Falling Behind contains nine excellent essays exploring different aspects of why Latin America and the United States have different income levels. The key points in those nine essays are nicely summarized in Francis Fukuyama's conclusion, the tenth essay. The authors were well chosen to reflect both Latin American and U.S. perspectives.
I found that some of the arguments were more persuasive than others, especially the time series work that showed much of the loss of relative economic performance occurring during the time when Latin American countries were establishing their governments. That evidence seemed to be the smoking gun that shows that economic development requires stable, effective government.
Of equal interest were the investigations of the factors that don't seem to explain the differences, including religious culture, tropical climate, and disease.
The book is short on prescriptions. But Latin America seems likely to profit from improved government policies for economic development, better educational results, more inclusive two-party politics in democracies, improving security of property rights, making entrepreneurship easier, and avoiding regime changes.
Historical data make it hard to test everything, but I did wonder if geography might not have played a bigger role in falling behind the United States than this book suggests. A lot of the economic development of the U.S. in the early industrial revolution depended on having lots of cotton growing and the raw materials to make steel-based goods that could be inexpensively shipped across the North Atlantic to Europe. Latin America mostly lacked those same resources and access to the European markets at the same time.
I'm sure the debate over what went wrong in Latin America will continue as long as Latin America's prosperity lags behind the United States. It's a subject well worth considering to provide guidance for other developing regions, especially in Africa.
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