Thursday, November 10, 2005

Making economic policy work?

I also attended my first student-led seminar on a PhD topic this week. Chris Vellacott in the LSE's economic history department presented a chapter from his thesis on Agentine and Spanish economic policy in the late 1950s. he wanted to account for the difference in 'success' (as measured by capacity of the state to drive its preferred options through) between the two, the Spanish being more sucessful than the Argentines.

Vellacott's argument is that the Spanish model was authoritarian and a clear top-down hierarchical structure existed between the state and other social actors, including labour, capital, etc. In such circumstances the state was able to impose itself. By contrast the Argentine system at the time was one in which the state had less autonomy from either labour or capital and floundered as a result.

I failed to make any useful or perceptive comments, but others did. These included whether the the economic policies' 'success' or 'failure' was the outcome of this constellation or vice versa - which was the cause? The structure of the state or the economic policy? In addition the approach doesn't take into account other experiences whereby a chaotic state-labour-capital relationship is transformed into one that is state-dominant, e.g. Pinochet in Chile. And finally, given Vellacott's claim of Argentine and Spanish exceptionalism, what is to be said of Portugal at the same period in time?

Despite this intense scrutiny, there were some things I quite liked about the thesis. In particular it was the justification in choosing these two case studies, as exceptional in their respective continents and in offering a compare and contrast approach over a longer timeframe: Spanish authoritarian against weak Argentine democracy in the 1950s and Spanish democracy and Argentine authoritarianism in the 1970s-80s.

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