We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Find using OpenURL

Economic History and the Politics of Culture in Twentieth-Century Argentina

From: Latin American Research Review
Volume 48, Number 2, 2013
pp. 193-203 | 10.1353/lar.2013.0027

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

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 cross-disciplinary. The books under consideration here can be loosely divided into two categories, economic history and cultural history with a decided political emphasis.

Economic History

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. Subsequent regimes did not alter course. This led to major disincentives to investment and therefore generated inflation, with those who suffered the most being the poor. Governments did not make major policy changes because they were politically weak as a result of the deep fissures in a society that was almost evenly divided between Peronists and anti-Peronists. The vacuum of authority left interest groups to compete for power, sometimes violently.

The conclusions are not totally novel but are supported by an impressive collection of large data sets. It will be difficult for anyone interested in Argentina’s economic decline not to take this work extremely seriously, even if they disagree with many of its conclusions. What the book shows, although it does not provide much detail, is the importance of political weakness to the fate of the Argentine economy, and this nexus merits further investigation. Cortés Conde makes strikingly clear the continuity of basic economic policy despite governments that held very different sets of beliefs and very disappointing economic performances. Exactly why political weakness led to this consistency needs to be explored further.

Yovanna Pineda’s book is written in much the same style as Cortés Conde’s, but its goals are narrower. She attempts to answer a question that has bedeviled attempts at analysis for decades. Why did Argentine industrialization not take off in the period before 1930? There have been a number of efforts to answer that question, including Guido Di Tella and Manuel Zymelman’s addition of a stage to W. W. Rostow’s vision of development.2 More recently, Fernando Rocchi in an excellent book addressed the question using fewer econometric tools than Pineda and found that the...

You must be logged in through an institution that subscribes to this journal or book to access the full text.


Shibboleth authentication is only available to registered institutions.

Project MUSE

For subscribing associations only.