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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

POLITICAL ECONOMY: COLOMBIA AND ECUADOR


ERIC HERSHBERG, Director, Latin American Studies Program and Professor of Political Science, Simon Fraser University

POLITICAL ECONOMY RESEARCH IN ECUADOR exhibits persistent preoccupation with economic stagnation, external indebtedness, sociopolitical exclusion and its political/coalitional underpinnings, and stubborn centralism despite constitutional and legislative lip service paid to decentralization and enhanced social rights. The move toward dollarization in 2000, and the impact of this radical measure on restricting autonomy of economic policy, is a recurrent theme (items #bi2005006214# and #bi2007004846#). The social costs of foreign debt and of dollarization are prominent topics, and a frequent tendency in these writings is to attribute poor performance to a failure of the political system to overcome elite intransigence (items #bi2002002219#, #bi2004002272#, and #bi2006002772#).

Poverty and inequality are also central concerns of research focused on the contemporary political economy of Colombia. While a considerable portion of the literature addresses interactions between economic hardship, drug trafficking, and political violence, much of it situates Colombia's travails in the context of the country's difficult engagement with globalization. For the most part analysts in both Colombia and Ecuador stress the negative consequences of economic liberalization undertaken during the 1990s, particularly with regard to social polarization and marginalization of small producers in the countryside and inefficient enterprises in the cities. The performance of the Pastrana administration (1998–2002) in Colombia is subject to particularly harsh criticisms in this regard, and several studies predict that the Uribe government will oversee a continuation of neoliberal economic policies launched during the previous decade. However, some observers—most notably academic economists with policy-making experience—argue that market-oriented reforms were and remain essential to modernizing the Colombian economy and boosting competitiveness, however mixed their initial impacts may have been. Similar perspectives are strikingly absent from studies of political economy that are being published in and on Ecuador.

Engagement with state-of-the-art conceptual work is evident in a significant portion of the research that is being published in Ecuador, particularly in Quito. Issues of endogenous growth theory and typologies of decentralization (especially the distinction between deconcentration, delegation, and decentralization) are among the most noteworthy features in that literature. An ongoing critical dialogue with positions taken by international financial institutions (IFIs) is also evident in Ecuador, as is concern with the petroleum industry and prospects for upgrading activities in other natural resource intensive sectors of the economy. Consideration of these same sectors is surprisingly limited in Colombia, although a number of recent studies grapple thoughtfully with the ecological ramifications of development and with economic geography at the subnational level. In this context, questions of local and regional governance in Colombia retain the prominence that emerged with the beginning of decentralizing reforms nearly two decades ago, though with some exceptions issues of subnational finance are now receiving less attention than in the relatively recent past.


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