Review of "Dependency and Development in Latin America"

Dependency and Development in Latin America is former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Enzo Faletto’s historical materialist account of the preconditions and conditions of economic development in Latin America. The preface and introduction flatly rejects a narrow empiricism and particularism and instead adopts a holistic, dialectical, historical-structural approach.

As subsequent historiography illustrates, the forms taken on by a dependency varied considerably based upon the social-political context, the goods available for export and the level of capital investment and social infrastructure required to extract them, the political capacity following the cessation of the war for independence as well as more mundane concerns such as terrain and communications capacity. Despite the centers incapacity to operate as the political power within the periphery, still exercised immense control as their productive capacities were in essence enclave economies. Put another way, peripheral economies were still dependent upon their former colonial masters to take in their exports, which was predominantly raw materials. Because their capital goods sector wasn’t usually not quantitatively large enough and they lacked a domestic market, the importation of capital intensive, manufactured goods continued. This coincidence of interests meant that in many ways that thought the wars of independence had been fought and won such that they were no longer under the thumb of the Iberian peninsula, the same manner of control was and dependence existed.

Dependent economies were at an additional disadvantage as the banking system had previously been administered by ejected colonial groups, making potential colonial capitalists at another disadvantage. Lacking access to European markets, reliant upon foreign bankers, unable to profitably exploit their own domestic market, accelerated urbanization with concomitant expectations for political liberalism and with a ruling class that often idealized and sought to imitate their former oppressors combined to create the conditions for social conflict. In the emphasis on the materiality of the countries in question, Cardoso seeks to undermine the facile notions proffered by modernization theorists such as W. W. Rostow which hold that the imposition of universalistic economic qualities on an economy can create development.

At such a point it’s worth noting that Cardoso highlights at several points the role of the bureaucracy. It’s various incarnations are worth discussing as a counterfactual to modernization theory’s economic “bridging” and as shortly following the books release the epoch of bureaucratic authoritarian regimes began. History illustrates that it is possible for a society to go through profound alterations in its system of production with the formation of a center for bureaucratic decision making. The creation of a “political sphere”, concomitant social institutions and the composition of character implies a level of complexity not alway existent. Following the nascent struggles, they are either able to serve their creator’s interests, the dominant route, act to benefit some lower class groups goals of (predominantly socialist or communist) development or able to blend the two within a nationalist sentiment. The various powers within this are tied to the level of capital development, however was already mentioned above in relation to the enclave economy of dependent countries, it is not just that there are times when large land-holders and domestic capitalists have an interest in policies that prioritize their maintenance of existing social relations despite the fact that a marginal adjustment might spark internal capitalist development – but that this is the default state of affairs.

The historical analysis which follows and provides examples of this is, as a relative neophyte to Latin American politics, admittedly beyond my scope. However I would not that Marjory Urquidi’s review of the book in The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 60 No 1, noted that while aspects of it could be problematized it was largely lacking any major flaws. What I am able to comment on is Kenneth Robbert’s quick dismissal of the purported datedness of Cardoso’s “socialist” language. From the previous analysis, and tellingly written at the beginning the “lost decade”, it is clear that given the capacity of the upper class to deal with financial burdens that it’s better in the long run for them to assist workers rather than resist their demands. Class conflict, like welfare and job training programs, both cost money but only one of them assists the capitalists once the opportunity presents itself.