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A Southern Perspective on Development Studies

Carlos Mallorquin


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Question everything and everyone. Be subversive, constantly questioning reality and the status quo. Be a poet, not a huckster. Don’t cater, don’t pander, especially not to possible audiences, readers, editors, or publishers. Come out of your closet. It’s dark in there. Raise the blinds, throw open your shuttered windows, raise the roof, unscrew the locks from the doors, but don’t throw away the screws. Be committed to something outside yourself. Be militant about it. Or ecstatic.
Challenges to Young Poets by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

  • 1 Anglo-Saxon and/or Eurocentric discourses.

1Episodes in the history of Latin American social sciences and the various discursive formations communicated by means of a Western-centric1 language might be especially uncomfortable or intractable to the reader, if the narrative that follows aims to reveal a whole set of misapprehensions by the Western-centric tradition. Starting with the misrecognition of the existence of an autochthonous regional discourse on economics, which requires reexamination. Hopefully, the narrative will become “uncomfortable”, which means that the account has a tale to tell!

  • 2 Since its first day, the creation of ECLAC sought after Prebisch as the ideal candidate to be Execu (...)

2The following narrative points towards several historical circumstances, which enabled the theories developed within Latin America vis-à-vis the then dominant orthodox economics tradition, both regionally and worldwide in the 1940s. Chapter 1 A Southern Perspective on Development Studies: Contributions from Latin America offers a sketch of the “Southern” theoretical problematic and historical context that can be examined with more detail in the following chapters of the book. Hence, Chapter 2 The Unfamiliar Raúl Prebisch (1943-1949) aims to exhibit a relatively unknown phase of the theoretical transition in the vast work of Prebisch (1901-1986), which in part got curtailed in 1949 given the responsibilities he was to undertake when he was the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC).2 Next, in Chapter 3, there is a summary of the work and struggles of Celso Furtado (1918-2004) Celso Furtado and Development: A Brief Outline (1950-2004). Chapter 4 Theoretical Misrecognitions as the Source of Development Theory Déjà Vu assesses the figure and work of Albert O. Hirschman (1915-2012), during the 1950s and early 1960s. He was Furtado’s contemporary in most theoretical details of the period.

  • 3 Originally, the book was composed with the aim to include the work of Enrique Leff on the “environm (...)

3The book then changes its “geographical” direction. Two chapters examine and evaluate How Economics Forgot Power and All That Is Solid Does Not Necessarily Melt Into Air in the scope of two brave and recent critiques of mainstream economics as portrayed in the Western-centric academic circles. However, examined from a “Southern” or Latin American Structuralism perspective, our story emphasizes mainly the theoretical aspects of those books that stopped short of the “full nine yards”.3

4The resolution to focus on certain Latin American theorists as the main contenders of the story about “development” is related, paradoxically, to their recent upsurge within Western-centric discourses, in which the names of Raúl Prebisch and Celso Furtado appear prominently. I believe it is time to recover the central themes and terminology of their ideas, which have been “domesticated” as it were, or read through a vocabulary that was precisely their objective to question.

5There are two central themes implicit or explicit in the argument of the book, namely: (a) the process of a theoretical reconstruction; and (b) the status of the notion of power:

(1) it assumes, on the one hand, that the Latin American critique of the ethnocentric characteristics of the discourse implied the construction of a set of new objects and categories, but which, on the other, meant simultaneously problematizing the adequacy of those categories to explain those economies from which they were apparently their “image”;

(2) the theoretical reconfiguration pivots on a long well-established tradition, from Marx onward, in which the power asymmetr y among and between agents and the social relations in question are paramount, but Latin American Structuralism critique of Western-centric discourse embraces the idea that it has surpassed (“superseding” in Hegelian terms), in a ver y important sense, certain of Marx’s notions.

After the Bombing of Hiroshima

6After World War II, the diffusion of Western-centric governmentality discourse (government and governed), was transmuted into a three-layer governmentality: “households and firms,” “self-governing units” (“people-goods”), and national governments, in charge of the latter’s surveillance, which are in turn “gazed” upon by top layer “international organizations” (Danby 2017: 78). Governments “gained” “new powers” by means of national accounting statistics: surveillance and surveying make “government” instantaneously more visible (ibid.) and vulnerable.

