Comparative capitalisms and Latin American neodevelopmentalism: a critical political economy view.

Author:Ebenau, Matthias
Position::Diversity or dependence? - Report


This article seeks to contribute critically to the 'globalisation' of comparative capitalisms (CC) research by engaging with an emerging (predominantly) Brazilian research programme which seeks to put this field's insights and methodological tools to use for understanding contemporary economic trajectories in Latin America. For want of a better name, I will refer to this programme as 'varieties of capitalism and development in Latin America' (VoCD-LA), after one of its key publications (Boschi 2011). In this introduction, I provide a brief contextualisation of the topic before sketching out the central argument and structure of the article.

CC research has long had its centre of gravity in the so-called advanced capitalist world regions. Only over the past few years, CC scholars' attention has increasingly turned to the specific forms capitalism would take outside the traditional centres. From the late 1990s onwards, a significant body of literature emerged which sought to provide systematic comparative analyses of post-socialist capitalism in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). This was followed by a series of studies focusing on the so-called 'developing' and 'emerging' economies of the Latin American subcontinent (for an overview, see Ebenau 2013). However, due to the particularities in the forms the capitalist mode of production assumes in the region and its modes of insertion into the global economy, approaches that were built on a mere broadening of conventional CC perspectives, such as VoC's 'hierarchical market economy' (HME) extension, were often found wanting by critics (see e.g. Ebenau 2012; Fernandez & Alfaro 2011; Schrank 2009; Sheahan 2002; see also Fishwick in this special issue).

Against this background, the recent emergence of the more 'home-grown' VoCD-LA programme constitutes an innovative and politically relevant contribution to the ongoing globalisation of CC scholarship, and in particular its expansion to Latin America and its adoption by researchers based in the region. Taking a critical political economy viewpoint, this article presents an engagement with the research programme itself and its theoretical and intellectual foundations. Briefly put, its main argument is that VoCD-LA, while representing a considerable advance over previous attempts to extend CC scholarship to Latin America, still suffers from a number of significant analytical and political fallacies, rooted in its neoinstitutionalist and neodevelopmentalist fundamentals. These are related principally to problematic visions of the global economy and the capitalist nation-state, which will be discussed below.

In the following section, I give an overview of the central tenets of VoCD-LA, followed by a critical, historically grounded analysis of its theoretical suppositions and political implications. Subsequently, I substantiate the latter by means of a more specific case study of the recent Argentinian economic trajectory. The conclusion relates this analysis to the wider argument, and presents elements of an alternative political and research agenda.

'Varieties of capitalism and development in Latin America'

The core of the VoCD-LA research programme consists of a group of scholars around Renato R. Boschi, most of them Brazilian and working at or in association with the Nucleo de Estudos de Empresariado, Instituicoes e Capitalismo at Rio de Janeiro State University. Politically, VoCD-LA is closely related to neodevelopmentalist thought, which is being developed by scholars such as Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira. In theoretical terms, like most CC scholarship the research programme is rooted in variants of the neoinstitutionalist paradigm. In order to provide a grounded understanding of VoCD-LA, I will outline its specific research agenda and policy recommendations in conjunction with a discussion of these fundamentals.

Neodevelopmentalism is a body of political thought that has developed over the last ten or so years, particularly in Latin America. Drawing its inspiration principally from the experiences of the East Asian developmental states, nowadays it is one of the key influences on the more 'moderate' centre-left governments of the region, in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Peru. Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira, a former Brazilian minister and leading thinker on neodevelopmentalism, presents it as a 'third way' between the discredited neoliberal Washington Consensus and the older, inward-looking developmentalism that had underpinned attempts at import-substitution industrialisation up to the 1970s. Bresser-Pereira and other proponents envisage neodevelopmentalism as the basis for 'national development strategies' which, in principle, could be universalised to middle-income countries throughout the region and beyond (Bresser-Pereira 2007, 2010; O'Connor 2010; Sicsu et al. 2007).

Neodevelopmentalism perceives today's global economy as an arena of competition, not only between capitalist enterprises but also between nation-states, whose representatives seek to support 'their' firms in order to derive maximum benefits for 'national development'. Globalisation, Bresser-Pereira (2010: 34-44) argues, did not reduce the importance of states and their governments, but gave them even more strategic significance. The best way to reach the desired 'national development' in the present context is to pursue an export-oriented approach, while maintaining control over the central macroeconomic variables, especially foreign exchange and interest rates. Key to this programme is the implementation of a 'national development strategy', defined as 'concerted economic action oriented toward economic growth that has the nation as its collective actor and the state as its basic instrument of collective action' (Bresser-Pereira 2010: 59).

Such a 'national development strategy' or 'project', characterised by an orientation towards achieving growth and international competitiveness, a form of normative nationalism, an emphasis on class conciliation, and crucial importance attributed to the role of government, also constitutes a central theme throughout the writings of scholars associated with VoCD-LA (e.g. Boschi & Gaitan 2009; Diniz 2011; Gaitan 2011). It can thus be considered the hinge that connects neodevelopmentalism as a political agenda to VoCD-LA as a policy-oriented research programme. In this vein, the fundamental intellectual challenge the scholars around Boschi pose themselves could be described as that of ascertaining the institutional possibilities for governments to articulate and implement the 'national development strategies' to which neodevelopmentalism aspires (e.g. Boschi & Gaitan 2008: 5; Diniz 2011: 37-9). The neoinstitutionalist CC literature, in turn, with its focus on political and economic possibilities resulting from the specific historical trajectories of distinct economies, constitutes an obvious point of theoretical reference for this purpose. From within the broad neoinstitutionalist paradigm, scholars associated with VoCD-LA draw on a range of perspectives, including the rational choice-inspired VoC approach as well as historical and sociological variants (e.g. the various contributions in Boschi 2011).

Within this broad panorama, arguably the defining trait of VoCD-LA is the emphasis it places on the role of the state and government. More specifically, the state-centred (proto-) institutionalism that mainly emerged from debates on the rise of the East Asian 'tigers' from the 1960s onwards (see particularly Evans 1995; Weiss 1998) constitutes an important point of orientation for the Brazilian research programme (see e.g. Conde & Delgado 2009; Diniz 2011). The contributing scholars share its perspective regarding the central function of state institutions under the aegis of (neo-)developmentalism: to guarantee effective coordination between 'the public' and 'the private' with the aim of augmenting competitiveness and growth, national rent and, consequently, social welfare (Diniz 2011; see also Boschi & Gaitan 2008; Gaitan 2011). Through reference to the theoretical-conceptual framework associated with the various forms of neoinstitutionalism, the VoCD-LA research programme complements and refines the neodevelopmentalist agenda proposed by Bresser-Pereira and others. In the view of the contributing scholars, government is...

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