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Faculty of Economics

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Palma, J. G.

Latin America's social imagination since 1950. From one type of 'absolute certainties' to another - with no (far more creative)'uncomfortable uncertainties' in sight,


Abstract: Latin America is a region whose critical social imagination has stalled, changing from a uniquely prolific period during the 1950s and 1960s - revolving around structuralism, 'dependency', Baran and Sweezy-type analysis of 'monopoly capitalism', French structuralism, the German Historical School, Keynesian and Post-Keynesian macroeconomics, and the ideas of endogenous intellectuals (such as Mariátegui) - to an intellectually barren one since the 1982 debt-crisis and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although this has happened in most of the world, the downswing of the cycle of critical thinking and the process of re-legitimisation of capital have been more pronounced in Latin America, as neo-liberalism has conquered the region, including most of its progressive intelligentsia, just as completely (and just as fiercely) as the Holy Inquisition conquered Spain - transforming critical thinkers into an endangered species. A key problem of the pre-1980 critical social imagination had been its unremitting critique of the economy; consequently, once the 'new left' conceded the economy as the fundamental hub of the struggle, there seemed to have been little else left in terms of basic ideological principles to hold onto in a thoughtful way. It was as if 'progressive' thinking had lost not just some but all its relevance - making it very difficult to move forward ideologically in a creative way. As a result, in terms of development strategies and economic policies both the 'old' and the 'new' left are still mostly stuck in the past: while the former (as in Venezuela) tries to recreate somewhat mechanically what it perceives to be 'the best of the past', the latter (except for their policies on social expenditure) attempts to create a future which is fundamentally the exact opposite of that past (e.g., the 'new-left' in Brazil and Chile) - and in order to do so, it seems to have only one guiding economic policy principle: to transform practically everything that before was considered "virtue" into a "vice", and "vice" into a "virtue". Not surprisingly, neither approach has been very successful; in the case of the latter, their remarkably narrow 'reverse-gear' attitude has delivered not only a disappointing economic performance (especially in terms of productivity-growth), but also a political settlement characterised by a rather odd mixture of an insatiable oligarchy, a captured 'progressive' political élite (the dominant classes are quite happy to let them govern as long as they don't forget who they are), 'sterilised' governments, passive citizens, and a stalled social imagination - all made more palatable for the poor by an agenda of safety-nets. From time to time, this dull mélange is sparked off by outbursts of students' discontent. Meanwhile, the world (with its new technological and institutional paradigms) moves on, and Asia forges ahead.

Keywords: Latin America, Ideology, Critical Thinking, Structuralism, Dependency,Neoliberalism,Fundamentalism, 'New Left', Top 1%, Keynes, Foucault, Prebisch, Hirschman

JEL Codes: B5 D3 E2 F13 F59 J20 L520 N16 N36 O16 O4 P5

Author links: Jose Gabriel Palma  


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