Friday, August 24, 2012

Hal Weitzman's Latin Lessons

Hal Weitzman is a reporter for the Financial Times and published a book called Latin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started Prospering (2012). It controversial--and in my opinion not convincing--argument is that unlike the United States, Latin America is booming because it is riding a virtually permanent commodity boom. Here is the crux:

Commodity markets had always gone through cycles of boom and bust, but an increasingly large number of analysts began to argue that because of the needs of industralizing countries, raw materials were in a "supercycle," in which prices would be permanent higher than historical norms" (p. 9).

Isn't this always a common view during periods of commodity boom? I just don't see this as realistic or sustainable.

Now, it is true that many South American governments are doing things of which the Bush and Obama administrations did not approve, showing a decrease of direct influence. Yet what Weitzman calls "paralysis" could equally be viewed as prudence. What's odd is that later in a policy prescription section he writes that the U.S. "should accept the legitimacy of policies with which it does not agree" (p. 256) but in many ways that's really often--though certainly not always--what happened in the latter part of the Bush administration and now the Obama years. They may not have liked it, but for the most part they did not see changes in Latin America as requiring a strong-armed response as in the not-too-distant past.

Nonetheless, it's very readable and evocative if you step aside from the main argument.


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