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Volume 65 / Social Sciences


JONATHAN HISKEY, Associate Professor of Political Science, Vanderbilt University

WITH THE 2008 ONSET OF THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS, scholarship on the political economy of Latin America is almost certain to continue to pursue with vigor many of the same questions that have occupied scholars over the past several years. Dominant among these lines of inquiry is the impact that globalization and the neoliberal model have had on the economic and political development prospects of Latin American countries. Running through this common research agenda, however, is a stark dividing line between those who see the region's increasing economic integration and turn toward market-based development strategies as an obstacle to Latin American prosperity, and those who see these phenomena as essential to the region's economic development. Given the developed country origins of the global financial crisis, those scholars that have long warned of the heightened vulnerabilities of Latin America to international instability that come with globalization will surely seem vindicated. Conversely, the relatively optimistic growth projections emerging in 2009 that forecast a weathering of the storm for Latin America would seem to offer support to those who have seen the region's economic reforms as critical in providing it with much needed economic stability and growth. The majority of the works reviewed here, reflective of broader trends in recent Latin American political economy research, tend toward one or the other of these general orientations.

Somewhat more common in past years have been those works that focus on the flaws of the neoliberal model and its principal strategy of more fully inserting Latin American economies into the global economy. Recent research continues this pattern, but offers a far more nuanced, analytical approach to the question of the impact of globalization and neoliberalism on the region, moving away from the more broad-brushed critiques prevalent during the 1990s. Deere's (item #bi2007004741#) innovative analysis of how the neoliberal restructuring of the rural economy across the region has affected women and their role in the agricultural sectors of their countries is exemplary of this trend. Rhoads and Torres' edited volume (item #bi2009004529#) also offers an indication of the increasingly fine-tuned critiques of the neoliberal paradigm through analysis of its (and globalization's) impact on higher education in Latin America. A similarly novel perspective on the consequences of neoliberalism emerges from Lucer-Graffigna's study (item #bi2007004100#) of how the dominant conceptions of poverty in the World Bank influence the general approach to its development programs.

Even those works that offer more general critiques of years past reveal the advances in political economy research over the past two decades. Rather than attributing to globalization all of Latin America's ills, with only scant support for such claims, these recent works access and analyze data on the actual outcomes of specific market-based reforms in supporting their generally pessimistic assessments of the model. Solimano's (item #bi2007004109#) assessment of social policies in the region over the past 25 years, for example, offers a compelling point of departure for his call to move away from the "growth-based" strategy for poverty reduction. Gabaldón (item #bi2007004748#) takes a similar approach in positing the need for a set of policy alternatives oriented more toward sustainable development. In a similar vein, Farrari (item #bi2007000324#) argues rather optimistically for the viability of a new political economy in Latin America. Bouzas and Ffrench-Davis (item #bi2007000518#) also assess Latin America's economic prospects moving forward, and in the process call for a reestablishment of control over domestic economic policy in order to better manage the consequences of the clearly unstable global economy. Tulchin and Bland's (item #bi2007004743#) edited volume centers around the theme of fixing the flaws of globalization that have been so evident in Latin America's development patterns of the past two decades. Though still offering largely negative assessments of the economic changes over the past 20 years, these works represent a significant shift away from prior tendencies to merely focus on the problems of globalization and neoliberalism, moving instead toward a more prescriptive, policy-oriented research agenda that seeks to shape future policy directions of Latin America's political economy.

Across the divide from research that highlights the flaws of globalization and neoliberalism stand those works that find global integration and market-based development as essential elements of Latin America's recent economic successes, relative stability, and its chances for surviving the current global economic downturn. As with the works discussed above, this research also represents a departure from its predecessors of the 1980s and 1990s. Early works on the merits of the neoliberal model in general shared the assumption that diminishing the role of the ineffective Latin American states from the region's economic development process represented a positive step. A lesson that emerged from that period, however, is that although the state was in dire need of reform thoughout Latin America, it still had to play a critical role in fostering the conditions conducive to stable economic growth.

Works such as Treisman's study (item #bi2006001573#) of the different types of anti-inflation strategies implemented during the 1980s and 1990s highlight the various ways that such "neoliberal sins" as distributive politics and cooptive strategies in fact played critical roles in the successful achievement of broader neoliberal goals. The work of Kurtz and Brooks (item #bi2009004800#) and Remmer (item #bi2009004805#) also highlight the somewhat counterintuitive role of partisan-based policies in shaping the reform strategy pursued by a particular country and its likelihood of attaining relatively successful outcomes.

Adding to this work is research that re-establishes a place for the Latin American citizenry in politics during the neoliberal era. The conventional view of the public's role in the market-driven, emerging democracies of the last 20 years has been one characterized by a limited voice that at times might be given to sporadic, violent outbursts. Arce and Bellinger (item #bi2009004635#) challenge this view, instead finding that when compared with previous periods of political participation, Latin Americans of the last decades of the 20th century were in fact quite participatory. Gans-Morse and Nichter (item #bi2009004640#) provide a similar reassessment of the impact of neoliberalism on Latin American democracies more generally, offering evidence in support of the notion that the region's market-based reforms and integration with the global market ultimately served to strengthen its emerging democratic political systems. A challenge to these findings, however, emerges from Holzner's study (item #bi2008003042#) of political participation among the poor of Mexico. At least for this case and this population, he finds steadily declining rates of political involvement as the country moved ahead with its economic reform agenda during the 1990s. When taken together, though, these works offer a much more complete picture of how and where the neoliberal reforms in particular, and globalization more generally, have affected Latin American economic and political developments.

A final related strand of research reviewed here concerns variations in the specific policy designs and outcomes of Latin America's reform agenda. Weyland's work on the diffusion of certain policies across the region (item #bi2007002313#), Bichara's comparative study of financial reforms in Latin America and Asia (item #bi2008003054#), and Carstens and Jácome's (item #bi2007004190#) overview and analysis of the various central bank reforms carried out in Latin America are among the more notable works in this area. Also worthy of mention is the continuation of research on social policy, in particular social security programs (item #bi2007004718#), during the neoliberal era, and the various effects that these policies have had for the quality of life of Latin Americans. As the region struggles through the global financial storm over the next several years, such works on the consequences of globalization and the market-based reforms seem certain to flourish as scholars continue to examine successes and failures over the past 20 years.

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