Tag Archives: Brazil

The Wealth of the Other Americas

The Industrialization of South America Revisited: Evidence from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, 1890-2010

Gerardo della Paolera (Central European University), Xavier Durán (Universidad de los Andes), Aldo Musacchio (Brandeis University)

Abstract: We use new manufacturing GDP time series to examine the industrialization in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia since the early twentieth century. We uncover variation across countries and over time that the literature on industrialization had overlooked. Rather than providing a single explanation of how specific shocks or policies shaped the industrialization of the region, our argument is that the timing of the industrial take off was linked to initial conditions, while external shocks and macroeconomic and trade policy explain the variation in the rates of industrialization after the 1930s and favorable terms of trade and liberalization explain deindustrialization after 1990.

URL: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:nbr:nberwo:24345

Circulated by NEP-HIS on: 2018‒03‒19

Review by: Thales Zamberlan Pereira (Universidade Franciscana)

The long road of protectionism in Latin America in the decades between 1930 and 1990 led not only to import substitution of goods, but also of ideas. During those decades each country thought its way of development distanced from its neighbors, despite relatively similar schools of thought under the care of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The result was a myriad of studies focused on peculiarities – what made each country unique in its backwardness – largely ignoring the possibility of comparative perspectives. Of course, comparative studies existed, but the view of Latin America as an object of study until the 1980s was delegated to a secondary place, shared more by international agencies and foreign researchers who sought a more macro understanding of the region.

During the last three decades things changed, but we still feel the effects of these“lost decades”. “Intellectual isolation” was especially true in Brazil, which until today has very few university courses on the economic history of other Latin American countries. The paper of Gerardo Paolera, Xavier Durán, and Aldo Musacchio, therefore, is a much welcome attempt to understand the differences in long-term development in South America using comparative data for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia. They present a history of industrialization in these countries putting together series of manufacturing value added, labor productivity in manufacturing, the size of the labor force, and trade series for the whole twentieth century (until 2010, actually). Despite arguing that they estimated new figures when the data was not available, the authors mostly use secondary sources for macroeconomic data (for example, Brazil’s data comes from IPEA, a government agency).

The paper’s main argument is that the long-term series of industrial GDP suggest that the patterns of industrialization in those countries were heterogenous, and initial conditions – such as level of urbanization, literacy and infrastructure development at the end of the 19th century – mattered more for the timing of industrial takeoff than policies or external shocks. Therefore, the authors reject traditional hypotheses that have tried to explain the industrialization of South America using “one single theory”. Among these traditional explanations are the “adverse shocks” hypothesis, industrialization as a product of export-led growth, and industrialization as the product of import substitution industrialization (ISI). The paper then proceeds to explain the differences between the four countries during the following periods: 1) before 1920, 2) the 1920s, 3) the Great Depression, 4) World War II, 5) the 1980s, 6) 1990s and beyond.

According to the paper, the long-term industrial series show that “none of these hypotheses explain all cases for the entire century.” Moreover, changes in external conditions and domestic policies explain part of the variation in the rates of industrialization only after the 1930s. In their review about the different periods of industrialization, the highlight is for the effects of ISI policies on industrialization. They present a “real distorted import price” index – which are import prices multiplied by the average tariff and the nominal exchange rate – to show the correlation between price distortion of imports and growth of manufacturing as a percentage of GDP. This correlation is widely known in the historical literature, but bringing together data for the South American countries helps us to understand the relative size of barriers to trade in each country.

Musacchio et al Fig1

Figure 1: Real Distorted Import Price Index for Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia,
1900-2012 (1939=100)

Paolera, Duran, and Musacchio’s paper is an interesting contribution, however, it is not clear how much of it is a revisionist interpretation of South America’s industrialization. It would be interesting to have a better sense about how much the literature on Latin America industrialization in the twentieth century really argues that the process was homogeneous across countries and that domestic and initial conditions did not matter. Even in books that summarize the literature, such as Bértola and Ocampo (2012) there are clear differences between the countries and initial conditions (their Human Development Index for example).