7International organizations after WWII and governments amplified their field of action and the “nation” became an object of the multilateral organizations and international purview: the hitherto race civilization divide took on a distinct new form, superseded by a new “scale-making project.” (Danby 2017: 79). The “developed/underdeveloped” economy or society couple implied:

A rhetoric of discipline and punishment (for disordered people, families, and nations) structured: the merging world and international institutions (…) [the] difference worked differently: on the one hand rigorously standardized categories of nation, government, household, business, and citizen promised formal equality. On the other hand, the world could be divided into those who lived up to and enacted these categories, and those who fell short and therefore required tutelage and discipline. (Danby 2017: 78-79)

8In fact, the Keynesian national income accounting was to “conquer the world.” The “choice” meant highlighting the household/business split, a product of “modernist ideology” (Danby 2017: 63). The productive process was divided into “two categories” distinguished by “the state of mind of the people doing that activity” (ibid.), monetary spending, households and businessmen/government, which alternatively can be differentiated by regrouping into one single flow “of disparate ‘real’ goods and services” (ibid.), with money as the underlying “unit”, or neglecting the “real” products and services, and “treat money as important in itself, as a financial asset with its own properties” (ibid.).

9The Keynesian theoretical victory of national income accounting displaced questions that Kuznets addressed, regarding “measuring” well-being and “flow of life-improving benefits to households” (Danby 2017: 64). The potentially warring historical characteristics of WWII and the changing process of economic representation, with the rise of the new international institutions: the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), and the United Nations; the IMF and the World Bank, all of which display the data gathering momentum, dwarfing the conundrum of the “welfarist” “national income” debate:

After the war, [M] Gilbert consolidated the victory of Keynesian national income accounting in the United States, ensuring that there would be no peacetime reversion to Kuznets’s system. This was a moment of some drama. In 1947, the National Income Division of the Commerce Department, now directed by Gilbert, published National Income and Product Statistics of the United States, 1929-1946, which pointedly redid all the estimates Kuznets had produced in the 1930’s, using Keynesian concepts and signaled that the Keynesian framework would be used later. Kuznets attacked the new figures in a 1948 article. (…) He charged that the new system may allow the investigator to rest too comfortably on the monetary surface of economic circulation, without forcing him to examine closely the real flow of commodities and services beneath the surface -a danger that, as the discussion below suggests, the report does not avoid. (Kuznets in Danby 2017: 70-71)

10The “shape of the world,” as coined by Danby, had been reconstituted, and with new “nations,” and the force of the decolonization movements, signals the inevitable decline of tutelage by “empires” and its organization. Nationhood, literally “parachuted” so to speak, in many cases, despite the communities’ wishes in question, “imposing watchful disciplines” (Danby 2017: 68): Keynesian monetary economics and bounded national entities revolve around the concepts imported from accounting procedures.

11The rise of a specific set of both national and international accounting procedures is a story of a specific power struggle, which Keynes’s disciples ultimately hegemonized, in which the chief theoretical heroes were M. Gilbert and R. Stone: Keynes “persuaded” (Danby 2017: 68) the British government in the 1940s for Stone’s incorporation into the process of assembling data, who in turn occupied and dominated the Organization for European Economic Cooperation, and United Nations (UN) alongside Milton Gilbert, U.S.A’s conqueror of Kuznets in the “national accounting” standardization dispute:

In a nutshell, a set of international organizations emerged after WWII that needed standardized nation-level concepts. Richard Stone and Milton Gilbert had forged a common Anglo-American position during the war on national income accounting: There was no serious competitor. No alternative system of national accounting had such well-placed advocates or was as well poised to claim global applicability. (Danby 2017: 68-69)

  • 4 Y=National Income, C=Private Consumption, I=Private Investment, G=Government Spending.
  • 5 See also Chapters 5 and 7 in Peden (2000, 2004).

12The national accounting theoretical “framework”4 Y = C + I + G in Keynes’s 1940 text How to Pay for War, had previously undergone a sustained theoretical dispute, to say the least, vis-à-vis the then denominated “Treasury View”.5 The epoch exhibits a singular “will to power” on the move, all of which is incomprehensible without naming the force of the persona in question.

13By “the summer of 1940, [Keynes] was an insider at the Treasury” having “accepted” an invitation to become a “member of a new Consultative Council” to “advise the Chancellor” (Peden 2000: 311), while simultaneously Hawtrey’s influence “underwent a complete eclipse” (ibid.). By September of 1941, Keynes was a “director of the Bank of England” (Peden 2004: 12) and a “peer by June of 1942” (Ibid). Although both [Hubert] Henderson and [Dennis] Robertson had left the Treasury by the end of 1945, “Neither (…) could match Keynes’s personality. Moreover, as Henderson had grudgingly to admit, ‘the currents of abstract economic thought’ had been ‘flowing in recent years in the direction of sympathy with the doctrines to which Lord Keynes is attached” (Peden 2000: 312).

