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Economists in the Americas

Author(s):Montecinos, Verónica
Markoff, John
Reviewer(s):Boianovsky, Mauro

Published by EH.Net (January 2012)

Ver?nica Montecinos and John Markoff, editors, Economists in the Americas. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2009. xx + 341 pp. $155 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-84542-043-7.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Mauro Boianovsky, Department of Economics, Universidade de Bras?lia.

Largely thanks to Bob Coats?s (1924-2007) pioneering studies about the sociology and professionalization of economics, research about the emergence of economics as a discipline and the development of the contexts and institutions in which economists act have become an important area in the history of economic thought. One should expect that the subject would attract also the attention of social scientists such as sociologists and political scientists. Economists in the Americas, edited by sociologists Ver?nica Montecinos and John Markoff (from Pennsylvania State University and University of Pittsburgh, respectively), offers a detailed investigation of the history of the economics profession in the Americas in the form of case studies of a representative set of Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay) plus one chapter about the United States.? Coats focused on North American and British economic thought; a couple of Latin American case studies (particularly about Brazil, by Paulo R. Haddad and Maria R. Loureiro, whose essay is partly reproduced in the volume under review) can be found in the 1981 and 1997 collections edited by him for the History of Political Economy (HOPE) about economists in the government and the internationalization of economics after 1945. Economists in the Americas, as acknowledged by the editors, adds to Coats?s path-breaking research and follows his lead and inspiration.

Although the essays assembled in the book offer much valuable information about the historical evolution and consolidation of economic epistemic communities in the Americas throughout the twentieth century, their main goal is rather to understand the factors behind the paradigm shift that took place in Latin American economic theory and policy between the 1970s and 1990s. It was a doctrinal change expressed as a clear move from ?developmentalism? or ?structuralism? towards what was named (mostly by its critics) ?neo-liberalism.? Instead of state-led import-substituting industrialization, economists shifted to a ?more market, less state? view, and promoted free-market reforms in order to implement it. As the editors explain, the book had a long gestation period; early versions of the chapters were presented at the 2001 meetings of the Latin American Studies Association held in the U.S. This probably explains why editors and contributors do not take into account another volume that addresses the same issue about doctrinal change (FitzGerald and Thorp 2005).? There is a significant overlap between those two books, although the volume edited by FitzGerald and Thorp, based on a conference held in Oxford in 2000, is not dominated by case studies (there are just two, on Colombia and Mexico), featuring contributions by economists, historians and a political scientist. Only one of the contributors to Economists in the Americas is an economist, two are political scientists and the other six are sociologists. Moreover, regarding nationality, four are Latin Americans ? one of them (Montecinos) affiliated to a North American university ? and the others are North Americans. The first discussion of the paradigm shift in Latin American economics came out, however, in an article by Albert Fishlow (then in UC? Berkeley?s Economics Department) as far back as 1985. And it is still attracting the attention of the literature on Latin American economics (see Ocampo and Ros 2011).

As documented by the case studies, the origins of economics as a separate profession in Latin America ? despite the fact that there was already some economic literature and teaching at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, when a broad liberal outlook prevailed ? can be traced to the 1930s and 1940s. The early generations of economists in the region were generally associated with nationalism and protectionism, a tendency that would be much reinforced after CEPAL (the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America) was established in Santiago in the late 1940s. This started to change in the mid 1970s, especially in Chile, where a cooperation agreement had been signed in 1955 between the University of Chicago and the Catholic University of Santiago. The so-called ?Chicago Boys? (Chilean economists with Chicago Ph.D. training) came to dominate economic thought and policy in Chile. Initially associated with Pinochet?s authoritarian regime, Chile?s market reforms and their effects on the economy became even more visible after the return of democracy in the 1990s. From that perspective, the economic neo-liberal movement started in Chile even before Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher made it a key element of their respective government agendas in the U.S. and the UK. However, as far as Latin America as a whole is concerned, the collection makes clear that the main fact determining the paradigm shift was the Mexican default of 1982 and the ensuing debt crisis that affected most countries in the region for the rest of the decade. That was the turning point for economic policy and thought in Latin America, when the indigenous approach represented by structuralism was largely abandoned and replaced by the international prevailing economic doctrines. One of the main contributions of the comparative essays collected in this volume is to show the increasing role of Latin American economists as members of national political elites on one side and of the international economic community dominated by North American economics on the other, which has provided much of the source of their domestic power.

