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The terms of trade and the rise of Argentina in the long nineteenth century

Francis, Joseph A. (2013) The terms of trade and the rise of Argentina in the long nineteenth century. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Argentina’s early twentieth century is commonly portrayed as a ‘golden age’ in which it became ‘one of the richest countries in the world’. Here, however, this optimistic vision is challenged by placing Argentina within a new metanarrative of global divergence during the long nineteenth century. A massive terms-of-trade boom – the extent of which has not previously been appreciated – had profoundly uneven impacts across the periphery. Where land was abundant, frontiers could expand, leading to dramatic extensive (that is, aggregate) growth. An expanding frontier then had a safety-valve effect on labour markets, so capitalists responded to high wages by mechanising production, which raised labour productivity and, consequently, per capita incomes. In the land-scarce periphery, by contrast, deindustrialisation led to increasing quantities of labour receiving diminishing returns by being applied to limited land resources. Similarly, Argentina’s own century-long terms-of-trade boom allowed the Littoral to prosper but made the more densely populated interior stagnate. The presence of the poor interior then prevented the country from developing the kind of white-egalitarian democracy that had allowed the prosperous European offshoots to make the transition to rapid intensive (that is, per capita) growth. Most importantly, Argentina’s political backwardness ensured that landownership remained concentrated, which muted the safety-valve effect of the expanding frontier, so capitalists did not make the same investments in laboursaving technologies. The new metanarrative of global divergence thus leads to a far more pessimistic revision of Argentina at the beginning of the twentieth century – a revision that is verified through a comparative assessment of its living standards that shows them to have been considerably below the levels of Northern Europe and the European offshoots. Argentina’s ‘golden age’ is therefore a myth.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Joseph A. Francis
Library of Congress subject classification: F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F1201 Latin America (General)
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Lewis, Colin M.

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