In This Review

The Politics of Policies: Economic and Social Progress in Latin America, 2006 Report
The Politics of Policies: Economic and Social Progress in Latin America, 2006 Report
By Ernesto Stein, Mariano Tommasi, Koldo Echebarría, Eduardo Lo
Harvard University Press, 2006, 330 pp

This startling broadside issued by a major development agency directly challenges the naive technical rationality and universal models of orthodox development economics. To produce these sophisticated and wonderfully candid comparative country and sector case studies, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) turned to a wide network of independent social scientists. Political economy's "new institutionalism" is the unifying thread: to succeed and endure, economic reforms must proceed within the context of a country's political institutions. In a sharp rebuke to International Monetary Fund and World Bank spokespeople, the study asserts, "Referring (as is habitually done) to failed reforms as good ideas that could not be put into practice is illogical, as their infeasibility makes them bad ideas to begin with." The secret to Chile's outstanding economic performance, for example, lies in the maturity of its policymaking process, the technical quality and stability of its democratic institutions and cohesive political parties, and, one might add, the sobriety of its civic-minded leadership. Unfortunately, this generally balanced compilation sometimes dwells too long on political constraints and jettisons proven best practices -- a variety of academic pessimism that risks relegating some Latin American nations to permanent underdevelopment.