Examinations of the political-economic world of twentieth-century Argentina have changed dramatically in the past several decades, reflecting not just interest in Argentina’s depressing inability to maintain economic growth and stability but also major shifts in scholarly approaches worldwide. Recent works are encouragingly difficult to categorize, as they are increasingly complex, nuanced, and [End Page 193] cross-disciplinary. The books under consideration here can be loosely divided into two categories, economic history and cultural history with a decided political emphasis.
The attempts to explain Argentina’s economic problems have been transformed by the introduction of what has been called the new economic history: “These studies rely on empirical evidence and use both macro- and micro-level data to examine specific characteristics of Argentina’s business, investment groups, banks, labor, legal institutions and credit markets” (Pineda, 13). In other words, they use the tools of modern economists. Although not without earlier precedents,1 these studies have taken investigations to a higher level of sophistication and specificity. They have allowed economic historians to draw surer conclusions, but their techniques limit readership because they are difficult for those less schooled in economics to understand.
Roberto Cortés Conde uses the tools of the new economic history to examine the Argentine economy from the 1880s, when, according to the author, the expansion of the modern economy began, until 1989, when hyperinflation set in. The author considers the latter a major inflection point. Despite the author’s use of econometric tools, this is very much the work of a skilled historian. Cortés Conde describes his basic approach thus: “Although the past does not determine the present, it limits future options and choices. No one, neither governments nor individuals, made decisions in isolation; each choice was contingent on a range of possibilities that resulted in current conditions but that were also restricted by past conditions” (1–2).
The book’s goal is to explain why Argentina failed to sustain its position as a wealthy country, which it had achieved in the first decades of the twentieth century. The author, while speaking in a confident tone, points out that his findings are tentative. Although there were visible problems starting with World War I, Argentina more or less followed international trends. Cortés Conde sees the decline beginning with the Perón era, due to protective measures that made the importation of capital goods difficult. He argues that the social measures could have been carried out by other means, especially taxes...