In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Economies from Independence to Industrialization

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Collections
  • Primary Sources, Data Banks
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Haiti
  • Puerto Rico
  • Cuba

Latin American Studies Economies from Independence to Industrialization
Humberto Morales Moreno, Miguel Reyes Hernández
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 December 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0198


Between the fall of Spanish rule in continental America and the emergence of Latin America’s big economic growth (1821–1940), the gap in per capita gross domestic product (GDP) compared with North Atlantic economies was evident. Mainstream economic history of the various Latin American countries and of the so-called North Atlantic identify the existence of this gap since the time of colonial rule and continuing through the advent of the independence movements and revolutions of the 19th century. In any case, this disparity was not born in the 20th century. One of the reasons why the literature on low economic growth gained in importance after World War II was the establishment of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) by the United Nations. CEPAL fostered surveys and the establishment of archives with economic and statistical data for an important group of Latin American countries. Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela evolved as strategic geographical regions with great factor endowments for Latin American trade with European economies at the end of the war. One of the first tasks of CEPAL was to improve political economies in these countries so that they might narrow the gap in industrialization. This bibliography distinguishes a remarkable continuity in the road to industrial development in Latin America: the role of the post-independence state as a stakeholder in efforts toward economic growth and development. Especially in the cases of Mexico and Brazil—and later Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Cuba, and Colombia—we offer three main organizing principles in the study of economic evolutions: (1) Precocious Attempts at Takeoff, 1821–1880; (2) The Latin American Economies in the Age of Exports, 1880–1930; and (3) The Road to Industrialization: State-Led Production, ISI, and CEPAL Overviews, 1930–1980. This bibliography attempts to find a balance between the “economic growth” school influenced by Kuznets and Rostow, as well as some other Latin American schools in CEPAL overviews, and economic and social history monographs by scholars in Latin American universities and research centers with Keynesian, Marxist, and structural approaches.

General Overviews

Few single-authored or multiauthored works of general synthesis can be found before the 1990s and this is because the “new economic history” approach issuing from the United States was unfamiliar to regional scholars and, secondly, because Marxist, Annales school, and CEPAL influences were predominant in the 1960s and 1970s. Cardoso and Pérez Brignoli 1979 is a clear example of a Marxist approach with structural analysis, while Chevalier 1993 represents the work of a French scholar who influenced Mexican colonial studies since the 1950s. At the turn of the 21st century works by scholars trained in the United States and Europe began to focus on the influence of British trade in the Americas and the path-dependence models that emerged mainly in South America (Mahoney 2003). The economic growth model and long-run analysis are demonstrated by Williamson 2009 and Bértola and Ocampo 2013. Prados de la Escosura 2005 discusses the “lost decades” as a relative process in which backwardness is connected with the regional market of low integration and autocracy that resulted in regional disparities throughout the 19th century. This does not mean that economic growth was absent from the entire region. The edited companion Bulmer-Thomas, et al. 2006 should also be consulted, along with Cárdenas, et al. 2000, a companion on the economic history of Latin America.

  • Bértola, Luis, and José Antonio Ocampo. El Desarrollo económico de América Latina desde la independencia. Mexico City: FCE, 2013.

    This important overview, in the manner of economic growth studies, includes specific historical analysis of the three periods of per capita GDP changes in the region: the relative decrease between 1821–1870, the new growth between 1870 and 1980, and the decline after 1980.

  • Bulmer-Thomas, Victor. “The Struggle for National Identity from Independence to Midcentury.” In The Economic History of Latin America since Independence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    This foundational study examines the failure of the region to close the gap with the United States in GDP and living standards and explores the reasons. It contains a wealth of material that was new at the time and which laid the groundwork for new research in this area.

  • Bulmer-Thomas, Victor, John H. Coatsworth, and Roberto Cortés Conde, eds. The Cambridge Economic History of Latin America. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    Bibliographical essays that are important across countries and periods.

  • Cárdenas, Enrique, José Antonio Ocampo, and Rosemary Thorp, eds. An Economic History of Twentieth-Century Latin America. 3 vols. New York: Palgrave, 2000.

    Important companion for the 20th century, especially for periodization of the export era and the state-led production system after the 1929 economic crash.

  • Cardoso, Ciro F. S., and Héctor Pérez Brignoli. Historia Económica de América Latina. Barcelona: Crítica, 1979.

    Still useful for a quick overview of comparative structural analysis of “late capitalism” in Latin America with an original combination of economic, political, and social studies highlighting the early role of Latin American states in their movement toward modern capitalist economies.

  • Chevalier, François. L’Amérique Latine (de l’indépendance à nos jours). 2d ed. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1993.

    As former professor at the Sorbonne and a pioneer of economic and social history of late colonial rule in Mexico, Chevalier offers a work of general synthesis on the main Latin American countries, covering economics, politics, and social and cultural evolutions from the pre-Columbian period to contemporary times. The background of primary sources and surveys for each country are very useful for further research.

  • Mahoney, James. Long-Run Development and the Legacy of Spanish America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

    Mahoney argues that the origins of hierarchy in Spanish and Portuguese America built a path-dependent legacy. This overview outlines competing hypotheses to explain a strange relationship between development in the more isolated colonial regions and the stagnation found close to the core of the empire.

  • Prados de la Escosura, Leandro. Colonial Independence and Economic Backwardness in Latin America. Working Papers of the Global Economic History Network (GEHN), 10/05. London: Department of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2005.

    Prados explores the different origins of Latin American post-independence economic decay. This overview shows how economic growth was no more absent from the early attempts at modernization and development than from that of many Asian and continental European economies during the long-run 19th century.

  • Weaver, Frederick S. Latin America in the World Economy: Mercantile Colonialism to Global Capitalism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000.

    This overview focuses on the birth of free trade and the struggles of the Americas during the postcolonial period. It compares Spanish America and Brazil, highlighting the different impact of British trade in the two Americas.

  • Williamson, Jeffrey G. Five Centuries of Latin American Income Inequality. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2009.

    DOI: 10.3386/w15305

    This is another foundational study from the economic growth school and a mixture of institutional analysis. Williamson questions inequality in Latin America as a gap in institutional roots that originated during Spanish rule and was reinforced by economic elites. Contributors Engerman and Sokoloff argue that high levels of income inequality stimulated a rent-seeking system, which was incompatible with economic growth.

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