Bulmer-Thomas addresses the old conundrum: despite the region's abundance of natural resources and a favorable land-to-labor ratio, why hasn't a single Latin American republic become a developed country, and why are external influences preeminent, after almost two centuries free from colonial rule?
In an ambitious, clearly written, and impressively documented economic history, Victor Bulmer-Thomas of the University of London examines the successes and failures of export-led growth in the nineteenth century, the withdrawal into inward-looking, import-substitution economics after the Great Depression, and the debt crisis of the 1980s. He concludes with an examination of the current paths toward a new version of export-led growth. He warns that "the transfer of assets to the domestic private sector, whether through alienation of church wealth, expropriation of foreign property, or the privatization of state assets, has never been used to enhance the competitive environment. Instead, new (often family based) conglomerates have emerged to challenge the hegemony of established groups and join the charmed circle with influence and power over state decisions." Thus, for the new phase to succeed where other phases have failed, Bulmer-Thomas believes that it is essential to find a way to "transform rents into technical progress and total factor productivity growth." The book dedication is also worth noting: "For the 30 percent who receive 5 percent--a ray of hope; for the 5 percent who receive 30 percent--a warning."