Structural Heterogeneity and Poor Microenterprises in Argentina
Marta Bekerman and Cecilia Rikap

The Argentine economy has suffered the persistence of pronounced inequalities that worsened under neoliberal reforms implemented beginning in the mid 1970's. Indeed, economic deregulation and financial and trade liberalization policies accompanied by a fixed exchange rate with parity between the Argentine peso and the dollar from 1992 to 2002 widened technological differentials between and within each branch of the economy. At the same time, they generated a manpower surplus among the “superfluous” part of the population and a greater segmentation of labor markets and social relations (Nun, 1969; Cimoli, Primi and Pugno, 2006).

This reality is tied to the concept of structural heterogeneity, a key component of Latin American development theory that adquires new relevance for evaluating exclusion in Latin America. This concept proposes the coexistence of economic sectors with a pronounced differentiation in their levels of productivity, which results in the existence of a very heterogenous social structure within the productive systems of peripheral countries.

This concept lies in juxtaposition with the basic assumptions of neoclassical economics: the homogeneity of capital and the existence of a representative, hyperrational agent that allocates resources in an optimal manner to maximize benefits. Instead, this scheme adopts Shumpterian microfoundations grounded in the heterogeneity of the agents with their different levels of competence, degrees of access and capacity to process information. The agents evolve depending upon the effects of learning. This makes it necessary to specify their behaviors (Bekerman and Monti Hughes, 2010).

In Argentina, structural heterogeneity and the persistence of marginalized forms of production are not only a legacy from the past, but a characteristic reproduced by economic policies that underestimated their impact on poverty. This heterogeneity has deepened, making relations between the excluded sector and the rest of the economy more complex. The result is productive system that is less articulated than the system prior to neoliberal reform and in which informality has greater prevalence. With the end of the crisis at the beginning of this century, a quick process of economic recovery and growth began that was favored by the international context. Changes in macroeconomic policy generated an important recovery of industrial activity as of 2003, that permited a drop in unemployment and poverty. This new economic model allowed the poorest sectors of society to expand their subsistence capacities and consumption but it did not transform their structural conditions of marginalization. In other words, the core population living in exclusion sustained the same conditions of production and reproduction.

A recent article (Coatz et al., 2010: 56-60) distinguishes the existence of at least three strata of productive activities: a segment of production of goods and services focused on international borders; a second middle strata segment that brings together a combination of small and medium sized companies and highly skilled employed and unemployed workers; and finally, the low or informal sector, which includes small companies and service providers of scarce added value, composed of selfemployed workers who cannot find a place on the labor market and microenterprises or businesses linked to situations of precariousness and family employment. The participation of this third segment of the economically active population (EAP) is not insignificant, given that subsistence economies represent 16.6% of the EAP, and small businesses and microenterprises with low or marginal productivity represent another 12.6%. This productive sector faces specific problems that need to be addressed (Coatz, et al., 2010; 59).