Technopols: Freeing Politics and Markets in Latin America in the 1990s


JORGE I. DOMÍNGUEZ (ed.):  University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

This book will remain one of the most thorough studies of the individuals involved in the contemporary age of liberalization in Latin America. It is an important contribution to our understanding of the early 1990s, executed with impeccable scholarship, graceful style and balanced elegance. The bulk of the text consists of five uniformly excellent and detailed studies of the intellectual formation and the political interventions of five Latin American leaders. They are "technopols," that is, highly trained individuals --four of the five are economists-- who go beyond being mere technocrats by merit of their vigorous and adroit participation in political life. Indeed, what makes a technopol is his or her acceptance of the need to legitimize their agendas through political participation. The technopol does not disdain the "inefficiencies" of politics, on the contrary, the technopol has understood the eventual inefficiency and limitations of technocrats and technocracy. Technopols understand the need to make good economics (or necessary economics) politically viable and sustainable, and "have fashioned economic policies guided by their political analysis of the circumstances of their respective countries..." Thus, they "design economic policies by understanding politics first." We are tempted to think of them as a second generation of neoliberals, who have learned from the failures and disasters of the early neoliberal radicals.

Among the guiding principles that organize the book is the claim --well substantiated by the book itself-- that "leaders make a difference." That is, that the personal strategies and tactics of the leaders which guided Latin America through the perils of liberalization are fundamental determinants of, and explanations for, their success. Even, in one case, of their failure!

The five leaders studied are Domingo Cavallo, Argentine Minister of Economy; Pedro Aspe, Minister of Finance in Mexico; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, President of Brazil; Evelyn Matthei, Chilean Deputy; and Alejandro Foxley, Minister of Finance in Chile. Each of the studies is based on extensive interviews and in some cases archival research. They all build upon the relevant literature, primarily from political science. Each of the studies leaves one with much greater understanding, respect and sympathy for the five chosen leaders. Yet we also note the conspicuous absence of Carlos Salinas de Gortari. We are reminded of Bob Sobel's quixotic and difficult admonition, in his book The Worldy Economists, that "proximity can lead to new insights...[but]...it can also transform a search for understanding into a conclusion for advocacy..." Our sense is that there may not be much new in what Max Corden called "Machiavellian economics." The insight that politics matters is important, but not new. What was novel was the hubris that politics would not matter.

This book will become required reading for all who seek to understand the intricacies of contemporary Latin American political economy. It is suitable for use as a core text in advanced and intermediate level courses.

 

Conrad M. Herold Simon Fraser University
Leopoldo Rodriguez University of Texas at Austin

 





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