The Economist had a few weeks ago an issue on Argentina (here; subscription required), which I wanted to address, but had no time before today. The argument implies that the current Argentine woes (discussed here before) are part of a pattern which is associated to the long decline in income per capita from the late 19th century and early 20th century until now.

The Economist suggests that:

“In 1914 Argentina stood out as the country of the future. Its economy had grown faster than America’s over the previous four decades. Its GDP per head was higher than Germany’s, France’s or Italy’s. It boasted wonderfully fertile agricultural land, a sunny climate, a new democracy (universal male suffrage was introduced in 1912), an educated population and the world’s most erotic dance. Immigrants tangoed in from everywhere. For the young and ambitious, the choice between Argentina and California was a hard one.”

In a sense that’s true. According to Maddison’s data in 1913 Argentina per capita GDP (in 1990s dollars) was 3,797 while France and Germany had respectively 3,485 and 3,648 (data available here). However, the reasons for the decline in the 20th century are based on simplistic notions, typical of the so-called New Institutionalism of North and more recently Acemoglu and Robinson (for a critique go here). In their words:

“Building institutions is a dull, slow business. Argentine leaders prefer the quick fix—of charismatic leaders, miracle tariffs and currency pegs, rather than, say, a thorough reform of the country’s schools.”

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Jill Richardson, Guest Blogger

This post is a summary of the inaugural China-Latin America Economic Bulletin, from the Global Economic Governance Initiative (GEGI) at Boston University. Triple Crisis contributors Kevin Gallagher and Cornel Ban are the co-directors of GEGI.

As 2013 drew to a close, Boston University’s Global Economic Governance Initiative inaugurated its annual China-Latin America Economic Bulletin. The Bulletin is intended as a go-to source for analyzing and synthesizing trends within the burgeoning China-LAC [Latin America and Caribbean] relationship. It can be a significant challenge to come by reliable data detailing this trade and investment relationship. By providing concrete figures and data, the Economic Bulletin helps to fill in these gaps as well as provide an evidence-based understanding of trends and developments in the increasingly important China-LAC connection.

Many of the key findings of the 2013 Economic Bulletin involve the evolving nature of China-LAC trade. As a whole, LAC exports to China have risen massively since 2000, averaging a 23 percent annual export growth rate. This relatively rosy picture obscures the fact that in recent years this rate has dropped precipitously, slowing to just 7.2 percent growth in 2012. Much of this slowdown can be attributed to falling commodity prices. Despite LAC exports to China growing in volume, price volatility has allowed for stagnant, or even declining, export values.

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Timothy A. Wise

Cross-posted from Global Post.

Mexico’s largest agribusiness associated invited me to Aguascalientes to participate in its annual forum in October. The theme for this year’s gathering was “New Perspectives on the Challenge of Feeding the World.”

But it was unclear why Mexico, which now imports 42 percent of its food, would be worried about feeding the world. It wasn’t doing so well feeding its own people.

In part, you can thank the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for that. Twenty years ago, on January 1, 1994, NAFTA took effect, and Mexico was the poster child for the wonders of free trade. The promises seemed endless.

Mexico would enter the “First World” of developed countries on the crest of rising trade and foreign investment. Its dynamic manufacturing sector would create so many jobs it would not only end the U.S.  immigration problem but absorb millions of peasant farmers freed from their unproductive toil in the fields. Mexico could import cheap corn and export electronics.

So much for promises.

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Martin Khor

Last Thursday I took part in an unusual Open Day on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in Kuala Lumpur.

A thousand people turned up at the event, showing how this trade agreement has aroused great public interest and concern.

The organiser of the half day event was the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which had been criticised by several citizen groups as not revealing enough information about the TPPA.

It was unusual because the Trade Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed spoke frankly of a “trust deficit” on TPPA between MITI and the public.

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Jayati Ghosh

SEOUL, the capital of the Republic of Korea, is now one of the “happening” cities of Asia. Psy’s “Gangnam style” (the pop music video that has gone viral online with more than 6 billion hits) that somewhat randomly celebrates the posh modern district of Gangnam is only one of various ways in which the city is supposed to reflect the new cool. There is growing recognition that this city is both vibrant and livable, with its vertiginous high-rise buildings coexisting with clean streets, fine new museums and spots that combine the natural beauty of its forested hills with carefully preserved (or reconstructed) palaces of the Joseon dynasty.

The evident sophistication and confidence of this capital city are relatively recent, indicating the material successes brought about by the much acclaimed and analysed “Korean economic miracle” that lifted a relatively poor economy into developed country status over the course of a generation. It is now recognised that this miracle was not a result of the operation of unfettered market forces. Rather, it was based on active state involvement in shaping the way private agents behaved. This economic success also had its dark side in the brutal dictatorship of Park Chung-hee (whose daughter Park Gyeun-hye was recently elected President). And both of these were enabled by the active support of Western (specifically United States) political and economic power.