  • 6 For example, in 1945, Keynes hailed a long-standing Treasury representative, in charge of the “Home (...)

14Keynes, to put it as quaintly as possible, did not hide his loathsome attitude toward those he considered “intellectually” inferior,6 but to be fair to him his conduct was unmistakably consistent as can be examined from his famous depiction of the Bretton Woods participants in 1944 as “the most monstrous monkey-house assembled for years” (quoted in Thornton 2017: 150).

15Cosio Villegas´s (the Mexican representative) appreciation at the Bretton Woods venue, recollects the war in process and the USA-Great Britain power struggle as the source of the “authoritarian” spirit of the Conference. It was a well-organized “consensus” charade among those countries invited with the aim to bring to light the newly created financial institutions of the IMF and the World Bank of Reconstruction and Development. Cosio Villegas describes a “clash with the great master” (Cosio 1976: 220), in two interventions which he made to the Committee discussing the project of the World Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and in which Keynes, as the Director of the Debates, simply “discourteously” put aside: Cosio Villegas wanted to change the title’s order of appearance, “development” before “reconstruction,” since the latter was to be a task for a limited and temporary period in the Bank’s tasks, while development had to be thought of “eternally”, especially for Latin American countries. For the sake of unanimity, in this occasion Cosio Villegas did not contradict Keynes’s “dismissal” remark that the Bank’s name was not under discussion, but when an acute article relating to loan applications was being prepared, Cosio Villegas questioned the concentrated nature of the decisions in the hands of a small group, e.g. USA/England, and perhaps, France, which to top it all, the reception of the loan in a specific denomination could elevate the costs substantially if the credit had to be used in a country of a different monetary unit (say Franc loan for a dollar acquisition). Without fail, Keynes dismissed the submission, but on this occasion, Cosio Villegas (Cosio 1976: 221) announced that Mexico would vote against the article, and simultaneously demanded that a note be taken unveiling both the negative posture and the reasons of the Mexican government. Finally, the matter was solved by stipulating that Latin American countries would have two permanent representatives in the governing committee of both the World Bank and the IMF, regardless of the volume of capital contributions by which the voting rights were accorded, although it did not change the dominance of USA, Great Britain, and France as major “shareholders” in those financial institutions (Helleiner 2014).

16The theoretical differences between (Gilbert) “monetary” and (Kuznets) “real” were initially the source of the antagonism during the process of constructing national accounts:

flows of spending for their own sake, not as proxies for something else, and integrates them into a monetary macroeconomic theory. By contrast for Kuznets, the central purpose of national income, moral as well as analytical was to measure the flow of real benefits to households: good meals, warm houses, decent clothes. (Danby 2017: 71)

17In Kuznets’s perspective, government (military expenditure), could not be seen as “benefiting” households, nor could the government be perceived as some kind of “ultimate consumer” as a “corporeal entity” (ibid.) in the same sense by which men and women attain satisfaction, if only because it invites a dangerous “fetishism” (ibid.).

18Gilbert’s reply was that Kuznets excluded from “total production” certain goods and services. These theoretical disputes accentuate Danby’s central thesis, whereby a “moralistic flavor” creeps in disfiguring “national income measurements”. Thus, romantics such as Ruskin can be reinstated into the narrative: “it is noteworthy that Gilbert and associates reached for John Ruskin, the 19th Century romantic thinker, in order to name the despised opposite of quantitative Economics” (Danby 2017: 72).

19On his part, M. Gilbert moved in 1951 to the OEEC, created in 1948, as Head of its Department of Economics and Statistics. The OEEC’s most important tasks were to coordinate the Marshall Plan’s aid among the respective national development plans, requiring “multilateral surveillance,” and common concepts: despite Gilbert’s vocation, generally forgotten given Richard Stone’s own ubiquity on a number of duties and publishing magnitude, hence Danby’s claims of his “essential” role in worldwide national account standardization.

20Stone and Gilbert pioneered within the OEEC organization the “first generation” (Danby 2017: 73) of standardized statistics and national accounts frameworks, globalizing them (ibid.). On the other hand, Stone’s Cambridge post at the Department of Applied Economics, OEEC, and UN, formed the basis by which a technocrat managed to sponsor and shape careers and research on British colonial accounts.

21Hence, this narrative assumes the existence of flows between different borders, although in certain economic formations, the absence of a formal set of assets framework is contradicted by IMF’s International Financial Statistics:

22Two assumptions are not only built into globally-applied national income accounting, but actively advertised and promoted by the published data: that every country is in the same way integral and complete with similar institutions, and that the relations between national economies are relatively thin and inconsequential. (Danby 2017: 74-75)

23Therefore, national accounting data misses the “dependent” character between and among different economic formations. No “data concept” (Danby 2017: 75) can symbolize this “relation.” As Danby emphasized, the appearance of national units as discrete entities was relinquished through the concept of an “abstract global space of goods and financial flows without power or politics, without alliances, antagonisms, or spheres of influence. And it appears as though it had the same internal institutional structure” (ibid.).

