Volume 44, Number 172,
January-March 2013

Why Certain Countries Have Grown, Julio Sevares, Argentina, 2010.

This book deals with the problem of growth. Was it necessary? Yes. First, because growth is not a problem that has been solved on either the international or Latin American level. It could be said that as the twenty-first century advances, this problem will become increasingly more difficult.

Second, because the title may not fully explain its contents: Sevares does not talk only about growth, but also about development, as he takes on the issue from a perspective that is qualitatively different from the mere expansion of production. The author considers the question in terms of material and human progress, the deployment of capabilities and potential, country autonomy and the freedom of its subjects. Sevares is an economist, journalist and heterodox researcher, who has put together a set of relevant ideas and information, through numerous readings and much research, that clearly explores this theme from diverse viewpoints.

The book presents a conceptual and historical tour. It reviews relations between the State and the market and the role of education. It analyzes the success of the major industrial powers, runs through the experiences of other countries that started late but were successful in their paths to development and finally reflects on the roots of Latin American difficulties.

The breakdown of a series of relevant cases is well documented and processed from a critical point of view, as it outlines historical, economic and political knowledge.

With a calm tone, Sevares makes forceful, and sometimes blunt, statements. For countries fighting to improve their position in the world system, he emphasizes the importance of the State, but says that its effectiveness is subject to a few indispensable requirements, which are not always present in Latin America. He also indicates the limits and what is missing in our subcontinent, which have reduced the chance to grow. These issues still need to be resolved.

Sevares states that education is a relevant factor for any attempt at growth and development. In any case, he clears up some ambiguity surrounding the topic. In the 1990s, organizations such as the World Bank also emphasized improving the quality of primary education in peripheral countries as a step in the right direction towards growth. However, the poor productive fabric of these countries means that low-qualified labor attracts multinational capital, which values the cheapness of available labor over educational qualifications. This creates the impression that education is not a key factor if it is not also accompanied by a transformation in the local productive profile, a task that is not the responsibility of multinational firms.

The book analyzes a set of national cases: it sheds light on the aspects that stimulated development in each case, but runs the risk of minimizing the effect of each economic structure and the international power held over peripheral nations, through multiple economic, technological, financial, institutional and ideological mechanisms.

It is true that each case is unique, including its relation to the world system. It is also correct to say that each peripheral society only has the ability to modify its own internal structures, and not the global order.

However, it is relevant to ask if it makes sense to keep thinking —in an extremely competitive and saturated world market— about “national routes” to development. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to think about intensifying regional efforts. Even more ambitious, but still reasonable, would be a global pact to rebalance the enormous disparities that have accumulated through the current international division of labor.

Nor does Sevares lose sight of the intersection of environmental problems and growth. Although he indicates these issues at the beginning of the book, this theme does not receive as much attention in the conclusions. But if we are on the watch for serious ecological problems in the near future —due to the current paradigm of production and consumption— in a renovated peripheral growth/development project, would it not be useful to rethink the image of the society we want to reach, which should be notably different from the former paradigm and designed in the image of great industrialized nations?

The conclusions are intellectually audacious and differ from conventional explanations, both from neoliberal points of view as well as structuralism or the left.

In this way, Sevares opens the door to reflect on a new set of largely unexplored problems: how is an elite like this built? What happens if the local elite is weak, foreign or lacks “willpower”? Can the rest of society do something despite a dominant elite that does not assume a role in development?

Ricardo Aronskind
Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Published in Mexico, 2012-2017 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 193, April-June 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
CP 04510, México, D.F. Tel (52 55) 56 23 01 05 and (52 55) 56 24 23 39, fax (52 55) 56 23 00 97, www.probdes.iiec.unam.mx, revprode@unam.mx. Journal Editor: Moritz Cruz. Reservation of rights to exclusive use of the title: 04-2012-070613560300-203, ISSN: pending. Person responsible for the latest update of this issue: Minerva García, Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva s/n, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México D.F., latest update: June 27th, 2018.
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