He has served as Senior Fulbright Lecturer three times, with appointments in Argentina and Mexico, and has received numerous research and institutional grants from public agencies and private foundations. He has acted as a consultant for program design or review to numerous U. Coatsworth is the author or editor of eight books and many scholarly articles, focusing on comparative economic, social, and international history of Latin America, especially Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Until recently, economic historians could not contribute much to the discussion of living standards and inequality, because quantitative evidence for earlier eras was lacking. This edited volume with eight compelling chapters by preeminent economists and social scientists brings together some of the most important results of this work: scholarly efforts to measure and explain changes in Latin American living standards as far back as the colonial era. Much of it uses novel measures, such as data on the heights or stature of children and adults a measure of net nutrition and the Human Development Index HDI.
Other work brings to the discussion new and more reliable measurements that can be used for comparing countries, often with unexpected and startling results. This essay examines three recent historical approaches to the political economy of Latin America's relative economic backwardness. All three locate the origins of contemporary underdevelopment in defective colonial institutions linked to inequality.
The contrasting view offered here affirms the significance of institutional constraints, but argues that they did not arise from colonial inequalities, but from the adaptation of Iberian practices to the American colonies under conditions of imperial weakness.
Colonial inequality varied across the Americas; while it was not correlated with colonial economic performance, it mattered because it determined the extent of elite resistance to institutional modernisation after independence. The onset of economic growth in the mid to late nineteenth century brought economic elites to political power, but excluding majorities as inequality increased restrained the region's twentieth-century growth rates and prevented convergence.
The combination of lucid survey chapters with sectoral and national case histories is unique in its quality and scale.
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The market share strategy was not successful in all cases. Indeed, a few Latin American republics failed even to raise export earnings in line with the growth of world trade in the sixteen years before — further confirmation of the pitfalls associated with the export-led model in the new international economic order constructed after the First World War.
The unstable nature of commodity prices, the risk of disease and competition from synthetic products could all play havoc with export earnings, even in countries in which policy was determined primarily by the needs of the export sector. The export-led model, with its emphasis on growth in export value, was subject to strong cycles that reflected the fortunes of the export sector itself.
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The fiscal and financial systems, far from operating in a countercyclical fashion, reinforced the cycles that emanated from the export sector and contributed to the instability in exchange rates, prices and nominal incomes. The fiscal system was typically procyclical.
The value of imports tended to move in line with that of exports. Because such a high proportion of government revenue was derived from customs duties, government revenue and expenditure tended to move in line with external trade.
At the same time, any rise fall in the value of foreign trade was linked to a rise fall in the net output of sectors such as commerce and transport that depended on the movement of exports and imports. Thus the real economy also tended to move procyclically with the change in the nominal value of exports. Changes in the value of exports were also highly correlated with changes in the money supply. As exports increased decreased , foreign exchange flowed into out of the country. Any hopes that the end to hostilities in Europe would eliminate the outstanding economic problems were undermined by the sharp depression in Although mercifully short, this trade-induced depression was a forceful reminder of the procyclical nature of the export-led model.
The collapse of primary product prices in world markets once again induced an outflow of foreign exchange, a fall in the money supply, a reduction in imports and a decline in government revenue. Most dramatic of all was currency depreciation in almost all the republics without a fixed link to the U.
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Brazil and Ecuador, for example, saw the nominal value of their currencies halved between and The extreme nature of export instability in the years after led governments in Latin America to look more favourably on financial and fiscal reforms that could eliminate some of the worst excesses of the export-led model. Currency instability was seen as one of the biggest problems, and the return to or adoption of fixed exchange rates became a symbol of the new orthodoxy.
With the emphasis given to the gold standard by the newly formed League of Nations, Latin American republics came under pressure to join the system and play by the new rules.
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The stabilization of exchange rates was usually associated with the adoption of the gold-exchange standard. This was much less demanding than the gold standard for peripheral countries because it was no longer necessary to guarantee the exchange of local currency for gold.
Instead, the gold-exchange standard allowed countries to exchange local currency for a foreign currency, such as the dollar, which was in turn fully convertible into gold. Even so, the gold-exchange standard was not without its problems.go site
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Countries such as Honduras and Mexico, where silver coins were the preferred medium of exchange for historical reasons, suffered from the depreciation of silver in the s as the gold price of silver started to rise. This led to a withdrawal of gold currency from circulation that could only be offset by increasing the coinage of gold and reducing that of silver. The pre-war gold standard in Latin America had often broken down as a result of the suspension of gold outflows by the exchange office.
In order to reduce this risk in the new postwar environment, exchange rate stability was buttressed by financial reform, with the creation of new banking institutions, financial supervision and bank regulation. The most striking example of this change was the creation of central banks in the Andean countries, many of which had been the least orthodox in exchange rate management before The creation of these central banks was usually preceded by a visit from Edwin W. Kemmerer , a U. State and Treasury Departments, but both looked with favour on the financial and fiscal reforms invariably proposed by Kemmerer and his team.
Indeed, a visit by Kemmerer was often seen as an essential precondition for future U. Financial reform in the s was extremely orthodox. The main purpose was to provide an institutional framework that would underpin exchange rate stability and the gold-exchange standard. In practice it did not allow governments to operate countercyclical monetary policies, and techniques for sterilizing the impact of a surge of foreign exchange inflows on the money supply and on the domestic price level were extremely rudimentary.
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Although Great Britain and the United States enjoyed almost a decade of price stability after the depression, many Latin American countries suffered from severe price fluctuations even after the currency was stabilized. The adoption of an exchange rate target had implications not only for the financial system but also for fiscal policy.
Budget deficits, financed by inflationary methods, would undermine currency stability, so pressure to increase revenue was strong. However, the close dependence of revenue on the trade cycle meant that the tax base needed to be broadened in order to increase the stability of government income.
Thus fiscal reform was needed to complement financial and currency reform. An additional obstacle in the path toward fiscal reform was provided by external debt service payments. In the tense international context before, during and after the war a failure to meet debt service payments — owed mainly to European powers — could be interpreted as an excuse for European intervention in the Western Hemisphere.
This potential challenge to the Monroe Doctrine had persuaded successive U. The most effective way to do this was to insist that Latin American republics pledge their revenue from external trade to service their external debts; thus, in order to protect against any backsliding, U. Indeed, by the mids U. The emphasis on debt service payments made it more difficult for governments to reduce their dependence on trade taxes because — unlike most other taxes — they could be paid in gold. Although wartime inflation had sharply reduced the share of total revenue derived from import duties, this share recovered quickly in the s.
Fiscal reform had therefore been very timid, and it remained extremely difficult for governments to pursue countercyclical fiscal policies. The emergence of the United States as a capital surplus country led to a substantial transfer of resources to Latin America in the form of loans to national, state, and municipal governments. Other capital exporting countries could not match the explosion of U. By the time war broke out in Europe, modern manufacturing had already established itself in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay, and modest beginnings were visible in Colombia and Venezuela.
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