Latin American History
2 October 2012
John Coatsworth (Columbia)
From Marx to Metrics in Latin America’s Economic History


Since World War Two many conflicting, opposing, or parallel approaches toward understanding economic history in Latin America have received weight and currency.  Some, like the Marxist approach have since faded out of popularity, whilst others have evolved or changed over the decades.

John Coatsworth sums up these various approaches and attempts to show that all of them have importance to understanding economic history today.  The paper is called ‘Marx to Metrics’ not as a means to suggest that one replaced the other, but to show that there are a multitude of approaches to this subject.

After World War Two modernisation theory and anti-imperialism were the primary competing paradigm’s used by scholars to understand Latin American economies.  These were eventually replaced by dependency theory (structuralism) and the new economic theory, both of which ran parallel with one another, without much in the way of overlap.

In the 1990s and early twenty-first century various scholars attempt synthesising tasks to better understand where we are now on the subject.  Coatsworth argues that there are three main areas worth studying to place these theories into context and to come to a conclusion about today’s approaches to economics.

1)      Measurements of past economic performance

2)      Micro-economies and institutional changes

3)      Political economy

In all Coatsworth’s talk is a useful introduction to the topic of Latin American economic history and argues that even outdated approaches have their continued relevance and importance to study of the subject.

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