Is Geography Destiny? Lessons from Latin America

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Is Geography Destiny? Lessons from Latin America

By John Luke Gallup, Alejandro Gaviria, and Eduardo Lora
Stanford University Press, World Bank, 2003
200 pp. $21.95

It has long been a conundrum: Why, with so rich a natural resource base, did Latin America slip so far behind Europe and North America in terms of economic development? And why, even among developing countries, are inequalities greater in Latin America than in other regions? Over the last decade, recycled culturalist arguments, stripped of their original racist and anti-Catholic language, have held sway. The influence of geography on Latin American development is not a new topic either -- after all, the philosophes posed this question in the eighteenth century. This valuable study's novel approach is to look at the intersection between physical characteristics, such as climate, topography, and soil quality, and economic and social development indicators. Latin America includes an enormous variety of climates and ecozones, and the authors address a remarkable range of factors, from tropical soils and land productivity to disease, urbanization, and access to world markets, that vary widely both within individual countries and across the region, reminding readers that geographic factors must be taken into account when making policy.

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