This exemplifies the extent to which Korea’s turbulent and frequently tragic history has encapsulated the pulls and pushes of external forces, which outsiders frequently do not recognise. Korea’s history has been significantly driven from without, from the 7th century attempts at domination by the T’ang emperors of China to the Ming takeover of the 15th century to the tug of war between the Qing rulers of China and newly expansionist Japan in the 19th century. The subsequent 20th century division of the country into northern and southern sections was a reflection of the Cold War’s hottest moment. The Korean War in the 1950s, which split the country, was less an internally generated civil war and more the result of the desire of the conflicting foreign powers to maintain their own areas of strategic domination.

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Martin Khor

The nature and effects of free trade agreements has become a topic of public discussion, especially with the round of talks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) about to take place in Malaysia.

Not much is known about the TPPA drafts. But with some of its chapters leaked and available on the internet, and since much of the TPPA is likely to be similar to bilateral FTAs that the United States has already signed, we can have a good idea of its main points.

As can be expected, there are many contentious issues to consider, especially for developing countries like Malaysia.

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Yilmaz Akyuz

More than five years since the outbreak of the global financial crisis, the world economy shows little sign of stabilizing and moving towards strong and sustained growth.  Because of policy shortcomings in removing the debt overhang and providing strong fiscal stimulus to make up for private sector retrenchment, the crisis in the US and Europe has been taking too long to resolve.  While deleveraging continues to stifle private demand, economic activity is further restrained by fiscal drag in these two epicentres of the crisis as governments have turned to fiscal orthodoxy after an initial reflation.  There has been excessive reliance on monetary policy through provision of large amounts of liquidity to financial markets and institutions at close-to-zero interest rates, using unconventional means, generating financial fragility and exchange rate instability in emerging economies, as well as potential unintended and not well-understood consequences for future financial stability in AEs.

Developing countries (DCs) are not decoupled from AEs, contrary to what was widely believed during their unprecedented growth in the run-up to the global crisis.  With continued instability and downturn in AEs, the structural weaknesses in DCs are exposed.  Although conditions in global financial and commodity markets have generally remained favourable since 2009, the strong upward trends in capital flows and commodity prices that had started in 2003 have come to an end and exports to AEs have slowed considerably.  Growth in most major DCs has now decelerated significantly compared to the rates achieved before the onset of the crisis, after showing some resilience in the first couple of years of the crisis thanks to a strong countercyclical policy response made possible by their improved macroeconomic conditions during the earlier expansion.  In Asia, the most dynamic developing region, growth in 2012 was some 5 percentage points below the rate achieved before the onset of the crisis; in Latin America it was almost half of the pre-crisis rate.

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Kevin P. Gallagher

This week Chinese President Xi Jinping will make his first official visit to Latin America since taking office. Xi will visit Trinidad and Tobego, Costa Rica, and Mexico. In a scramble the United States has sent Vice President Joseph Biden to the region on a goodwill mission at the same time.

The two leaders will spar over the airwaves, web, and blogosphere offering different visions of cooperation. The US should use this opportunity to strengthen ties with the region and take advantage of the fact that Latin America’s love affair with China appears to be cooling.

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M. Shaffaedin

The purpose of this piece is to propose a way BRICS can provide support for “unlocking Africa’s potential” for development through regional cooperation. This objective was  agreed upon by BRICS countries in their recent meeting in Durban (South Africa). Let me first explain the background before making my proposal.

In their latest meeting, the BRICS countries agreed, inter alia, on discussing with African leaders the way “Africa’s potential” can be “unlocked”. They also reaffirmed their support for regional integration of Africa, and the  “industrialization process through stimulating foreign direct investment”. Nevertheless, while emphasizing their willingness to help promote regional integration and industrialization of the continent, by supporting infrastructure development, they have not mentioned the mechanism by which Africa’s potential can be unlocked, nor the way BRICS could provide the necessary support. Supposedly, their proposals to establish  “the BRICS Think Tanks Council” and “ a new Development Bank” are relevant in achieving the aforementioned objectives.

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Timothy A. Wise

Just when you thought the unhealthy ties between food, fuel, and financial markets couldn’t get more perverse, we get the announcement that Vitol, the world’s largest independent oil trader, is entering the grain-trading business, hiring a team from Viterra, based in Toronto, to run the show. And lest we toss this off as just another corporate deal, Javier Blas in the Financial Times reminds us that Viterra has itself recently been bought by Glencore, perhaps the world’s greatest global commodity speculator.

What could go wrong?

For the world’s poor, plenty. They’ve already endured three food price spikes in the last six years, fueled in part by financial speculators gambling on agricultural, energy, and metals commodities as they fled the wreckage of the housing and stock market crashes. This corporate deal may not change a thing, but it is a powerful symbol of what’s wrong with our broken food system.

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