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