As a side note, it also feels unnecessary to argue that the countries shared similar culture, religion, and colonial origin to “control” for cross-sectional variation. Is there really a relevant connection between these conditions and different periods and types of industrialization? Besides the fact that many Argentineans, Brazilians, and Chileans will try to “argue” that they have a very different culture (and, in the case of Brazil, colonial origin), it would be good to show if the traditional hypotheses make these connections.

Moreover, since initial conditions (human capital) mattered for industrialization, why is East Asia a proper counterfactual for Latin America? The authors argue that we “need to improve our knowledge” on this issue, but it feels there is room to present more recent research about the topic, not only Robert Wade’s (1990) book: in the style of Liu (2017) and Lane (2017). Also, as a suggestion, it would be interesting to see the index for “real distorted import prices” for East Asian countries, as it would teach us something about Latin America.

The 1980s and 1990s could also have a more extensive literature review. For example, the paper argues that the improvement in terms of trade after the 1990s was associated with “some form of Dutch Disease”. However, there is not sufficient evidence to make this statement. Their measure of de-industrialization, which is a declining share of manufacturing in total GDP, is a limited way to measure de-industrialization, especially when productivity of the other sectors (like agriculture) was increasing. The lower share of manufacturing after the 1980s could also be a form of correction after the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, we still do not have a clear answer about the opportunity cost of those policies. Nevertheless, the Brazilian’s government attempt (and failure) to resuscitate the policies of the military regime in the years after 2008 shows us that the cost-benefit of industrialization at any cost in previous decades needs to be re-evaluated (as they were in Musacchio and Lazzarini 2014). After three decades of declining knowledge barriers between South American countries, perhaps it is time to “demand” the next step in historical comparative studies: micro studies.


  • Bertolá, Luis and José Antonio Ocampo’s The Economic Development of Latin America since Independence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Lane, Nathan. “Manufacturing Revolutions. Industrial Policy and Networks in South Korea.” Job Market Paper, Institute for International Economic Studies (IEES), 2017.
  • Liu, Ernest. “Industrial Policies in Production Networks.” Working Paper, Princeton University, 2017.
  • Musacchio, Aldo, and Sergio Lazzarini. Reinventing State Capitalism. Leviathan in Business, Brazil and Beyond. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Wade, Robert. Governing the Market. Economic Theory and the Role of Government in East Asian Industrialization. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

The Limitations of Correcting Data with more Data

Brazilian Export Growth and Divergence in the Tropics during the Nineteenth Century

By Christopher D. Absell and Antonio Tena Junguito (both at Carlos III, Madrid).

Abstract: The objective of this article is to reappraise both the accuracy of the official export statistics and the narrative of Brazilian export growth during the period immediately following independence. We undertake an accuracy test of the official values of Brazilian export statistics and find evidence of considerable under-valuation. Once corrected, during the post-independence decades (1821-50) Brazil’s current exports represented a larger share of its economy and its constant growth is found to be more dynamic than any other period of the nineteenth century. We posit that this dynamism was related to an exogenous institutional shock in the form of British West Indies slave emancipation that afforded Brazil a competitive advantage.

url: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/ctewhrepe/wp15-03.htm

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2015-05-22 and published under the same title in Journal of Latin American Studies (Online, April 2016)

Reviewed by Thales A. Zamberlan Pereira (University of São Paulo)

The best place to find the (rather scarce)  macroeconomic data for 19th century Brazil are the official statistics compiled by the Brazilian Statistics Institute (IBGE). The IBGE data is the main source in Brian Mitchell’s international historical statistics and both are commonly used in the literature exploring Brazilian economic history. The paper by Absell and Tena is an attempt to test the accuracy of these sources by looking at official export statistics between 1821 and 1913. If nothing else this  already makes this an interesting paper.


The focus in export data relies on the argument that the Brazilian economy remained stagnant during the decades that followed Brazil’s independence until 1850 when there was renewed economic growth. While the more recent literature suggests the development of a domestic economy before 1850, the more “classic” literature focuses on the foreign sector to calculate Brazil’s economic growth in the 19th century.

