want to examine Cardoso's article "La Privatización en América Latina" (item bi 94006459) and the 1993 spring volume of the Columbia Journal of World Business which devoted the entire issue to privatization programs in various parts of the world (item bi 95023635). I also found interesting an article by Glade on "Privatization in Rent-Seeking Societies" (item bi 93020248) describing the attempts made by special interest groups to influence government so as to profit from the privatization process. Also worthwhile is a volume by Martín del Campo and Winkler which examines not only privatization but also policy reforms to improve efficiency of State enterprises that have not been privatized (item bi 94002334).

In the last edition of the Handbook, my essay completely ignored regional integration since much of the literature I examined was little more than a rehash of previously discussed issues. During the last several years, however, this subject has assumed primary importance in the region. The recent formation of MERCOSUR and NAFTA, and the possible establishment of a Western Hemisphere Free Trade Area has rekindled scholarly interest in trade and regional integration. On these subjects, I particularly recommend volumes edited by Green (item bi 93023138), Bradford (item bi 94008803), and Salgado (item bi 93020001). Also worth reading is an article by Edwards which provides an overview of the region's past integration efforts (item bi 95023348) and a book published by SELA which examines more recent integration schemes and possible future integration scenarios (item bi 94008821).

Labor markets, in general, and the informal sector, in particular, continue to attract scholarly attention. Infante and Klein have provided an overview of recent trends in the region's labor markets (item bi 94001292). Those interested in the informal sector will want to examine an annotated bibliography, published by PREALC, on recent research on this topic (item bi 93020737).

Growth and the environment, a topic virtually ignored until recently, is attracting increasing attention. Noteworthy works include a volume by ECLAC on Planificación y gestión del desarrollo en áreas de expansión de la frontera agropecuaria en América Latina (item bi 94008765) and proceedings from a conference on development and the environment (item bi 94008756).

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the recent economic literature is its increasing sophistication. Twenty five years ago, much of the literature on Latin American economic problems was little more than lengthy, often emotional, diatribes intended to discredit opposing views, while supporting the author's own biases and ideology. Today, that type of literature is far less frequent. Instead, economic issues are debated using sophisticated mathematical and statistical techniques. Any resulting controversy is as likely to be concerned with the methodology employed as with the conclusions reached. Nevertheless while this trend is laudable and certainly pleasing to professional economists, we should not forget that not all issues are subject to statistical verification, and that there is still a place for interdisciplinary work and subjective analysis.


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