What to read on Argentina (old school version)

In 2009 we marvel at Chinese growth, and wonder if it can be emulated. In 1909 we marvelled at Argentina. Though it had just two thirds the income of the US or UK, it was growing at three times their rate. Forty years previous it was an economic backwater. Of the settler economies, the future was Argentina’s, not Canada or Australia.

Then things fell apart.

Argentina has one of the most fascinating economic histories in the world, a lesson in the risks of purely export-led development, and the ties between economic shocks and political chaos.

What to read in the English language?

Victor Bulmer-Thomas’ volume is the best general Latin American history I have read.

Alan Taylor wrote a slew of NBER papers on Argentina in the mid 90s. This one I like best. He also has a recent volume with Gerardo della Paolera.

Carl Solberg’s Prairies and the Pampas takes a comparative look at Canada versus Argentina, and tries to explain the disparity. The staple theory of development is old fashioned and mostly ignored these days, but I think still hugely helpful for understanding development in commodity rich countries. See some of Ricardo Hausmann’s work for a modern incarnation.

I suppose one should read Carlos Diaz Alejandro, but few volumes are still available.

11 thoughts on “What to read on Argentina (old school version)

  1. This is a good list. I would add a couple of things:
    Jeremy Adelman’s work is good on this question of the disjuncture between Canada and Argentina. Ricardo Salvatore is also good on the institutional foundations of the Argentine economy (though I don’t know if there is anything in English), and Sebastian Mazzuca wrote on these issues in his dissertation at Berkeley a couple of years ago.

  2. Michael Reid’s The Forgotten Continent is a good regional economic overview as indeed is Silent Revolution by a certain Duncan Green

  3. These are good posts — one of the great difficulties of being a young person who wants to understand the world is the overwhelming quantity of text available. It’s good to hear from a scholar about seminal works.

  4. I remember reading some of the pieces of a collection of 12 books called “The Cambridge History of Latin America”, edited by Leslie Bethell. The collection includes texts that cover all of Latin America since the colonial period. The collection seemed to me to be a good reference for the economic and political history of Latin America.

  5. Chris,
    Michel mentioned “The Cambridge History of Latin America”, edited by Leslie Bethell and you don’t need anything else to get a very good picture of the region along the last 500 years. It is a great collection and everything falls into places in your mind. Plus you get a good picture of Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and how things have gone around there…

  6. Dear Chris,

    Paul Blustein wrote a fine account of the Argentine crisis of 2001: “And the money keep rolling in (and out)”.

    Besides the academic and journalists works on the country, I suggest the marvelous novels and short stories by writers like Jorge Luís Borges, Julio Cortázar, Tomás Eloy Martinez. I am sure you will enjoy them, and at the same time, discover a very different Latin American literature tradition.

    All the best

  7. For a good rundown of the internal systemic problems that pushed Argentina into decline, Edgar Dosman’s recent biography on Raul Prebisch is a good place to start. Not detailed information on the actual decline, but a really good flavour of the personalities and institutional pecadillos that resulted in decline.

  8. I think the Glaeser study (which he also blogged about over at economix) is bunk for a whole bunch of reasons – but the general trust is that BsAs was quite different from Chicago in the late 1900s in terms of industrial structure, immigration patterns etc. etc. I think the education argument as a “that’s explains it all” strategy fails disastrously.

    Javier Auyero and Steve Levitsky – best read together for the different perspectives/levels of analysis – are great scholarship and fascinating looks into Peronism. I know that’s not economic history, but any Argentine (pretty much regardless of political leaning) will tell you that you can’t understand Argentina if you don’t understand Peronism.