The political and economic history of Latin America has been marked by great hopes and even greater disappointments. Despite abundant resources-and a history of productivity and wealth-in recent decades the region has fallen further and further behind developed nations, surpassed even by other developing economies in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
In Left Behind, Sebastian Edwards explains why the nations of Latin America have failed to share in the fruits of globalization and forcefully highlights the dangers of the recent turn to economic populism in the region. He begins by detailing the many ways Latin American governments have stifled economic development over the years through excessive regulation, currency manipulation, and thoroughgoing corruption. He then turns to the neoliberal reforms of the early 1990s, which called for the elimination of deficits, lowering of trade barriers, and privatization of inefficient public enterprises-and which, Edwards argues, held the promise of freeing Latin America from the burdens of the past. Flawed implementation, however, meant the promised gains of globalization were never felt by the mass of citizens, and growing frustration with stalled progress has led to a resurgence of populism throughout the region, exemplified by the economic policies of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. But such measures, Edwards warns, are a recipe for disaster; instead, he argues, the way forward for Latin America lies in further market reforms, more honestly pursued and fairly implemented. As an example of the promise of that approach, Edwards points to Latin America's giant, Brazil, which under the successful administration of President Luis Inácio da Silva (Lula) has finally begun to show signs of reaching its true economic potential.
As the global financial crisis has reminded us, the risks posed by failing economies extend far beyond their national borders. Putting Latin America back on a path toward sustained growth is crucial not just for the region but for the world, and Left Behind offers a clear, concise blueprint for the way forward.
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. (June)