Economic and human long term inequalities in latin america. which ones? how big? what origins? how internationally dependent?

Iguiniz Echeverria, Javier Maria (2019). 'Economic and human long term inequalities in Latin America. Which ones? How big? What origins? How internationally dependent?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


“Economic and human long term inequalities in Latin America. Which ones? How big? What origins? How internationally dependent?”

Human Development, economics, Latin America, History, Inequality.

Javier M. Iguíñiz Echeverría

This paper collects and discusses new information and new hypotheses related to long term, structural economic and human development inequalities in Latin America. We show that a new different view of Latin America’s secular development process may be emerging. At least two kinds of developments in research can be determined. On one hand, new and more diverse long term economic and human development series of data have been elaborated by historians. On the other, more some new and diversified concepts of inequality are being used to revise established views on Latin America’s income inequality. Both developments in research allow us to see history’s multidimensionality and complexity.

In the two decades after Rosemary Thorp’s influential book on Latin America’s history (1998), (and perhaps the pioneer presenting secular historical data aproximating UNDP’s components of the HDI, and USA-LA comparisons throughout the 20th century) (Bértola and Ocampo 2013: 50) new research has improved the long term series about income inequalities, and also dealt with at least century-old inequalities of individuals or groups classified by territory, race, gender, etc. In the already mentioned book by Bértola and Ocampo;  winner of the Vicens Vives prize to the best economic history book on Spain and Latin America, the authors recognize that the concept of human development has been definitely introduced in the debate on inequality (2013: 63). But the novelty is the elaboration of a series of long term indicators of inequality in human development itself. Among them, inequalities of regional HDIs in México, illiteracy between different racial groups in Brazil and statures between “upper” and “lower” groups in México (Bértola and Williamson 2016).

New perspectives and policies appear with the use of and contrast among different concepts of inequality. A few examples:

+Horizontal and vertical inequalities are distinguished to evaluate the relative importance of gender, race, and other inequalities vis a vis the individual economic ones (i.e., Milanovic 2016).

+The distinction between absolute and relative inequalities are being newly presented for discussion when trying to understand human behavior, comparative international developments, and the policy relevance of inequality (i.e., Ravallion 2016)

+New information on personal income at the world level allows new questions about the kind and size of economic freedom of individuals to change their relative location in the global distribution of income vis a vis conditions out of their control, like citizenship. (Milanovic 2016)

+The available figures that distinguish between disposable income and market income allow new debates on comparative income inequalities and on the  classic view of Latin American   countries as the most unequal in the world.  But, perhaps, and most importantly a new discussion has been introduced on the theoretical place of productive structure of countries (i.e., structural heterogeneity, extractivism) on the one hand, and of State-led inequality on the other.

Other topics can be added to the current interesting intellectual debate. Historians have been elaborating new information and convincing arguments that lead us to question the old and persistent assumption that income inequality has colonial origins. But, in the opposite direction, racism is considered so important that, to some researchers, international dependence is not as relevant as it used to be to explain income inequality in Latin American countries.

This way, economic and human development inequalities can be contrasted or complemented as informational base to obtain a deeper and more complete view of Latin American social and economic structure and long term development.

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