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Reviewed by:
  • Business Politics and the State in Twentieth-Century Latin America
  • Carlos Dávila
Ben Ross Schneider. Business Politics and the State in Twentieth-Century Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xix + 312 pp. ISBN 0-521-83651-4, $70.00 (cloth); 0-521-54500-5, $26.99 (paper).

This volume is a valuable addition to the extensive and disparate bibliography on business associations, state-business relations, collective action, corporatism, and civil society. One of its major achievements is that it will help to redirect research on these topics. The book encompasses a wide field of scholarly work hitherto undertaken in a variety of disciplines: political science, economics, sociology of organizations, and economic and business history. In terms of business [End Page 510] history, Schneider's book is an important contribution to the study of business-government relations, an area in which important work was done in the 1990s but mainly in relation to the industrialized world. By contrast, this book is special for contributing to the growing literature on Latin American business history. The author makes a careful study of the eventful, often turbulent history of business politics in interaction with the state. And he does so across a wide regional spectrum with a comparative focus, throughout the twentieth century, to cover the business associations of the five largest countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico).

The central argument, finely worked out, is a novel one. The author shows that throughout the twentieth century in Latin America the state played a decisive role in the organization of the business sector. Thus, the dynamic changes in business associations over time in individual countries and static variations between countries are best explained by the institutional sediment of state action rather than by any other factor. For different motives (for example, the desire for political support or the implementation of a policy), key state players offered selective incentives (such as privileged access, material resources, or agreements) to the business sector, whose effects in terms of business politics and organization were significantly different. According to Schneider, this is a more convincing explanation than contending hypotheses that point to geographical, business (concentration, multinational corporations, conglomeration), or macro political factors.

The book is divided into three parts, which contain nine chapters. The first part has two chapters that present the theoretical and conceptual framework of the study—including a review of literature that is focalized and incisive—and the methodology. The second part is composed of five country case studies, with one chapter for each country, each of which ends with a useful and clear conclusion. The two chapters of the third part examine the consequences of the historical record of the government-business relationships studied, underscoring their macro benefits, as well as the micro contributions to sectoral governance. In both cases, the author casts doubt on the concept of rent seeking as the only driving force in business politics. In the final chapter there is an elaborate discussion of the impact of the book's findings in terms of democracy and civil society. One of the appendixes contains valuable background information on major business associations in the countries studied.

Schneider's work excels in several aspects. First, it is a carefully crafted piece of empirical research, which uses a wide variety of secondary sources, yet it makes no use of primary sources. The author explains that "maintaining well-staffed and organized archival centers was rarely a priority area of building institutional capacity in [End Page 511] associations" (p. 263). Instead, Schneider resorts to oral history, as provided by more than sixty interviews of key business and state actors. Second, Schneider sustains a coherent narrative, while at the same time, in a consistent way, he uses his theoretical framework creatively. Third, the field design, including the selection of cases, is careful and systematic. Finally, Schneider makes useful comparisons across time when making comparative analyses, at the same time that he contrasts cases of the most-developed business associations (Mexico, Chile, and Colombia) with less-developed ones (Argentina and Brazil).

Theoretically, this is a sophisticated work, more so than is usual in business history. The scheme of independent and dependent variables is carefully...


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