  • 7 Danby writes: “close relations between any particular export sector and particular foreign buyers a (...)

24The mathematical example is drawn from the theoretician Jacques Polak, who starts from a simple single-country, self-contained “autonomous factors” (Danby 2017: 77), through which the national income and imports are determined, and then proceeding to a “world” model in “less than a page” (Danby 2017: 77). The “illegibility” of power and absence of institutional specificities generated by the “world model” posed by Polak and the Keynesian categories and national income accounting were profound. See further ahead.7

25The worldwide data (standardized) has a particular effect: it can gauge individual “policy” successes or “failures” and, therefore, those national governments. According to Danby, hitherto the world’s cartography was defined by a series of “discontinuous empires” in which “power,” or international power was in plain sight:

This fit the panoptic quality of official post-WWII international organizations, dividing the world’s population into national cells and spotlighting their condition by means of statistics-gathering. The brightly lit UNGeneral Assembly is a visual metaphor for this observed world, each formally identical nation named and fixed space. (Danby 2017: 78)

The Tropics of Discontent

  • 8 Prebisch (1949b), United Nations Department of Economic Affairs (1950), original text in Spanish, A (...)

26Even before initiating his role as ECLAC’s second Executive Secretary in 1949, Raúl Prebisch’s report (The Economic Development of Latin America and its Principal Problems),8 was promoting the importance of “systematic research” to understand the region’s economic problematic, and simultaneously reminding us of his own theoretical evolution during the second half of the 1940s. Dispatching economists from the Periphery to “study at the great universities in the United States or Europe, was important, but insufficient,” since one of the:

most conspicuous faults which general economic theory suffers from, seen from the Periphery, is its false sense of universality. In truth, it could hardly be expected that economists of the great countries, embroiled by serious problems of their own, would preferentially dedicate their attention to other countries rather than the study their own. […] However, do not misinterpret that this purpose is encouraged by an exclusive particularism. On the contrary, it can only be seen to be accomplished through a solid knowledge of those theories elaborated in the great countries, with their great wealth of common truths. We must not confuse a reflexive knowledge of the other with a mental subjection to extraneous ideas, from which we are slowly learning to be free. (Prebisch 1949b: 106, my translation)

27It is through a similar guise that one should interpret Dudley Seers’s condensed prose on the “special case” (Seers 1963) to describe the economics developed in the Anglo-Saxon or European universities. Simply put, it was the flip side of Prebisch’s rejection of their presumption of “universality.”

28A “Southern perspective” on economic matters also suggests the existence of a “Northern” or Western-centric perspective, subsumed within an ever-constant power asymmetry confrontation, a political and academic struggle both within and without the “Center-Periphery” complex. Foucault’s notion of discursive formations and specific enunciative modalities as product and source of the empowered social relations are implicit, if not explicit, in our argumentative logic. The premises of the argument insists that the concept of the agency, whether when it refers to the entity as an “enunciative modality,” and/or “productive agent,” does not suggest necessarily the category of a “human subject” as the materialization of its “acts,” which also explains our efforts to use as little as possible the term “actor.” In other words: agents are not always “human beings.” What falls within the category of agency will depend on the context and power asymmetries: corporations, individuals, “sectors,” “countries,” production units, “firms,” etc.

29Clothed in Prebisch’s words, there is no presumption that a ubiquitous “geographical” or “language” characteristic is the obligatory source, nor a guarantee of a privileged “epistemic” discursive perspective, or its putative “consistency,” but it just so happened that Nietzsche’s so-called “will to power” can also be an attribute of certain agents in the Periphery or regions beyond the Western-centric areas of the world. Taking up Ludwig Wittgenstein’s idea about the absence of meta-discourse to guide us in reaching and understanding a precise juncture corroborates the notion that Latin American Structuralism could well have been constructed through the allocution of Shakespearean “noises.”

30Hence, my theoretical “bridge” building process between contrasting discursive formations, proceeds simultaneously by critique and running commentary of the work of P. Pilkington and C. Danby, Chapters 5 and 6, respectively: the former unwittingly a “Latin American Structuralist,” and the latter a conscious performer not withstanding my critique.

