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Volume 57 / Social Sciences

ECONOMICS: GENERAL


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


A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE issued this biennium reveals a striking shift in focus among scholars of Latin American economics. Topics at the forefront as recently as HLAS 55, particularly 1) the causes of the debt crisis and appropriate policy responses, 2) agrarian reform, and 3) radical solutions to the region’s problems, have ceded primacy to a different set of research concerns. Questions dominating the current literature include the impact of market reforms on income distribution and poverty, regional integration and regional labor markets, and privatization.

The quantitative decline in literature regarding the debt crisis is likely due to the two decades that have elapsed since this issue first emerged; scholars have simply exhausted the subject. Instead, economists are focusing on the impact of existing reform policies on the economies of the region. Those with an abiding interest in the debt crisis, however, will benefit from William R. Cline’s volume, International debt reexamined (item bi 95001838).

The relationship between the role of the State and economic policy aims helps to explain the paucity of literature on agrarian reform. Market liberalization programs, currently in place in almost all nations of the region, call for a smaller, less intrusive role for the government, while agrarian reform generally requires a more activist role for the State. Nevertheless, agrarian specialists will find useful a work by William C. Theisenhusen that evaluates the successes and failures of agrarian reform efforts in various countries of the region.

Finally, the relative lack of radical tracts is perhaps best explained by the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and the ascendency of free-market policies in both developed and underdeveloped areas of the world.

Highly welcome among the current list of new works are studies examining income distribution and poverty. Twenty years ago, data on income distribution was sparse and of questionable validity. Undoubtedly, market liberalization and its impact on income distribution has sparked the intellectual fires of Latin American specialists, and as a result, there has occurred a quantum leap in the quantity and quality of literature on this subject. Indeed, it is difficult to choose among the many fine works on this topic. Of particular interest is a work by Samuel A. Morely (item bi 95021767), and volumes edited by Victor Bulmer-Thomas (item bi 96020982), Nora Lustig (item bi 95021541), Herman Sautter (item bi 95024705), and George Psacharopoulos (item bi 97006833). Also valuable are articles by Werner Baer and William Maloney (item bi 97011466), Albert Berry (item bi 98007740), and William Glade (item bi 97007611). A multidisciplinary volume edited by William C. Smith, Carlos H. Acuna and Eduardo A. Gamarra that analyzes the impact of market reforms on democracy and political systems is also noteworthy (item bi 96020980).

Not surprisingly, privatization continues as an area of interest for regional specialists. However, whereas earlier work studied the financing and implementation of privatization, most recent literature has considered its impact on economic efficiency. Particularly noteworthy are books edited by William Glade (item bi 96010790) and Werner Baer and Melissa H. Birch (item bi 98007694), and an article by David Felix (item bi 95007953). Two econometric exercises by Frank Sader quantifying the impact of privatization on foreign investment (item bi 95024627), and Armando Castelar Pinheiro and Ben Ross Schneider’s work on government fiscal impact of privatization in four Latin American countries (item bi 95019683) also deserve mention. Other exceptional works on this general area include articles by Jose L. Carvalho on the role of property rights in the achievement of economic growth and efficiency (item bi 97010057), and by Paul Holden and Sareth Rajapatirana on the necessary economic factors and institutions for a successful private sector (item bi 95018321).

As stated in the previous volume, the formation of Mercosur and NAFTA, as well as the potential creation of WHFTA (Western Hemisphere Free Trade Area) has contributed to a renewed interest in regional integration. Particularly interesting are the volumes edited by Karlsson and Malaki (item bi 98005595), Elsie L. Echerri-Carrol (item bi 96020994), and Shojo Nishijima and Peter H. Smith (item bi 97000683). A useful article by Frankel, Stein, and Wei uses econometric techniques to analyze the welfare and efficiency effects of preferential trade agreements (item bi 98007831).

Literature pertaining to Latin American labor markets has become highly specialized in recent years, with the role of women and the informal sector receiving varying degrees of attention. Particularly provocative works are those by UNIFEM on the feminazation of poverty (item bi 97002821); Irma Arriagada’s article regarding the changing nature of urban female labor markets (item bi 96001087); and Alexandria Cox Edwards and Judith Roberts’ work on the macroeconomic determinants of female labor participation rates (item bi 95004994). Studies on the informal sector, once a major focus of labor market analysis, are rare. Scholars continue to argue about the appropriate definition of this admittedly elusive concept frequently rehashing previously discussed issues. However, exceptions exist. Edward Funkhouser’s article analyzes employment patterns and wage structures in the informal sector (item bi 98007862). Marcouiller, Ruiz de Castilla, and Woodruff use econometric techniques to determine informal sector-formal sector wage differentials (item bi 98007920).

Finally, a few comments about miscellaneous works. Victor Bulmer-Thomas’ major contribution, The economic history of Latin America since independence, uses modern analytical techniques to describe the economic history of the region from the early 1800s to the early 1900s (item bi 95024638). Robert E. Grosse has written a highly competent work on foreign exchange black markets, a subject which until now has not been studied with any great depth (item bi 94016441). Suitable for use in a course dealing with Latin American economic issues is a volume edited by James L. Dietz, Latin America’s economic development (item bi 95014622). Fabian Echegaray wrote an intriguing article in which econometric techniques are used to analyze the determinants of Latin American presidential elections (items bi 97008794 and bi 96009551). Finally, the growing concern among scholars with environmental issues is particularly noteworthy. Of interest is John O. Browder’s review essay that examines the environmental impact of regional deforestation (item bi 95025480).


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