Tag Archives: trade policy

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.

Little Britain? Empire and the rise of protectionism in interwar Britain.

When Britain turned inward: Protection and the shift towards Empire in interwar Britain

By Alan de Bromhead (Queen’s University Belfast), Alan Fernihough (Queen’s University Belfast), Markus Lampe (Vienna University of Economics and Business) and Kevin Hjortshøj O’Rourke (University of Oxford)

International trade became much less multilateral during the 1930s. Previous studies, looking at aggregate trade flows, have argued that discriminatory trade policies had comparatively little to do with this. Using highly disaggregated information on the UK’s imports and trade policies, we find that policy can explain the majority of Britain’s shift towards Imperial imports in the 1930s. Trade policy mattered, a lot.

URL http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/nbrnberwo/23164.htm

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-03-20

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley

This paper provides an interesting insight into tariffs, and their role in interwar Britain from a perspective that has not been previously examined.  An examination of this issue is timely, especially with the debates surrounding the implication of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, and the threats issued by the American Trump administration concerning future trade policy.  It demonstrates that the impact of tariffs during the economic crises of the 1930s had a variable impact, and did not always achieve their intended outcome.  In this respect, the impact of punitive trade policies from a historical perspective can provide a very important context to future negotiations as the world becomes acclimatised to a very different political landscape.

Tariff reform was a huge issue for the British government in the early twentieth century, and the subject of significant political propaganda.

The paper is deeply researched, and draws on a wide collection of data.  One of the main conclusions is that trade blocs made very little difference, nor did the imperial preference scheme, to the balance and nature of the British economy in the crisis years.  However, it does show that the change in the nature of trade, away from free trade to focusing specifically on empire did have specific outcomes that shaped the direction of the British economy, but that these changes were caused specifically by trade policy rather than anything else.  Indeed, the authors show that as a result of the changing nature of the British government’s trade policy, a 70% increase in empire trade was reported in the period 1930-33.  In this respect, the paper poses a very interesting question that is addressed, but will need further historical enquiry:  Did trade policy contribute to return of intra-Imperial trade?

The paper looks at a range of policies pursued by the British government in the period after the First World War, some of which were discriminatory, in order to evaluate the nature of its economic and trade development.  In compiling their conclusions, a huge amount of data was analysed, including data sets from 42 countries examining 200 products categories between 1924-1938.   The data showed that dramatic changes were seen in the nature of Britain’s trade and economic policy in the period 1931-33.  Nevertheless, these changes had long roots.  The abolition of free trade after the First World War saw the introduction of the McKenna Duty, which imposed a 33.5% tariff on cars, clocks, watches, films and musical instruments ad valorem (based on the value of the goods).  This was later intensified with the implementation of the 1921 Safeguarding of Industries Act, where a 33.5% tariff was placed on the imports of key goods.  However, despite the apparent punitive nature of these policies, the British economy was largely Liberal up to 1930, when the Abnormal Importations Act allowed 100% tax on all manufactured goods from outside the empire.


Utilising goods from the empire was seen as an excellent opportunity for the British government to stablilise its economy during the challenges of the Great Depression.

Realising the potential difficulties that such a punitive law could unleash, a more compassionate deal was reached in the 1932 Import Duties Act, where it was agreed that a 10% tax be imposed on imported goods, although this exempted products from the empire.  This concession was achieved with the aim of ensuring improved access to dominion markets, and resulted in several bilateral agreements with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, India and Southern Rhodesia.  Nevertheless, with the introduction of quotas for agricultural products through the Agricultural Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933, there were now restrictions on the type of farming products that could be imported.  Moreover, in a tone that is reminiscent of the pro-Brexit camp both during and after the referendum, the British explored deals that went beyond the traditional confines of Europe in order to strengthen its economy, and this included Scandinavian countries and Argentina.  This not only improved British trade prospects, but provided the mutually-beneficial element to these countries in order to maintain access to the British market for the purpose of trade.


The 1932 Import Duties Act was seen by many as symbolic of punitive protectionist policies pursued by the British government.


There are so many fantastic elements to this paper that not only shed new light on the issue of tariffs, but also provide the foundation for future debate.  Nevertheless, the authors have highlighted what they believed were the difficulties in their research, especially concerning the masses of data that they collected.  They believed that there were inconsistencies in the data, but have done a wonderful job in using spreadsheets to predict the results in the absence of concrete data.  In some cases, the use of complicated mathematical formulas has been used to come to these conclusions.  The fact that the paper engages in counterfactual debate provides an important foundation for future discussion, but also lends itself to its own difficulties.  Counterfactuals, although interesting, cannot be definitively proven.   In this respect, the paper poses several “what if” questions relating to tariffs, especially what would have happened if tariffs had not been increased.  In their conclusions, they argue that it appears that the empire did better with tariffs than without, and if there was free trade, there would only have been a modest increase in the empire share of trade.  Thus, the impact of British protectionist policies proved substantial, and, they argue, account for a shift of around 50% of trade towards the empire by 1930.   The conclusions are interesting and useful, but as the authors explain, a lot of work needed to be done to fill the gaps in the data.  It is the interpretation of these gaps in the data, especially the ways in which some conclusions have been reached through the use of counterfactual debate that will undoubtedly provide the platform for future historical enquiry on this topic.


Eichengreen, Barry, and Douglas A. Irwin. The slide to protectionism in the Great Depression: Who succumbed and why?. No. w15142. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2009.

Capie, Forrest. Depression & Protectionism: Britain Between the Wars. Vol. 2. Routledge, 2013.

Temin, Peter. Lessons from the great depression. MIT Press, 1991.