31These theoretical episodes may well have been written, as already pointed out, by means of the “clatter” of the “Shakespearean” noises, an aspect which is not eluded in our argument. Therefore, it might be useful reminding readers within the Western-centric tradition of a possible line of reasoning.

32The previous discursive struggles on notions of national accounting, for instance, are perhaps one of the best illustrations of the problematical nature of those aspects necessitating replacement which the evolution of “developmentalism” in economics hoped to achieve. One possible route was to elaborate new categories in situ: the Prebisch-Furtado-Seers’s conundrum. In the Center countries, as seen above, even before the dust of the theoretical debates on the accounting categories was cleared, Keynes was sponsoring their “transference” to colonial territories, with which to generate reliable data despite the presence of peculiar social relations where “production” and “distribution” are apparently associated by “non-market” mechanisms.

33Simultaneously to “technical” accounting conundrums, potential theoretical disputes were at hand, since the story required a description and generation of alternative vocabularies to explain the specificities of those peripheral “nations.” It was precisely the U.S. and Soviet Union, post-WWII antagonism, which generated certain of those theoretical opportunities. For example, it is currently unimaginable that a United Nations report would dare recommend to governments of an “under-developed country” to undertake a “land reform” (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs 1951: 93).

34It is worthwhile to highlight, for those whose theoretical gaze springs from the “Periphery,” the theoretical problems to be discussed represent the decisive moments of the reconstruction of the “economics” vocabulary in the region (Latin America, for example), prominent among them the perspective C. Furtado, and R. Prebisch between the 1950s and the 1960s.

35On the other hand, early on in his professional life, Dudley Seers perceived the existence or the potentiality of discourses questioning Western-centric thought during the 1950s:

Similar doubts were also being expressed elsewhere, notably by Gunnar Myrdal then working on his Asian Drama, though it was not published (by Allen Lane) until 1968. What Paul Streeten called “mumbles of discontent with established categories of thought” had also been audible, in particular from Raul Prebisch and Latin American economists associated with him, but these were not taken very seriously by the profession, especially in that period. (Seers 1979: 718).

36Seers also reflected on the limiting theoretical and practical aspects of “general theories like those of Keynes and Harrod-Domar model,” and hoped Anglo-Saxon writers, “acquire some relativity” and “comparative attitude” (Seers in Martin and Knapp 1967: 158). At the same time, he did not jettison the construction of a more “‘general theory’ of development” (Seers in Martin and Knapp 1967: 223), and on this occasion the call was the need for a “Hume” or “Moore rather than a Hegel” (Seers in Martin and Knapp 1967: 158), to understand the process through which an analogous theoretical transition is constructed. He also more than flirted with the idea of understanding the undergoing evolution of economics, to comprehend its reconstruction:

We are not even in a position to judge what has to be demolished of the old doctrine, or what can be saved and adapted for further uses. This is still somewhere late in the ‘Hobson phase’, or early in the ‘Kahn phase’, of development economics. (Seers in Martin and Knapp1967: 3)

37Seers’s “exploitation” (pun intended) of Keynes’s own reflections in the last chapters of his General theory… to underscore Hobson’s standing to comprehend the importance of the struggles through which theoretical transitions are produced (“rebellious” authors), and/or the use of Kahn’s “multiplier model”, are a good example when examining the evolution of the discursive formations. The analogy implies that:

The ‘Kahn article’ may not yet have been published. A characteristic of this article is, of course, that nobody recognizes it as much, at the time; only in the ‘Keynes phase’ can its historical significance be appreciated. All one can safely say is that attempts to solve practical problems of development are going to teach us a great deal about processes of economic change, and the time is almost ripe for the appearance of a Keynes (though this task may be beyond the capacity of any single person). (Seers in Martin and Knapp 1967: 3)

38Seers declares this having previously pointed the reader to a footnote where he says:

the transformation now is bigger and there are a number of candidates for being considered the ‘Hobson’ of this generation -e.g. Myrdal, Prebisch, Singer and Nurkse. I would be inclined to nominate Prebisch, because it is a characteristic of a ‘Hobson’ that he does not quite realize what he is doing to the subject. Besides, Prebisch lives closer to the seismic fault from which the tremors are emanating. (Seers in Martin and Knapp 1967: 3).

  • 9 In fact, Gessell forms part of Prebisch’s early reads.

