Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trade and Latin American Attitudes Toward the U.S.

Andy Baker and David Cupery, "Anti-Americanism in Latin America: Economic Exchange, Foreign Policy Legacies, and Mass Attitudes Toward the Colossus of the North." Latin American Research Review 48, 2 (2013): 106-130.

Abstract (yes, sadly gated):

Do Latin American citizens admire the United States for its material wealth and the opportunities this creates for them, or do they revile the United States because of the military and economic threat it has historically posed? Both narratives have a strong presence in Latin American societies, and much scholarship on mass anti-Americanism in the region portrays the dominant narrative as one of the United States as threat. In this article, we consult surveys from contemporary Latin America and find that various forms of ongoing economic exchange with the United States—trade, aid, migration, and remittances—are the primary influence on mass perception of the northern hegemon and actually promote goodwill, rather than bitterness, toward the United States. Moreover, we demonstrate that the most powerful channel through which economic exchange does so is consumption: inflows of US imports boost pro-American sentiment more than do other forms of exchange. In contrast, the legacy of US imperialism has little resonance in mass beliefs about the colossus of the north.

This study goes along nicely with the recent Pew Hispanic Study talking about the positive image of the United States in Latin America. There's a lot of well-grounded but counterintuitive and counter-CW points as well. For example, countries closer to the United States view it more favorably (as opposed to focusing on past intervention). Baker and Cupery argue this makes sense when viewed in economic terms: transaction costs are lower, trade is there higher, and that in turn leads to goodwill. I pluck this graph from their study:

They are careful to say this doesn't mean excusing past U.S. aggression or anything else, but rather there is empirical evidence to suggest Latin Americans view the United States more favorably than generally portrayed.
They have several concluding points, and this one especially struck me:

observers have focused on rather grandiose causes of anti-Americanism (e.g., imperialism, religiosity, economic exploitation, cultural hegemony) and equally grandiose manifestations of it (e.g., terrorism, mass protests, consumer boycotts, and elite rhetoric such as Hugo Chávez’s colorful criticisms of US presidents). Yet it is also time to recognize that Latin American beliefs about the colossus of the north are shaped far more by mundane, daily instances of economic exchange, and these continually unfolding events lead Latin Americans to, on balance, appreciate their northern neighbor.

We do focus too much on the grandiose. There is a lot of positive lower-level activity going on all the time, often even with countries whose presidents are publicly criticizing the United States for domestic audiences. That lower profile activity builds bridges but is less exciting and doesn't seem newsworthy.


Anonymous,  1:38 PM  

The old axiom of the Cold War might apply in reverse. That was the farther you were geographically from Moscow, the better the communist system looked. From a Paris cafe it was often divine but from Warsaw not so swell.

I think the main point that everyday commercial interactions lead to tolerance and lessening of conflict is largely true. Economic exchanges depend on trust. Every successful exchange furthers trust.

Similarly the economic historian Benjamin Friedman at Harvard wrote a work on the moral consequences of economic growth. My marxist professors from 30 years ago would never have thought along these lines.


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