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Volume 65 / Social Sciences

POLITICAL ECONOMY: ARGENTINA, PARAGUAY, AND URUGUAY


ANA MARGHERITIS, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Florida, Gainesville

ACADEMIC WORKS ON THE POLITICAL ECONOMY of the Latin American Southern Cone in the last few years have been overwhelmingly influenced by national and regional economic developments, most notably the Argentine debacle in December 2001. The need to explain the causes and implications of that dramatic crisis prompted a number of analytical studies, as well as some normative accounts that pass judgment on apparent policy mistakes and advance recommendations for the future. The bulk of these works focuses on the financial and banking aspects of the crisis, touching only tangentially on social and political dimensions. From a strictly political economy point of view, a few volumes outstand in terms of their scope and contribution. They address either relatively novel, less-explored phenomena, or controversial topics, such as the role of the state in a market economy.

Of the former group, a good example is the 2005 journal article by Armory and Armory (item #bi2007000145#) on popular mobilization. The authors emphasize cognitive and psychological factors to explain the effects of the Argentine economic crisis on citizens' behavior and notions of national identity and collective projects. Another example is the volume edited by Susana Hintze (item #bi2009000154#) on the expansion of the informal economy in Argentina and some new forms of economic relations that defy traditional political economy assumptions, such as the barter clubs that proliferated as economic recession deepened. This book gathers contributions by both scholars and practitioners to a one-day workshop and includes reflections on why the networks of barter clubs eventually declined. Also, the volume by Esteban Magnani, entitled El cambio silencioso: empresas y fábricas recuperadas por los trabajadores en la Argentina (item #bi2009000140#), uses several case studies of workers' taking over of firms in the aftermath of the crisis to illustrate the innovative social responses to a critical situation of unprecedented magnitude. It emphasizes the subtle underlying (and usually unintended) processes that are often neglected in the analysis of how an economy is restructured after a dramatic crisis. Along similar lines, the volume compiled by Floreal Forni (Caminos solidarios de la economía argentina) (item #bi2009000172#) gathers several cooperative experiences of lower social sectors that emerged as alternatives to either market- or state-centered economic models. Also, the book edited by Neffa and Pérez, entitled Macroeconomía, mercado de trabajo y grupos vulnerables: desafíos para el diseño de políticas públicas (item #bi2009000130#), compiles a number of contributions concerning the impact of macroeconomic transformations on labor markets in general and the most vulnerable social sectors in particular. The authors' perspective is one of public policy; they aim to identify ways in which the state could ameliorate poverty and unemployment.

This last point is actually a shared concern with some authors who make the case for bringing back the state and its role in the new politico-economic context. The volume by Thwaites Rey and López, Fuera de control: la regulación residual de los servicios privatizados (item #bi2009000144#), is a case in point. This is the saga of a number of critical studies by the same authors on the regulatory capacities of the Argentine state following controversial privatizations in the 1990s. Using examples from the public utilities sector, they argue in favor of regulation guided by social efficiency and collective needs. From a more comprehensive and theoretical perspective, the volume by Vilas et al., entitled Estado y política en la Argentina actual (item #bi2009000160#), also places the state as the focal point of analysis and conceptualizes it as a problem, with particular emphasis on some misleading accounts of the crucial role the Argentine state played in structuring economic and political forces.

Finally, a large number of academic sources provide us with a historical analysis of the evolution and troubles of Argentine political economy. They tend to be largely descriptive and very ambitious in terms of scope and time frame. Several of them focus on two issues: public debt and the evolution of the manufacturing sector. A remarkable piece is Mónica Peralta Ramos' La economía política argentina: poder y clases sociales (1930–2006) (item #bi2009000186#), which compiles and synthesizes previous works by the author on the connections among global trends, domestic social conflicts, and economic policies in contemporary Argentina. Likewise, Roberto Cortés Conde's La economía política de la Argentina en el siglo XX (item #bi2009000165#) provides a comprehensive overview of the frustrated path to development taken by Argentina between 1880 and 1990.

The number of works on Uruguay and Paraguay is very low. Studies on the latter are usually immersed in broader analysis that frames developments within the Paraguayan economy in regional and global trends. For instance, Fleitas' Integraciones Regionales: El MERCOSUR y Paraguay (item #bi2009004128#), using a colloquial and normative tone, or Borda's Globalización y crisis fiscal: casos de Argentina, Brasil y Paraguay (item #bi2009004127#), based on research studies on the three cases. As for Uruguay, two volumes stand out from a political economy perspective. On the one hand, the book edited by Aboal et al. (Economía política en Uruguay: instituciones y actores políticos en el proceso económico) (item #bi2009000194#) aims to fill a gap in the literature by examining the impact of political actors and institutions on the making of different economic policy initiatives, such as monetary, fiscal, and commercial. The underlying theme that links all chapters is the question of long-term economic growth and development. On the other hand, Bergara's work, entitled Las reglas de juego en Uruguay: el entorno institucional y los problemas económicos (item #bi2009004129#), also emphasizes the role of the institutional framework on economic processes. The author points out the serious obstacles to maintain, implement, and enforce norms in Uruguayan society. Overall, the study of the political economy of these two countries would benefit from further exploration of how political and economic processes are shaping public policies in the context of the ongoing global economic crisis.

I am grateful to Brian Readout for his efficient research assistance.


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