All three of these books deal with different aspects of change in the economies of Latin America, and perhaps more important, in economic policy in the area, since the early 1980s. The main elements of this change have been very stringent “stabilization” (otherwise, austerity) programs; the general adoption of free trade, and with it the greater or lesser dismantling of all kinds of protective devices for the national economies; devaluation of national currencies; drastic tax reforms; and widespread privatization of government-owned segments, together with drastic reduction in government regulation of the private sector.
Before commenting on each of these volumes, some general observations are in order. All the books express general condemnation of the import substitution policies that Latin America followed for half a century before 1980. But they show little or no recognition that those policies converted the Latin American countries from overwhelmingly agricultural and mining economies, depending almost exclusively for their prosperity on one or two exports (usually to a small number of national customers), into more or less extensively industrialized economies with burgeoning middle classes that did not exist before import substitution. The volumes also generally condemn government-owned segments of national economies for being “inefficient.” But they do not recognize that were it not for the state enterprises, the government firms being privatized would not exist to be turned over to the supposedly “efficient” private entrepreneurs.
Finally, these volumes pay virtually no attention at all to the role of the highly industrialized nations in bringing about the debt crisis, which, beginning in September 1982, led to both the “lost decade” and the drastic alterations in economic policy. The massive buildup of foreign debt in Latin America before 1982 owed at least as much to the eagerness of U.S., European, and Japanese banks (with full encouragement from their governments) to lend out the huge deposits they received as a result of the “oil crisis” as to the eagerness of Latin American governments and private firms to accept the loans being offered. Little or no note is taken that the industrialized countries’ governments and banks insisted that the Latin American countries pay all the costs of “solving” the debt crisis throughout most of the 1980s.
As its title indicates, the Inter-American Bank monograph deals principally with the impact of the crisis of the 1980s, and the resulting drastic change in economic policy, on the finances of the area’s governments. It deals with the stabilization programs, the adoption of free trade, privatization, and tax reforms, all from the perspective of their impact on government finances.
The volume of essays from the 1992 conference at Göttingen University paints with a broader brush. It deals particularly, however, with issues of trade liberalization (especially NAFTA), debt reduction (especially debt-equity swaps), foreign investment, and the general question of drastically limiting the role of the government in the national economies.
The second Göttingen volume is the one I found most interesting. Particularly worthwhile and new is a chapter by Moritz Kraemer on the intensification of poverty, especially extreme poverty, as a consequence of the new economic policies adopted in the 1980s. It certainly gives reason to doubt the “rationality” and beneficence of those policies. It also urges the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other international lending agencies to establish “social conditionality” for their loans, in addition to the economic conditionality (adherence to very orthodox economic policies) they have been traditionally wont to impose.
The following chapter, also by Kraemer, is an interesting study of the antipoverty program of the Carlos Salinas government in Mexico. It includes a discussion of that program’s relevance to the democratization of Mexican politics.
The two Göttingen volumes will interest Latin Americanists particularly because they are written by German Latin Americanists, whose writings are generally not too well known in the United States. In general, readers of all three will find interesting and informative material on the great crisis through which Latin America has been and is still passing.