39It is in the context of a theoretical reunion in Manchester in 1967, centered on discussing Seers’s famous text published in 1963, The Limitations of the Special Case, that P. Streeten’s indications must be understood. Prolonging the procedure of these rhetorical analogies, he actually adds a name “Hobson-Gessell phase,” and further on adds a third: “Mayor Douglas” (Seers in Martin and Knapp 1967: 66).9 Streeten’s remark about the “mumbles of discontent,” commented by Seers, seems to imply their mutual accord and understanding that the “concepts and categories” (Seers in Martin and Knapp 1967: 158) then dominant required transformation: “We are unable to carry out the sort of reconstruction of working categories which are necessary, partly for lack of time and partly because we are ourselves held in the vice of conventional concepts” (Seers in Martin and Knapp 1967: 157-58).

40Seers aimed to differentiate patterns and institutional settings, to think dynamics in distinct economies whose characteristics seem at odds with conventional economics. Kurt Martin invoking Seers’s ideas indicates:

He had suffered himself when first working in Africa from being too ‘Latin American’, e.g. from putting too much weight on the foreign trade bottleneck and not enough on education, though this had been a less incurable fault than being too ‘Anglo-Saxon’. (Seers in Martin and Knapp 1967: 224)

41But put in those terms the central theoretical conundrum is inadvertently hidden: “why particular countries of particular types of countries are exceptions” (ibid.).

  • 10 See Guha (1997), Hindess (2001).

42It is my contention that Seers’s Anglo-Saxon contemporaries did not fully grasp the “specter” which haunted his work, or as I call it “‘the white man’s burden’ curse,”10 the “added” term to the classic Rudyard Kipling’s racist expression intends to radicalize the conundrum in question: Seers consciously bore the burden as a “curse”: the task of advising governments under specific power complex asymmetries. Strictly speaking, Kipling’s expression represents a technological-knowledge power regime a la Foucault. I believe Streeten and Richard Jolly and other colleagues misapprehended the origin of Seers’s wit and conduct:

Dudley’s second phase was expressed most sharply in the negative -as a strong critique of the Brandt, Commission’s report. North-South: a Programme for Survival stirred Dudley’s ire and irony as few documents did. In his review ‘Muddling morality and mutuality’ [Seers 1980], Dudley tore into the Commissioners -many were his friends- for what he argued was a long list of confusions over ‘mutual interests’, which the Brandt report had made a central point underlying its proposals. (…) this was one of Dudley’s least credible efforts, itself limited and illogical, at times bitter and sour, with little of that sense of humour and ironic touch which enlivens most of Dudley’s writing. Instead we have a sledgehammer being used to smash a whole report, rather than to drive home some important points of criticism. (Jolly 1989: 39)

43On his part, Streeten says:

  • 11 Please see volume dedicated to his work: “Dudley Seers: His Work and Influence” (Toye 1989), IDS Bu (...)

His wit could be quite mordant. (…) on a visit to the IDS [Institute of Development Studies], discussing with him aid criteria and whether human rights should be included. I said, naively, that I was against torture. Dudley replied devastatingly: ‘You’ve come along way, Paul’. (Streeten 1989: 27)11

44On the other hand, this book mentions only in passing the so-called Latin American “dependency school,” whether in its Marxist or alternative versions, both claiming Raúl Prebisch as its theoretical instigator; whether for better or for worse, since I don’t dedicate much space to the perspective, interested English readers can easily gather the quality of the theoretical diversity by reading one of the best introductions written in English by Cristobal Kay (1989), and yet to be translated to Spanish!!! The author in question had Seers as his Ph.D. supervisor, during which Dudley Seers, religiously never once uttered a word to him in “broken” Spanish.

45Let us now go back a little. Prebisch, telling accounts of having to deal with the Western-centric advisers are known to many by word of mouth, but some have in fact been published. Here describing his reunion with Jacob Viner:

After the appearance of our first reports, one of the most illustrious professors on matters of international trade called in on over here (Jakob Viner, C. M.). Formed in the purest classic tradition, submitted to long decades of Ricardian logic, few brief weeks in Brazil were not enough to seduce him by the spectacle of industrialization which had barely initiated, if you take as the point of view the cosmic potentialities of this country. Dragging the economists of ECLAC [English acronym of CEPAL], in his execration, he condemned the Latin American industrialization, which we were advocating. He challenged also all forms of deliberate control of economic growth and guidance of international commerce. Well at least he left us a unique and positive formula of economic development: engage into agriculture and birth control! (Prebisch 1953b: 47, my translation).

