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Was It Prices, Productivity or Policy? The Timing and Pace of Latin American Industrialization after 1870

By Aurora Gómez Galvarriato and Jeffrey G. Williamson

Abstract

Brazil, Mexico and a few other Latin American republics enjoyed faster industrialization after 1870 than did the rest of Latin America and even faster than the rest of the poor periphery (except East Asia). How much of this economic performance was due to more accommodating institutions and greater political stability, changes that would have facilitated greater technology transfer and accumulation? That is, how much to changing fundamentals? How much instead to a cessation in the secular rise in the net barter terms of trade which reversed de-industrialization forces, thus favoring manufacturing? How much instead to cheaper foodstuffs coming from more open commercial policies ('grain invasions'), and from railroad-induced integration of domestic grain markets, serving to keep urban grain prices and thus nominal wages in industry low, helping to maintain competitiveness? How much instead to more pro-industrial real exchange rate and tariff policy? Which of these forces contributed most to industrialization among the Latin American leaders, long before their mid 20th century adoption of ISI policies? Changing fundamentals, changing market conditions, or changing policies?

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