Argentina Papers

These are the working titles and abstracts of four papers I am currently writing on Argentina in the long nineteenth century. They are:

1. ‘Globalisation, the Terms of Trade, and Argentina’s Expansion in the Long Nineteenth Century’
Argentina Working Paper 1

Forthcoming in Journal of Latin American Studies.
Following Tulio Halperín Donghi’s pioneering work, historians have tried to explain why Argentina experienced a dramatic export-led expansion in the first half of the nineteenth century despite a lack of price incentives. This paradox is resolved by a new estimate of Argentina’s terms of trade. It suggests that they probably improved by at least 2,000 per cent from the 1780s to the first decade of the twentieth century, so there were considerable price incentives for export-led growth. Labour and capital moved into the export sector, bringing into production the country’s Pampean land – a previously under-utilised resource. This suggests that Argentina’s expansion in the long nineteenth century was less a result of internal factors than a response to globalisation.

2. ‘(Mis)measuring Argentina’s Progress: Industrial Output, 1870s-1913’
Target publication: Economic History Review.
Argentina Working Paper 2
Evidence of dramatic industrialisation has been used to support the optimistic, staple theory-inspired narrative of Argentina’s late nineteenth century. This narrative is challenged here by an analysis of the available evidence of industrial output in Argentina from the 1870s to the eve of the First World War. Issue is taken, in particular, with Roberto Cortés Conde’s widely used industrial output index, which suggests an 8-9 per cent annual industrial growth rate during this period. It is argued that Cortés Conde has overestimated growth by relying upon misleading data taken from Argentina’s inland revenue service. Rather than reflecting increased production, the rapid growth of Cortés Conde’s index is actually due to increased taxation. Alternative indicators show a lower annual growth rate of 5 per cent, although this is necessarily an approximation, given the lack of data. The cases of textiles and beef products illustrate why the lack of data makes it easy to overestimate industrial growth during this period, as there tends to be more data for dynamic activities than for those that stagnated. The paper concludes with a discussion of wider implications for the study of economic history.

3. ‘A Poor Rich Country: Wealth and Poverty in Argentina before the First World War’
Target publication: Comparative Studies in Society and History.
Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world at the beginning of the twentieth century, yet it also trailed the world’s leading countries in terms of living standards. In terms of political freedom, it lagged far behind the European offshoots; its levels of health and education were at roughly the same level as Southern Europe; and workers’ incomes were higher than in Italy or Spain but below the levels of Northern Europe. Argentina’s level of development was brought down by significant regional inequalities, discrimination against the native born, and highly concentrated landownership. A prosperous new, immigrant-dominated society had formed around Buenos Aires, but beyond the capital city much of the emerging nation was made up of a ‘floating population’ of landless unskilled day-labourers who depressed average living standards below the levels of the most developed countries. This reflected Argentina’s domination by heavily indebted landowners, who H.S. Ferns acutely described as ‘a class of poor rich, of men rich in land but poor in capital’. It was this ruling class that had made Argentina a poor rich country.

4. ‘Colonial Legacies in Nineteenth-Century Argentina: Institutions or Geography?’
Target publication: Past and Present.
According to the neo-institutionalist account of Argentina’s development, Spanish colonialism left a legacy of ‘bad’ institutions that inhibited democratisation during the long nineteenth century. The most important colonial legacy that contributed to Argentina’s political backwardness was, however, geographic. Spanish colonialism left a relatively densely inhabited Interior, with peasantries that stood to lose out from the post-independence terms-of-trade boom. The formation of an oligarchic state was necessary to repress these losers from the boom. Meanwhile, the land-abundant European offshoots in North America and Australasia did not have such populated interiors, so they were able to democratise due the consensus generated around the collective project of expanding frontiers into the territories of indigenous peoples. The colonial legacy that did most to inhibit Argentina’s democratisation was therefore its settled Interior. Other than this, its political backwardness was largely the result of the uneven impacts of its integration into a new global(ising) capitalist order centred on the North Atlantic core.