46To those suspicious of the suggestion, on the other side of the Atlantic, around 1963, in Seers’s famous 1963 article “The Limitations of the Special Case,” we encounter his usual attitude of “impatience” as he states that:

previous generation of economists failed to cope realistically with economic fluctuations until after the depression had brought politically catastrophic results. The life cycle of each period in the development of an economic doctrine is now familiar. Some great issue of public economic policy appears. At first, economists at high places refuse to admit that this is any concern of the profession. (Seers 1963: 77)

47At the end of the sentence, Seers interrupts the reader by adding a footnote:

The story is told in Latin America of a Chilean graduate student who stated, in answer to a question by a very eminent London professor, that he wanted to specialize in economics of development, ‘Oh!’ said the professor. ‘What economics is that?’ This was in the 1950’s! (Seers 1963: 77)

48The anecdote must have been told to Seers while he was working in ECLAC, during the 1960s in Santiago de Chile by the student in question. But the reader is left none the wiser as to the tempestuous nature of the so-called “conversation” or as to the identity of the professor and student in 1954. Today we know who those parties were Osvaldo Sunkel and Lionel Robbins. In fact, Sunkel was not allowed to sit during the whole exchange with the English professor. The retort by Robbins, who recently had polished the Mont Pelerin Society manifesto (Mirowski 2009), stunned Sunkel, never to be forgotten, when the professor, “red faced,” “answered me ‘angrily.’ He said, what you have to do is to study demography; development is just merely a problem of population growth!” (Franco 2013: 70).

49It’s noteworthy, if only in passing, that Osvaldo Sunkel and Anibal Pinto, both functionaries at ECLAC in 1966, interviewed Arnold C. Harberger (Sunkel 1966), who by then was already a Mont Pelerin Society affiliate and professor both in the United States and Chile. The content of the talk seems to be one of the themes that ensues in my book: the obstacles of studying “Latin American Structuralism” in Anglo-Saxon Universities. Then the “Chicago Boys” had not yet taken hold of economics in Chile, which occurred when Pinochet’s military dictatorship ruled the country. It is the extraordinarily restrained vocabulary of Harberger in the 1966 interview which I want to emphasize, which suddenly, during Pinochet’s regime, transformed itself into a totally disheveled, slapdash discourse, to say the least:

When ‘good economics’ was just coming to Latin American (sic) in the late 1950s, the path was far from easy. In the way stood a bulwark of doctrinaire isolationism and protectionism: the ‘old’ ECLA (…) which actively sponsored and fostered the interventionist, statist, illiberal policies of the era. That was an era of fierce debate between the so-called structuralist and monetarist schools, with the former counting ECLAC as one of its principal bastions. I find it hard, even from today’s vantage point, to define precisely what structuralism was. It did not proceed via rigorous analysis from the ground up, as it were. Rather, it referred vaguely to ‘inelasticities’ of various types-of foreign demand for raw materials, of domestic supply of agricultural products, and so on-that somehow stood in the way of progress, made inflation almost inevitable (even, to some, desirable), and made widespread state intervention a sensible ‘solution’ to Latin American problems. (Harberger 1995: 306-307)

50Indeed, in a posthumously published interview, which was recorded in 1985 in English, Prebisch reiterates the convoluted form of the power asymmetry and attitude in question, facing David Pollock, the interviewer, his collaborator and assistant during the 1960s, while heading the UNCTAD:

Because of second and third-hand reading. And because there is a prejudice that probably you have seen, [as] a member of a northern university. Really, David, there is a certain arrogance and disparagement. They don’t take us seriously. I’m sure that in Harvard they don’t take us seriously. We are second-class economists, or even third class. We are underdeveloped economists. (Pollock 2001)

51Today one of the greatest stats cited in Google, enfolds the terms (in any language), “Prebisch-Singer,” or “Singer-Prebisch” thesis. The notion is related to the so-called “deterioration terms of trade” of developing countries vis-à-vis “industrial” countries, or “Center-Periphery” in Prebisch terms; further ahead we will return to this theme. At this moment, what I want to underline is the insistence to establish a monopoly by Western-centric scholars on the origin and source of its theoretical elaboration.

52For example, R. Jolly (2008), claims Prebisch should come “second” to Singer given his 1949 publication (Post-War Price Relations Between Underdeveloped and Industrialized Countries), despite the fact that Prebisch was writing theoretically on the subject since the early 1930s!:

More properly called the Singer-Prebisch thesis after the careful detective work of John Toye and Richard Toye showed that, strictly speaking, Hans Singer’s work preceded that of Prebisch, strictly speaking, Hans Singer’s work preceded that of Prebisch. (Jolly 2008: 65, footnote number 50)

53Disputing who was first to the post is not crucial in our argument, since Prebisch’s examination focuses on its style of theoretical development and the importance of the notion of power asymmetries to explain the “deterioration of the terms of trade” in question, which in countless accounts, in Spanish or English alike, seem to be misrecognized, becoming problematical if Centered around the notion of the so-called price demand “elasticities disparities” between Center and Periphery countries.

