As a social science work, Roberto MacLean’s jeremiad on the evils of latifundism and the need for agrarian reform in Peru must be judged pretty much a period piece. It represents that recent and not altogether vanished era in which “sociology” was deemed to consist largely of opinions on social problems, delivered in essays and lectures. Even though many readers may feel that his heart and sympathies are in the right place, his book suffers from many typical shortcomings of the genre.
Polemical in tone, it is rather poorly organized, and documentation is often lacking or inadequate. Moreover, neither the valuable CIDA study of Peruvian land tenure nor the fairly extensive body of relevant literature by foreign scholars was utilized, though both would have provided a solid basis for a number of points which MacLean was concerned to make. Idiosyncratic passages are found here and there, as in his effusive tributes to Leguía (under whom he held important posts). The highly capitalistic plantations of the coast are repeatedly referred to as “feudal,” and an assortment of erroneous identifications, possibly typographical in origin, detract from the credibility of the general presentation. The Odriísta party, for example, is referred to as the UNO (correct) and the ONU (incorrect). At one point the BID is correctly identified, but elsewhere it is improperly identified as the Banco Internacional de Desarrollo. Since the prominent Texan industrialist LeTourneau is called a French entrepreneur, the significance of the LeTourneau project in Peru is totally missed.
More seriously, the analytical frame of reference employed is, to say the least, unsophisticated, and in a number of instances it is completely inadequate for the complexities of the problems under discussion. Nowhere does MacLean satisfactorily treat the difficulties of developing the interior regions of Peru. He virtually ignores the bearing of severe transport problems and deficiencies of market organization on the prospects for agricultural progress. He clearly does not understand the workings of the foreign exchange market and what is involved in devaluation, while his occasional references to wage levels suggest an equal lack of understanding of labor market behavior. For that matter, despite an extended discussion of bonds as a means of compensation in land expropriation cases, he does not really raise the relevant economic issues involved. In several places he tends to equate payment in bonds with payment in cash on the astonishing grounds that the former, being negotiable, could be readily sold for cash in the Peruvian capital market. If there exists in Peru a capital market with such liquidity, it has thus far managed to escape detection by any economist who has ever visited the country!
With all its defects, the book does have some value. Particularly interesting are the descriptions of the Catholic Church’s contributions to agrarian reform in Peru, the (nonanalytical) reports of various recent land invasions by the peasantry, and the material presented regarding efforts to block agrarian reform (as well as the means by which some landowners have sought to profit from land reform). There is also a description of recent agrarian reform legislation.