Published by EH.NET (July 2004)
Gerardo della Paolera and Alan M. Taylor, editors. A New Economic History of Argentina. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xvi + 397 pp. $60 (cloth), ISBN: 0-521-82247-5.
Reviewed for EH.NET by David Rock, Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara.
As a “New Economic History,” this work invites comparison with a celebrated predecessor published in 1970: Essays in the Economic History of Argentine Republic by Carlos F. Diaz Alejandro, to whose memory the new book is dedicated. The similarities between the two books include a thematic emphasis, as opposed to comprehensive coverage in conventional textbook format. The work by Diaz Alejandro made memorable contributions to topics like Argentine industry, agriculture, and the tariff. Chapters in the new volume are devoted to the same topics, along with others like banking, trade, and the labor market, which add up to a longer list than in Diaz Alejandro’s book. The new book like the old is larded with statistical data, much of it in CD format. The two books share the neo-classical outlook known today as neo-liberalism. In 1970, Diaz Alejandro made such an impact because his conservatism went against the grain of the then dominant structuralist position with its hybrid strands of Marxism and populism and its positive view of state intervention. Writing around the time of the millenium, the new authors no longer have to fight the battle against structuralism, which collapsed at roughly the same time as the Berlin Wall. For some years, their view has become the new orthodoxy — but orthodoxy now under challenge following the spectacular debacle of the Argentine neo-liberal model in 2001.
The New Economic History is a multi-authored, collaborative work. The best pieces in the book are by historians. Mar?a In?s Barbero and Fernando Rocchi, two historians, provide an excellent conspectus on the development of manufacturing industry in Argentina up till the mid-1970s. In their view, the weaknesses of industry lay in lack of access to technology, limited market size, and discontinuities of policies during the postwar era. A piece on the intersections between business, government, and law by Sergio Berensztein and Horacio Spector, makes original observations on the neglected issue of law.
The book provides interesting data on the financial crisis of 1914, whose effects ran more deeply than generally supposed. A piece by Sebasti?n Galiani and Pablo Gerchunoff contains some original insights on the development of the labor market. Another chapter by Leonard Nakamura and Carlos Zarazaga offers new insights into the organization of capital markets and the role of the stock exchange.
Elsewhere in the book, such as the piece on trade by Julio Berlinski, many other important issues are raised such as tariffs and exchange control. The multi-authored article “Passing the Buck” attempts to rank the quality of the thirty-some national administrations in Argentina since the 1850s. The authors address the question, “Which president of Argentina had the most successful monetary and fiscal policy?” The analysis tries to compensate for the problems each administration inherited such as deficits or inflation. The investigation has some interesting results. One of the best governments of Argentina turns out to be the almost forgotten administration of Pastor Obligado in the mid-1850s — although he served only as governor of Buenos Aires and not as president of Argentina. He turns out to have run a successful administration, because he could ignore most of the country.
David Rock is author of State Building and Political Movements in Argentina, 1860-1916 (Stanford, 2002).