Evidence of Furtado’s popularity as an author is, as he notes in the “Intellectual Self-Portrait that constitutes the first item in this selection from his earlier works, that Latin Americans purchased more than 400,000 copies of his books between 1965 and 1971 (p. 41). His mark on scholars is also impressive. A crude indicator of his impact is that over the years 1971 through 1983 the Social Science Citation Index lists 694 references to his work.
While Furtado’s interpretations of Latin American economic history and development are too complex and eclectic to be categorized easily, their roots in the studies of the Economic Commission for Latin America are evident. Like ECLA, Furtado draws inspiration from Keynes, denounces Ricardian trade theory, and urges governmental policies that favor industrialization. In his self-portrait, however, he emphasizes instead his exposure in his teens to positivism, Marxism (as an approach to history, not to economics), and North American sociology (as a method suffusing Freyre’s Casa Grande e Senzala), compressing his ten years with ECLA, in contrast, into a single sentence (p. 35).
Another experience Furtado passes over quickly, three years as a journalist in his early twenties, may have proved helpful later, contributing to his ability to write economics clearly. This skill is especially evident in the pages taken from his classic Formação Econômico do Brasil, where he shows how burning coffee during the depression of the 1930s and favorable effective exchange rates after World War II stimulated Brazilian industry. Formação combines history and economics masterfully to the advantage of both disciplines.
This combination is less fruitful in the selection from Subdesenvolvimento e Estagnação na América Latina reprinted here, in which Furtado sketches a five-sector model to illustrate how export growth followed by import-substituting industrialization can lead to stagnation as production shifts to more capital-intensive sectors. In a theme common to several of his other works—including the portions of A Operação Nordeste and Urn Projeto para o Brasil included in this collection—he assumes that a distorted profile of demand caused by a concentration of income deriving from capital-intensive industrialization would lock in a tendency toward stagnation.
The slowing of Latin American growth that led Furtado, as well as ECLA, into gloom by 1967 about prospects for further industrialization, however, turned out to be cyclical rather than structural in origin. The Brazilian “miracle” of 1968 through 1973 demonstrated that even a highly skewed income distribution can fuel growth. In the early 1960s, however, Furtado was more prescient. A Pre-Revolução Brasileira, thirty-three pages of which are reprinted, called attention to the impasse Brazil would face if the government failed to devise fiscal means to fund required expenditures without massive deficits.
After decades of distinguished governmental and academic service, Furtado has gained the right to speculate elegantly—as he does in Criatividade e Dependencia na Civilização Industrial—on the implications of quantum mechanics for social science methodology (p. 210) and to lament that in high-income countries one-fourth of the population requires psychiatric care (p. 212). Readers of this book could probably have gained a deeper understanding of his significance from inclusion of his analyses of agrarian reform or of the authoritarian regime in Brazil.
The editor provides a chronological survey written from a Marxist perspective of Furtado’s major contributions.