In This Review

Argentine Democracy: The Politics of Institutional Weakness
Argentine Democracy: The Politics of Institutional Weakness
Edited by Steven Levitsky and Maria Victoria Murillo
Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006, 320 pp

The initial purpose of this volume seems to have been to explain the underperformance of Argentina, but the 13 contributors end up unearthing a fascinating story of progress, however tumultuous and uneven. Naive observers are warned that formal institutions in Argentina, and for that matter in many developing countries, may be less than they appear: rules are forever changing, and enforcement is feeble. What is more controversial, weak, unstable institutions foster widespread distrust and all sorts of problematic behavior, including short-term opportunism and the underproduction of public goods and productive investment. Yet the authors discover that since the collapse of military rule in 1983, and notwithstanding repeated upheavals, democratic practices and core free-market institutions have gained strength, and the country's political culture itself is evolving: the increasingly informed, discriminating middle class is demanding more modern, accountable governance. The volume's schizophrenia is understandable: the Argentina of President Néstor Kirchner lies somewhere in between the social democracies in progress of neighboring Chile and Brazil and the anti-institutional populism now gripping Bolivia and Venezuela. The editors and contributors mix "a measure of optimism" about Argentina's political future with their frank uncertainty about the ultimate outcome.