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The political economy of permanent underachievement: a critique of neoliberalism and neodevelopmentalism in Argentina and Brazil

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posted on 2023-06-09, 14:01 authored by Felipe Antunes de Oliveira
In Argentina and Brazil, the future never seems to arrive. Over the last three decades, successive waves of neoliberal and neodevelopmentalist reforms invariably ended in disappointment. The most relevant question defying the contemporary Brazilian and Argentinian political economy literature is why, despite being repeatedly predicted in economic programs and promised in political discourses, catch-up development never materialises? Neoliberal and neodevelopmentalist authors offer apparently contradictory answers to that question. For the former, economic underachievement is a result of insufficient or ill-conceived pro-market reforms. For the latter, it is a consequence of the lack of state-led national development projects. In this thesis, I challenge both mainstream narratives. I claim that the roots of Brazilian and Argentinian permanent underachievement are intrinsically related to the fragilities of neoliberal and neodevelopmentalist development strategies, which result in inherently inconsistent policies. Although representing themselves as complete opposites, both sides actually share two problematic premises: a narrow view of development, understood as capitalist catch-up, and a simplified opposition between state and market. My critique starts from a radical reappraisal of the very concept of development, informed by Leon Trotsky’s idea of uneven and combined development and its contemporary interpretations. Defining development as the dynamic outcome of the interplay between class disputes and international pressures and opportunities, I argue that the shortcomings of the neoliberal and neodevelopmentalist reforms were determined by the specific responses given by dominant class alliances in the face of successive international crises. The argument is advanced through four in-depth case studies of the state reforms carried out in Brazil and Argentina since the 1990s, with particular attention to macroeconomic and foreign policies. By breaking the oligopoly of narratives about Brazilian and Argentinian development shared by neoliberals and neodevelopmentalists, I aim to contribute to the rise of alternative strategies of development from below.


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