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Argentine Democracy

The Politics of Institutional Weakness

Edited by Steven Levitsky and María Victoria Murillo

Publication Year: 2005

During the 1990s Argentina was the only country in Latin America to combine radical economic reform and full democracy. In 2001, however, the country fell into a deep political and economic crisis and was widely seen as a basket case. This book explores both developments, examining the links between the (real and apparent) successes of the 1990s and the 2001 collapse. Specific topics include economic policymaking and reform, executive-legislative relations, the judiciary, federalism, political parties and the party system, and new patterns of social protest. Beyond its empirical analysis, the book contributes to several theoretical debates in comparative politics. Contemporary studies of political institutions focus almost exclusively on institutional design, neglecting issues of enforcement and stability. Yet a major problem in much of Latin America is that institutions of diverse types have often failed to take root. Besides examining the effects of institutional weakness, the book also uses the Argentine case to shed light on four other areas of current debate: tensions between radical economic reform and democracy; political parties and contemporary crises of representation; links between subnational and national politics; and the transformation of state-society relations in the post-corporatist era. Besides the editors, the contributors are Javier Auyero, Ernesto Calvo, Kent Eaton, Sebastián Etchemendy, Gretchen Helmke, Wonjae Hwang, Mark Jones, Enrique Peruzzotti, Pablo T. Spiller, Mariano Tommasi, and Juan Carlos Torre.

Published by: Penn State University Press


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pp. ix-x

Although the idea for this volume was planted before the extraordinary crisis that hit Argentina in December 2001, the project took on greater urgency in its aftermath. There had already existed a need for a good English- language analysis of the political and economic legacies of the 1990s. During that decade, Argentina had combined radical economic reform and democracy in a way that was arguably unparalleled in Latin America. We sought to explain this...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-20

Between 1989 and 2003, Argentine politics seemed to go full circle: from basket case to international poster child, and back to basket case. During the early 1990s, Argentina was widely hailed as a successful case of market- oriented reform. The far-reaching economic transformation undertaken by President Carlos Menem put an end to a severe hyperinflationary crisis. Unlike other radical reform cases in Latin America, these reforms were undertaken in a context...

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1. Building Castles in the Sand? The Politics of Institutional Weakness in Argentina

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pp. 21-44

Few countries have puzzled social scientists more than Argentina. Given its level of development, large, educated middle class, and comparatively egalitarian class structure, the country has consistently ‘‘underperformed’’ in terms of both economic growth and democratic stability.1 Indeed, it is the wealthiest country in history to...

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2. The Institutional Foundations of Public Policy: A Transaction Cost Approach and Its Application to Argentina

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pp. 45-61

In the 1990s, Argentina underwent a broad and profound process of market- oriented reform. With its ambitious program of macroeconomic stabilization, liberalization, privatization, and deregulation, Argentina became the poster child of the Washington establishment. After decades of inward-looking policies, stagnation, and fiscal crises that produced hyperinflation in 1989, Argentina seemed to have found its way at last. For a good part of the 1990s, Argentina’s macroeconomic...

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3. Old Actors in New Markets: Transforming the Populist/Industrial Coalition in Argentina, 1989–2001

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pp. 62-87

Dominant approaches to the study of the political economy of marketization have to a great extent overlooked the role that traditionally protected actors in industry and labor have played in shaping emerging market economies. Indeed, we know little about the transformation of the old populist/ industrial coalition in cases of sweeping economic liberalization such as Argentina during the 1990s. Why were the...

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4. Menem and the Governors: Intergovernmental Relations in the 1990s

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pp. 88-114

For much of the twentieth century, Argentina was a federal country in name only. By centralizing power in the hands of the national government, most of the leading political and economic developments in that century were unkind to federalism. In the political realm, chronic coup making by the armed forces weakened the country’s federal identity by replacing democratically elected provincial...

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5. Provincial Party Bosses: Keystone of the Argentine Congress

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pp. 115-138

Between 1989 and 2003, in regard to the major policy issues of the day, legislative politics in Argentina was often very adversarial with a relatively homogenous legislative majority party (which was also the party of the president) employing its majority status to pass legislation that was strongly opposed by an equally homogenous principal minority party. The consequences of this dynamic...

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6. Enduring Uncertainty: Court-Executive Relations in Argentina During the 1990s and Beyond

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pp. 139-164

On February 1, 2002, at the height of one of Argentina’s worst financial crises in history, the Supreme Court struck down a government freeze on bank deposits. Signed by six of the nine justices, the Smith decision stood in sharp contrast to the Argentine Supreme Court’s notorious pattern of favoring the government. Indeed, many of the same members of the Court who signed the decision against...

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7. Citizens Versus Political Class: The Crisis of Partisan Representation

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pp. 165-180

With the end of the authoritarian regime in 1983, Argentine political parties came to play a central role in the nation’s political life and were welcomed by citizens with fervor and confidence. Evidence of this was the impressive boost in party membership, which officially numbered 2.97 million in March 1983. Twenty years later, those feelings of fervor and confidence had been replaced...

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8. Crisis and Renovation: Institutional Weakness and the Transformation of Argentine Peronism, 1983–2003

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pp. 181-206

Few political parties have confounded conventional analysis as repeatedly as the Peronist Partido Justicialista (PJ) of Argentina. On the one hand, the pj has been characterized by an extraordinary degree of internal conflict and disorder. Throughout its history, Peronism has suffered severe institutional crises, frequent schisms, and occasional descents into chaos. At times, these internal conflicts have spilled over into the larger polity, with grave consequences for democratic institutions. On the other hand, the PJ has demonstrated...

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9. The New Iron Law of Argentine Politics? Partisanship, Clientelism, and Governability in Contemporary Argentina

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pp. 207-228

As Argentina fell once again into economic recession and political crisis in December 2001, President Fernando De la Rúa fled the Presidential Palace in a private helicopter. Food riots, protests, and severe repression resulted in half a dozen deaths, an unknown number of injured, and the burning of some of the National Congress’s quarters. Harassed in restaurants, theaters, and even while walking in the streets, politicians escaped from public view while citizens...

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10. Demanding Accountable Government: Citizens, Politicians, and the Perils of Representative Democracy in Argentina

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pp. 229-250

The link between Argentine politicians and their constituents has seriously eroded, as witnessed by the events of December 2001. Mass mobilizations took place in major urban metropolitan areas, reflecting a withdrawal of social trust in political elites. In this dramatic political moment, the wave of angry...

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11. Protest and Politics in Contemporary Argentina

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pp. 250-268

Argentina, December 2001: Close to three hundred stores were attacked or looted in eleven provinces during the week of December 14 to 21, 2001. Approximately twenty people died, all of them under thirty-five, killed either by the police or by store owners. Hundreds were seriously injured, and thousands arrested. The provinces of Entre Rios and Mendoza were the first to witness hundreds of persons blockading roads and gathering in front of supermarkets demanding food...

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Conclusion: Theorizing About Weak Institutions: Lessons from the Argentine Case

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pp. 269-290

This concluding chapter examines some theoretical lessons of the Argentine case. Specifically, it draws on the previous chapters to probe further into the causes and consequences of institutional weakness. As noted in the introduction, institutionalist approaches have become increasingly dominant in the field of comparative politics over the last two decades. The institutionalist turn was given...


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pp. 291-314


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pp. 315-318


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pp. 319-325

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052939
E-ISBN-10: 0271052937
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271027166
Print-ISBN-10: 0271027169

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 2 charts/graphs, 20 tables
Publication Year: 2005