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Up for Debate: Dependencia and Protectionism in Hindsight

"ISI" -- import-substitution industrialization -- was the economic wisdom of the 1950s and 1960s, advocating trade barriers to protect nascent domestic industries. But "dependency theory," or dependencia, went a step further: It saw trade as a zero-sum game, and a permanent barrier to development. For today's Latin American reformers, many of whom were raised in this tradition, looking back on dependency theory means reflecting on nationalism, intellectual change, and a turbulent economic history


Osvaldo Sunkel
Professor of Economics; Director, Centro de Analisis de Politicas Publicas

Once a prominent dependencia economist at the UN's CEPAL research institute in Santiago, Osvaldo Sunkel watched a "critique from the right" sweep away the critique from the left.

Moises Naim
Editor, Foreign Policy Magazine; Minister of Industry and Trade of Venezuela, 1989-1990

Editor of Foreign Policy magazine and a former Venezuelan minister, Naim drew the links between the dependencia worldview, nationalism, industrialization, and the debt crisis.

Arnold "Al" Harberger
Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago

Chicago economist Al Harberger, an opponent of import-substitution policies, pointed out that they arose, and had a certain logic, in a particular historical context.

Ricardo Lagos
President of Chile

Chile's current president, Ricardo Lagos is a former socialist economist whose trade philosophy has moved from barriers to comparative advantage.

Jorge Quiroga
President of Bolivia

Bolivia's current president, Jorge Quiroga observed that the policies inspired by dependencia did little to alleviate poverty, and in fact, seemed to do the opposite.

Stanley Fischer
First Deputy Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, 1994-2001

Like many eminent Western economists, Fischer, a former high official of the International Monetary Fund, remained skeptical of free trade well into the 1980s. But the failures of protected industries offered graphic evidence that pushed him to change his mind.

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