Paradoxically, as argued by Marion Fourcade in her chapter about the United States, although economics has played an essential role in North American economy and society, the political influence of economists in that country has been much lower than for their Latin American colleagues in their own nations. This is due, in her view, to the fact that U.S. economics has acquired its status through its association with science and its attempted separation from politics. That chapter offers a brief discussion of changes in North American economics after the end of the Keynesian consensus in the early 1970s, but the reader must look elsewhere in order to understand the complex rise of free market economics and the dramatic change in the economists? perception of the role of the state between the 1970s and 1990s (see Backhouse 2005), which have had a strong influence in Latin America and other regions. True enough, neo-liberalism has not gone unchallenged in countries such as Brazil, where there has been a polarization between orthodox Americanized economic institutions and heterodox ones, as documented in the chapter about Brazil. However, as made clear throughout the book, this has not threatened the broad consensus view on ?sound economic fundamentals? such as trade openness, fiscal discipline, and transparent and steady monetary policy shared by most economists in the region and originally laid out by John Williamson in the early 1990s as part of what he famously called the ?Washington Consensus.?

Finally, according to the lengthy editorial introduction, Latin American economists have contributed relatively little to economics worldwide, as judged by names listed in the Who?s Who in Economics. The editors (see p. 7 of the book) tried to extend the exercise to the field of history of economic thought, by assessing articles published by Latin American scholars (or about Latin American economics) in HOPE and the Journal of the History of Economic Theory (JHET) between 1985 and 2005, with the conclusion that hardly any articles belonging to those categories appeared in those journals. They reached that result by studying a sample of years for HOPE (1985, 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2005) and JHET (1990, 1995, 1998, 2000 and 2005). This is a very doubtful methodology, which makes it hard to interpret their results. Whereas it is probably true that articles by Latin American authors or about Latin American history of thought are relatively few, the set is certainly higher than measured by that kind of exercise. But this is just a quibble in this fine collection about the recent dynamics of the economics profession in the Americas, which is hoped to increase the conversation between social scientists and historians of economic thought.


Backhouse, R. (2005), ?The Rise of Free Market Economics: Economists and the Role of the State since 1970,? in The Role of Government in the History of Economic Thought, ed. by S. Medema and P. Boettke. Supplement to Vol. 37 of History of Political Economy.

Coats, A.W., editor (1981), Economists in the Government: An International Comparative Study, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Coats, A.W., editor (1997), The Post-1945 Internationalization of Economics, Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Supplement to vol. 28 of History of Political Economy.

Fishlow, A. (1985), ?The State of Economics in Latin America,? Economic and Social Progress in Latin America, pp. 131-59. Inter-American Development Bank.

FitzGerald, V. and R. Thorp, editors (2005), Economic Doctrines in Latin America: Origins, Embedding and Evolution, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ocampo, A.J. and J. Ros (2011), ?Shifting Paradigms in Latin America?s Economic Development,? in Handbook of Latin American Economics, ed. by Ocampo and Ros. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mauro Boianovsky is Professor of Economics at Universidade de Bras?lia. His research focuses upon the history of macroeconomics, monetary theory and development economics. He is the co-author, along with Roger Backhouse, of Transforming Modern Macroeconomics: The Search for Disequilibrium Microfoundations, 1956-2003, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming (2012).

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Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Latin America, incl. Mexico and the Caribbean
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII