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Left Behind: Latin America and the False Promise of Populism Hardcover – June 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To distill the economic history of a region encompassing twenty countries in just under three hundred pages is a daunting task. And in taking it on, the professor of International Business Economics of the University of California, Los Angeles ends up generalizing much of these countries' experiences. Though he does go into detail on Chile ("Latin America's Brightest Star"), Mexico, and Argentina, the people of Latin America seem to get left behind. In lieu of a discussion of the economic perils that have affected the population, there's a barrage of facts and figures. Despite the dry writing, there's knowledge to be gleaned from Edwards' research. He takes us from the foundations of the colonial era through the market-oriented reforms of the nineties and speaks with a glimmer of hope about the future of the Latin American economy. Throughout, Edwards stresses the importance of innovation and competition to economic success and blames political corruption, both in Latin America and elsewhere, for its failure. This isn't a tome to take to the playa, but it could prove useful as a reference in the classroom.
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"A masterly analysis that explains why economic populism in Latin America has been unable to reduce poverty—and never will. A must read for anyone eager to see Latin American countries move towards modern, inclusive and sustainable market economies under a single rule of law."

(Hernando de Soto, author of The Other Path and The Mystery of Capital)

“Sebastian Edwards's book is a must read for anyone interested in the economy of Latin America--past, present and future. No one knows Latin America better than Professor Edwards. And the experience of Latin America offers lessons for every developing country about what to do and what to avoid."

(Martin Feldstein)

"This is probably the most important book on Latin America of the decade; a masterly and highly readable assessment of the false starts and political failures—and the occasional successes—that have subverted the promise and potential of a continent. One of the outstanding economists of his generation, Sebastian Edwards explains the success of Chile and the disasters of populism in Venezuela and Argentina, while giving the best analysis available anywhere of Brazil's recent surge and its more cloudy prospects. And it is rare as it is refreshing to find a leading Latin American scholar acknowledging that his peoples' problem lies neither in the stars nor in Washington but in themselves."

(Martin Walker, senior director, Global Business Policy Council)

"Latin America is always promise, never quite performance. In his ruthlessly intelligent analysis, Sebastian Edwards cuts through the myths and obfuscations that have shielded Latin America from the basic political truths that underlie all economic growth. It is not Yanqui imperialism or global capitalism that holds back the Southern Hemisphere. To vary Bill Clinton: 'It's the politics, stupid' Sustained growth requires the rule of law, property rights, a much smaller, but much more efficient state, an independent judiciary, a competitive market with easy access for new entrants—strong institutions, in short. This book is 'political economy' at its very best—in the tradition of Smith, Ricardo, and Schumpeter."

(Josef Joffe, Stanford University)

“[A] brilliant blow-by-blow account of economic policy decisions, and their effects, in each of three key countries: Chile, Argentina, and Mexico."
(Times Literary Supplement)

“Edwards is eager for the reader to understand that, despite the shrill populist voices led by Venezuela’s inimitable Hugo Chávez, today’s Latin American leaders are overwhelmingly pragmatic and moderate, which is itself a dramatic improvement over the recent past. Their policies have allowed the region to weather the recent global shock and even to thrive, as in the cases of Brazil and Peru.”

(SurvivalI Global Politics and Strategy)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226184781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226184784
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,018,220 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By zhmeredith on March 21, 2013
Format: Paperback
Edwards intelligently and systematically profiles the role of populism in several Latin American economies and demonstrates how certain nations have time and time again failed to translate populist rhetoric into meaningful economic policies that actually create and sustain growth, enhance innovation and efficiency, and reduce poverty. Edwards aptly uses Brazil and Chile to illustrate how modern leftist politics and economic policy possess the capacity to lift certain nations onto the global economic stage and actualize their potential. Edwards' work illuminates the deep interconnectedness of Latin America's historical, cultural, and economic identities and offers a thoughtful framework for how these nations might optimally and realistically develop. A particularly relevant read with the recent death of Hugo Chavez; will be interesting to see what unfolds in the region.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Graham M. Flower on March 9, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book to try and understand the recurrent meltdowns in South America and to understand why they seem locked in destructive circles. I have been watching closely the slow motion train wrecks that are Venezuela and Argentina.

I feel like I got my money's worth of insight into the historical patterns as well as the cultural and institutional patterns that help to explain the traps that these countries fall in to. The pattern of insisting on import substitution style of development with its attendant high tariff barriers which generally do not decrease with time. Similarly there are generally weak institutions with executives with much more power than the legislatures, power which is frequently used to goose the economy with spending without careful regard to the inflationary tendencies that this creates. The author also explains the pattern of locking the currency in value to the US dollar which if money is printed tends to overvalue the currency and make exporting industries less competitive as well as stoking inflation. Of course there is also the tradition of weak property rights and unpredictable law changes which keeps levels of foreign direct investment low. There is also the recent phenomenon of long constitutions with 430 articles instead of the 7 basic articles of the US constitution.

The information in the book does help me place Chavez, Kirchener and De Silva into the historical context of their countries and explains well the two most recent Mexican currency crises. There is not much information on some of the smaller South American countries such as Uruguay or Paraguay but there is a fair bit on the larger countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina.
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17 of 24 people found the following review helpful By D. Garcia on March 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
The best parts of the book were the analyses of Chile, Argentina and Mexico. I did like his explanation of how developing countries can mandate long term investment to help stabilize reserves and their currencies. That's about it.

Problems with the book; I've been reading about the history, politics and economics of the countries of Latin America since about 1998 at least, and I kinda think that setting up as the main premise of the book an argument of populism vs free markets is a bit of a straw man argument. To be quite frank, it fits some countries more than others, say, Argentina for example vs Mexico. Argentina's experiences of Peronism and ISI smacked of crony capitalism. Mexico on the other hand, well, I've gotten the idea that the rampant corruption that is enmeshed throughout Mexico's history was a deterrent to just about all advancement and efficiency. What's more, there hasn't been much to populism in Mexico since Cardenas in the late 30s early 40s while free market policies have only gotten more extreme. So I wonder exactly where the author is coming from.

There wasn't much new in this book. Chile, Argentina and Mexico have been analyzed by others countless times. The book plays at looking at Latin America, yet only mentions countries like El Salvador or Peru in passing. If the author wanted a challenge, he should have looked off the beaten path, but he didn't. He should have mentioned that on the book cover, I wouldn't have bought it.

His takes on history, were, disturbing. I have never seen any history of Mexico or Chile take on the ideological bent this guy took. Argentina seemed pretty accurate. Chavez and Lula? Nothing too new there.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Juneja on February 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Not having a context for Latin America , I was skeptical to read this book initially. To my surprise, this book was a great lesson in economics. In spite of this book's focus on a geographic region , I would recommended this book to any person wanting to develop an economic point of view and understand the role of policy making in general.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By kevin Sheridan on August 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book. In less than 300 pages the author covers the
economic history of Latin America since the colonial times. I
particularly liked the discussion on the region's weak institutions. The
discussion of the unfinished reforms of the Washington Consensus is
original and very balanced. Edwards shows in a convincing way that these
reforms were rather timid, and didn't improve productivity in a
significant way. The comparison between Hugo Chavez and Lula (chapter 9)
is extremely interesting. I highly recommend it.
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