Absell and Tena confirm previous findings that official export statistics were undervaluing exports after 1850. But their study extends to the earlier period and suggests that official statistics  also had a significant bias for the first half of the 19th century. In particular their analysis suggests that Brazilian export growth before 1850 was much higher than previously assumed and that a change in international demand, especially for coffee, was the principal determinant for this growth. The last section of the paper tries to explain the sources of Brazil’s “dynamic export growth” during the post-independence decades and shows that an increase in foreign demand was much more important than changes in domestic productivity. The high rate of growth in exports between 1821 and 1850, a very interesting result, is calculated by deflating prices using an index from a new series of commodities prices.




All of Absell and Tena’s results are grounded in the price correction of the official export data and, therefore, the most interesting part of the paper is the reconstruction of Brazil’s export statistics. To correct the official data, they used international prices for the different commodities (mainly cotton, sugar, and coffee) and subtract freight rates, insurance costs, and export taxes. That is, they convert c.i.f. (cost, insurance and freight) values to f.o.b. (free on board) creating new series for these variables. For insurance and freight rates they used trade data between Rio de Janeiro and Antwerp. It should be noted, however, that a large part of cotton exports before 1850 went to Britain, and freight rates between Brazil and Liverpool were half of what they were for freight travelling to Portugal or France.

Absell and Tena argue that official data for exports was sourced in a weekly table organized “by a government committee in consultation with local commodity brokers and commercial associations.” This information was then verified by the Ministry of Finance,  who sent the tables to provincial customs houses (which calculated the tax revenue) and also to major news periodicals. If the official values were organized like this for the whole period under study, as the authors argue, it would be easier to doubt the accuracy of exports statistics. But, it is difficult to understand how a system of weekly information could work in a country the size of Brazil during the 19th century. Before 1850, northern provinces like Maranhão had stronger business relationships with Lisboa and Liverpool than with Rio de Janeiro. Some northern provinces did not support independence in 1822 because of close economic ties with Portugal.


An additional issue is that many important provinces, even after 1850, did not use the weekly table to calculate their taxes. Evidence suggests that in Minas Gerais and São Paulo, two major coffee exporters, the government used a fixed price system to calculate taxes. See, for example, debates at the provincial assembly of Rio de Janeiro, November 1862, 1879; available online. This information, of course, does not invalidate the argument about the inaccuracy of official values, but it provides some clues that the authors’ correction could have a significant bias as well.

Another problem with the transformation to f.o.b. prices regards export duties. In the working paper version of this article, they assume this “additional trade cost” represented between 1 to 7 per cent of export values. There is extensive evidence, however, that export taxes were a much higher burden throughout the 19th century. Debates at the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate, and in newspapers show that before the fiscal reform in the 1830s, export duties for sugar and cotton could reach more than 20 per cent. The export duties also varied across provinces. After 1850, they continued to be at least 10 per cent.  The export duties presented by Absell and Tena are undervalued because their source from 1821 to 1869 only show the total revenue collected by the central government, not revenue collected by provincial custom-houses. Making assumptions in such calculations is valid, but information regarding data sources should have been more clearly explained in the published version.


Because the objective of the authors is to correct export values using more accurate price data, it should be clear that they do not use only price for Brazilian commodities to adjust the official statistics. To correct the value of Brazilian cotton exports, for example, they use price information of Guyana Raw (Berbice or Demerara) and Middling Uplands (United States) to the United Kingdom. The figure below shows the price of an arroba of cotton in pennies (d) from four different sources, including two prices series for Brazil not used in Absell and Tena paper. The first is the price from the official statistics (IBGE), the second is the price of cotton at the port of Maranhão, the third is the price of cotton from Maranhão in Liverpool, and the last one in the average price of West Indies in Liverpool. As can be seen,  using prices for Brazilian cotton would change some of the magnitudes that the paper proposes.


In summary the paper by Absell and Tena makes a worthy contribution and it proposes a revisionist approach to an important source. An important problem in the paper, however, is not discussing how its own sources could limit their conclusions, a crucial aspect in any revisionist study.