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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

POLITICAL ECONOMY: GENERAL


JONATHAN HISKEY, Associate Professor of Political Science, Vanderbilt University

A CONTINUATION OF SOME TRENDS and the clear emergence of others characterize the works on political economy of Latin America reviewed in this section. The first years of the 21st century have brought continued economic difficulties and political unrest in some countries and the glimmer of prosperity and political stability in others, and recent research both reflects and captures these divergent development paths.

At the nexus of these countervailing trends stands the increasingly large body of research on decentralization and its political and economic consequences. As disparate as the outcomes of the neoliberal experiment have been, so too are the conclusions from decentralization research, ranging from pessimistic assessments of the strategy's chances of enhancing both economic and political development in the region to those works that have found concrete developmental benefits in reforms that bring government "closer to the people." In between these extremes are numerous studies that have shed both the overly optimistic tone of early proponents of the strategy as well as the increasingly negative view of decentralization found in subsequent works.

Eaton, for example, continues to offer innovative and important insights on the foundations and future of current decentralization efforts (item #bi2007000422#), while scholars such as Corraggio (item #bi2006000119#), Wiesner (item #bi2007002878#), and the volume edited by Oxhorn, Tulchin, and Selee (item #bi2007002870#) represent a welcome research trend that seeks to analyze the full range of values on the dependent variable by examining cases of decentralization success and failure. Finot offers a similarly comprehensive assessment of local revenue generation, an issue that has become critical in the viability of fiscal decentralization (item #bi2004002701#). Finally, Campbell and Fuhr's edited volume (item #bi2006000113#) and Rhi-Sausi's collection (item #bi2006000142#) offer abundant theoretical and empirical insights on the wide range of decentralization outcomes, gaining tremendous analytical leverage in the process. As this development strategy continues apace, the research appears to have matured, becoming more systematic, less fraught with untested assumptions, and less burdened by the earlier tendency to examine only one type of decentralization outcome.

Moving from the local to the global, another continuing trend in political economy research concerns the domestic impact of the international economy and the often ill-defined concept of globalization. Several works reviewed here reflect the conventional view that these international forces have had, on balance, a negative influence on Latin American countries over the past two decades. Calderón's edited volume asks whether globalization is sustainable in Latin America and offers generally pessimistic responses to the question (item #bi2006000111#). In a similar vein, Frenkel posits and offers plausible support for a connection between the recurrence of economic crisis and a country's level of insertion in the international market (item #bi2004000426#). These works represent a continuation of a long tradition in Latin American political economy research that emphatically focuses on the global economy as the key culprit in the economic and political woes of the region.

A quite different set of conclusions has recently emerged, however, that cast a decidedly less negative light on the role that international factors play in Latin America's development prospects. Biglaiser and DeRoven, for example, challenge the notion that foreign investors have an inordinate influence on the economic policies of countries, finding instead that investors tend to seek out only investment environments with low risk of expropriation (item #bi2006002326#). Addressing a similar question, Tuman and Emmert highlight the importance of human capital development for attracting foreign capital flows, challenging the commonly held view that foreign investors simply reward the winners of the "race to the bottom" (item #bi2007002875#). Wibbels and Arce also offer an analysis of the determinants of foreign capital flows and find that foreign investors are less concerned with the specific tax burdens placed on capital but rather with more general features of the tax structure (item #bi2007002877#). All of these works offer an example of the trend toward research that seeks to offer a more nuanced assessment of the impact that globalization and its multiple actors have had on Latin America's political and economic development.

