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Left Behind: Latin America and the False Promise of Populism Hardcover – June 1, 2010
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"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."
"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)
(SurvivalI Global Politics and Strategy)
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Top Customer Reviews
Edwards does a great job explaining the issues, problems, and solutions in ways that are understandable. He is an advocate of the free market and economic liberalism.
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.
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. More attention to what Lula has and hasn't done would have been interesting rather than contrasting Brazil in a lackluster fashion against Venezuela.
I have a degree in Spanish and Mechanical Engineering and am currently in law school. I am not a stranger to thinking critically. I have, since coming to law school, met business students who know absolutely nothing about the real world, nor issues balancing personal rights and public policy. In the intro to this book, the prof writing it talks about the encouragement he got from students to write this book. If they were business students and as clueless as the folks I've met, then it strikes me that this book preaches to the converted and leads down a dead end for true believers. Disappointing. Sorry the author had a crappy bike in Chile, it happens when ISI policies are kept in place for too long. But what of the success stories? Japan, South Korea? Will Latin American countries be stuck exporting raw materials and agricultural exports forever? Again, more questions not addressed. In the meantime, all this book leaves us with is the stock, "Econ for the good of business good." I found his conclusions on allowing foreign investment, privatising, to stabilize the economy and gradually increase education and social spending to be laughable. How do you think these countries accumulated so many poor people and such a dismal infrastructure to begin with? Free markets under about the same conditions, just different names; i.e. colonialism. The author would do well to speak on how Chile broke free from the stereotype, how it funded its schools, what industries it has developed and how. Again, never mentioned.
Lastly, I've learned over the years to pay attention to who reviews and publishes books so that I don't waste my time. I should have known that U of Chicago always lets me down. If it's Harvard's press, go to it, but Edwards didn't get published there did he? U of C published a subpar polemic and has burned me for the last time. I recommend you get this at the library, or not at all, and certainly don't stop here if you have questions about the economics in Latin America.