  • 12 Except Chapter 6 All That Is Solid Does Not Necessarily Melt Into Air, contents of the chapters hav (...)

54Recovering the notion of a heterogenous complex (consequence of the power asymmetries) among and between diverse agents, Center and Periphery alike, opens up the possibility to propound social arrangements that can be made more amenable with a perspective that considers the aspects of the environment and the sustainability process through the “integrated” management of the natural resources. In turn, that means that there can be no “general” strategy, given the presumption of the antagonisms of the diverse and heterogenous agents (countries, regions, productive units). Hence, the notion of “possessing in separation” certain of the conditions of production becomes central to explain the heterogeneous character of agents and the limits of the political strategies to transform the social relations. Unlike Marxism, Latin American Structuralism’s idea of antagonism and notion of the heterogenous characteristics of the agents implies examining the specific forms that social relations take: there is no general “mode of production” and, therefore, no necessary “productive forces” that may or may not “correspond” to specific social relations: in more philosophical terms, there is no general form of being given its diverse set of social and historical conditions.12


1 Anglo-Saxon and/or Eurocentric discourses.

2 Since its first day, the creation of ECLAC sought after Prebisch as the ideal candidate to be Executive Secretary, a post he rejected in July 1948, which was then occupied by the Mexican Gustavo Martinez Cabañas. After much “pleading”, Prebisch accepted a three month consultancy post in 1949, which after the appearance of the famous text (Latin American “Manifesto”), generated a further negotiation and discussion culminating in his acceptance of the Executive Secretary in question; it is worthwhile to examine the wording of the emissary sent from the UN to talk to Prebisch on the issue. Adolfo Dorfman, in a letter to Victor Urquidi (who had equally rejected the post), conveys to him the sad news of Prebisch’s negative answer, “various reasons were wielded, but anyway, important is… that he offered advice and sporadic collaboration, which is something” (Dorfman 1948, my emphasis).

3 Originally, the book was composed with the aim to include the work of Enrique Leff on the “environment” and the sustainable development in the Periphery, which also represents a regional autochthonous perspective, but I was not given permission to incorporate the text: “The Sustainable Development Labyrinth” (Mallorquin 2017a), which was originally published in the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, 8 (1). Its publisher, “Inderscience,” seems to own the copyright on behalf of IJPEE, which should be a warning to all future authors whose purpose is to publish under this corporation’s name.

4 Y=National Income, C=Private Consumption, I=Private Investment, G=Government Spending.

5 See also Chapters 5 and 7 in Peden (2000, 2004).

6 For example, in 1945, Keynes hailed a long-standing Treasury representative, in charge of the “Home Finance Division,” Hebert Brittain, as being “intellectually contemptible” (Peden 2000: 356).

7 Danby writes: “close relations between any particular export sector and particular foreign buyers are illegible. There is no category -no conceptual category, no measurable thing- in which the structure of the international financial system might appear. (…) the International market is conceptualized as a space of pure flows, a space without people or institutions, who are all tucked away inside national economies. This effect is strengthened by the way orthodox economists like to model markets, as efficient anonymous smoothly adjusting mechanisms to facilitate flows of goods and services and exchanges of assets” (Danby 2017: 77, my emphasis).

8 Prebisch (1949b), United Nations Department of Economic Affairs (1950), original text in Spanish, April 1949.

9 In fact, Gessell forms part of Prebisch’s early reads.

10 See Guha (1997), Hindess (2001).

11 Please see volume dedicated to his work: “Dudley Seers: His Work and Influence” (Toye 1989), IDS Bulletin 20 (3).

12 Except Chapter 6 All That Is Solid Does Not Necessarily Melt Into Air, contents of the chapters have been published previously in part or totally. Chapter 1 A Southern Perspective on Development Studies: Contributions from Latin America in Cinta de Moebio 58: 26-46. Chapter 2 Lord Keynes después de su muerte según Raúl Prebisch in Estudios Críticos del Desarrollo 6 (9). Chapter 3 Celso Furtado and Development: A Brief Outline (1950-2004) in Celso Furtado: un retrato intelectual, Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México. Chapter 4 Theoretical Misrecognitions as the Source of Development Theory Déjà Vu in H. Márquez, R. Soto, E. Roberto an Záyago (coords.), El Desarrollo Perdido. Avatares del Capitalismo Neoliberal en Tiempos de Crisis. Editorial Miguel Angel Porrúa. Chapter 5 How Economics Forgot Power in Estudios Regionales en Economía, Población y Desarrollo 53. I am indebted to Michael O’Brien whose help and suggestions to improve the manuscript stretched well beyond the call of duty of family friendship.


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