Missed Opportunities: The Economic History of Latin America

October 6, 2017
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There is a new book on Latin America by Beatriz Armendáriz and Felipe Larraín.

IMF interviews Prof Larrain. What sums up the missed opportunities in the region?

Latin America has vast natural resources and a talented population. Why has the region remained so poor compared with its northern neighbors?

Our book highlights five theories of why Latin America has lagged behind, some of which date back to the region’s colonial origins.

The first is geography. Over 70 percent of Latin America is in the tropics, which makes everything more difficult. The region is more exposed to disease—malaria, yellow fever, dengue, cholera, and others—and it is far from key markets.

Second, Latin America was exposed to civil law tradition after independence, as opposed to common law. A common law system—where judges have a more active role—is more conducive to economic growth and development.

Third is large-scale agricultural plantations in Latin America. In the North, there was more mixed farming centered on grains and livestock, and smaller units, which led to more democratic political institutions, a more robust protection of property rights, and a larger middle class.

Fourth, the region’s institutional legacy is a part of the story too, where institutional arrangements in the South are weaker as opposed to the North.

And finally, ethno-linguistic and cultural fragmentation in Latin America, which goes back to the colonial periods, have also held back the region, although the influence of this factor is much less important than in Africa, for example.

Hmm… How these factors continue to impact the region..

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