Recent work on the neoliberal era and its consequences for Latin America also reveals a mix of foci, some that continue two decades of research on the negative consequences of the region's market reforms and others that more fully utilize the full range of data that have accumulated over the past 30 years in an effort to offer a more comprehensive assessment of the "neoliberal paradigm" and its future in the 21st century. Included in the former category are works such as Petras and Veltemeyer's edited volume on the "denationalization" of Latin America brought about by privatization of state-owned enterprises and its effect on economic stability in the region (item #bi2006000143#). Manrique and López González's contribution offers an equally negative account of the role that neoliberalism has played in fiscal policy trends in Mexico and Latin America more generally (item #bi2006000116#). Finally, Borda and Masi's collection identifies from various perspectives the consequences of neoliberalism for the Paraguayan economy (item #bi2006000137#).

Many more works reviewed here fall in the latter category of studies that go beyond the "first generation" of neoliberal research questions and answers toward new directions in understanding a "post-Consensus" Latin American political economy. Works by Schneider (item #bi2006000127#) and Horcajo (item #bi2006000122#), for example, focus on the policy-making role of the business sector in Latin America's market-based democracies, offering novel approaches to understanding this important player in post-Consensus politics. Likewise, the edited volume by Fernández-Kelly and Shefner (item #bi2007002862#) and the contributions by Madrid (item #bi2004001529#), Korovkin (item #bi2007002864#), and Portes and Hoffman (see HLAS 61:3109) all advance to a considerable degree our understanding of how the labor sector, both formal and informal, has fared during the neoliberal years and what role it may play in shaping the direction of Latin America's future. These works stand out because they attempt to constructively challenge and improve upon the preliminary research on these sectors during the neoliberal era that was carried out in the 1990s.

Moving from sector-specific to more general works that typify what may be termed the second generation of research on neoliberalism in Latin America, several studies under review focus on the issue of free trade. Edited volumes by Martínez Becerra (item #bi2006000123#), Lengyel and Ventura-Dias (item #bi2007002867#), Tussie and Botto (item #bi2006000118#), and Laursen (item #bi2007002866#), as well as single-authored works by Carranza (item #bi2004001544#) and Phillips (item #bi2005000039#) all offer novel approaches to the question of regional and international trade arrangements, again moving beyond the preliminary nature of earlier examinations of this topic. Lodola (item #bi2005002409#), Traine (item #bi2005002410#), and Soto (item #bi2005004941#) also advance research on questions of increasing relevance to Latin America's post-Consensus political economy, tackling from various perspectives the issues of corruption and neopopulism. These two concepts seem certain to remain as focal points of political economy research for the foreseeable future.

Several works synthesize much of this new wave of research on the neoliberal era by offering balanced evaluations of the region's experience to date with market and political reforms. Weyland's essay presents a compelling analysis of the connection between neoliberalism and the quality and durability of democracy in Latin America (item #bi2007002876#) while Arestis and Sawyer's edited volume provides a comprehensive assessment of the region's economic experiences with neoliberalism (item #bi2007002858#). An edited volume by Boyd, Galjart, and Ngo (item #bi2007002859#) and De Gregorio and Lee's piece (item #bi2007002861#) contribute useful comparative analyses of the development experiences of East Asia and Latin America, updating and advancing similar research carried out in the 1990s. Studies by Santiso (item #bi2006002247#) and Segura-Ubiera (item #bi2007002872#) seek to map out a way forward for the post-Consensus political economy of Latin America, echoing the efforts of Saad-Filho (item #bi2005004660#) to explore the question of how Latin America can move closer toward the goal of sustainable economic and political development. Finally, Kurtz's book-length treatment of the political dynamic of neoliberalism's impact on the rural sector in Mexico and Argentina (item #bi2004003898#), Lora's assessment of the second round of neoliberal reforms (item #bi2007002868#), and Kurtz's article on the prospects for democratic consolidation under a continuation of neoliberalism (item #bi2007002865#) all offer excellent examples of the direction that research on the political economy of Latin America must continue to follow as the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close. In all of these works one finds an emphasis on the need to break down the monolithic label of "neoliberalism" into its component parts, going beneath the aggregate "dual transition" surface in order to better understand the tremendous variation in forms and outcomes that have revealed themselves both within and across the political and economic landscapes of Latin America.


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