This piece was published in the Global Issue Print Edition (Volume 12)
This research paper constitutes a critical analysis of the Keystone International Economic Organizations (KIEOs) specifically the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the imposition of Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) in Argentina. After providing an historical exegesis of the nation’s tumultuous political economic history, I deploy critical analytic framework, most popularly known as Dependency Theory to uncover the pernicious methods by which these KIEOs have forged unbalanced relations between developing countries and themselves through a wide-ranging structural adjustment regime. I utilize a vast literature to demonstrate the aggressive liberalization that occurred in Argentina after the Perónist regime. I trace this gradual cycle of economic liberalization and crisis through the course of the 1970s to the 1990s and further examine these policies’ effects on trade, labor, capital accumulation, monetary relations to the USD, and the dilution of national institutional determination as a direct result of structural adjustment. I conclude this paper with an extensive analysis of the relationship between SAP regimes and its specific effect on the institutional dependency/determination of Argentina.
The degree of political determination that a nation can exercise is very often contingent on its ability to determine a broad index of economic structures and practices. This degree of autonomy is also heavily associated with the specific contours of the global economic system within which it is placed. The nation of Argentina is no exception. It is no secret that within the vast system of the global economy, certain regions have been deferentially treated in relation to others. Some of these very same regions have intentionally structured the global political economy (GPE) in particular ways based on their national interests. The tumultuous history of political economy in Latin America garnered widespread attention in the 20th century and has been the impetus for rich theoretical insights into the inner workings and power struggles of the GPE. This paper focuses on the structures and practices which characterize the current landscape of international political-economic relations and their effect on Argentina in the 20th-century.
This research paper aims to thoroughly explicate the political economy of Argentina and the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) that it has implemented at the behest of keystone international economic organizations (KIEOs) such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). Here, a historical and theoretical exegesis of the SAP regime will be instructive to my analysis. In the process, I tackle numerous aspects of the GPE concerning Argentina, including the country’s debt and monetary crises, its trade regimes, and the overarching transition towards economic liberalization in the late 20th-century. I will further examine SAPs and Argentina through the lens of the critical political-economic theory known as dependency theory. In doing so I attempt to construct a political theory of economic institutional determination and sustainable development and growth. In this paper, I argue that the implementation of structural adjustment policies in Argentina by KIEOs such as the IMF and World Bank have had a negative effect on development and curtailed institutional economic determination in the country. I will be deploying dependency theory as the analytical framework to explain the role of SAPs in the developmental and institutional shortcomings as well as to explain the transition toward neoliberal hegemony imposed on Argentina.
During the 1980s, many heavily indebted developing nations adopted an index of economic restructuring policies now famously referred to under the structural adjustment umbrella. A wide body of scholarship strongly suggests that the policy prescriptions attached to the idea of structural adjustment were not merely a host of prescriptive economics measures aimed at increasing growth in developing nations but consisted in a systematic subversion of existing institutions to conform to specific workings of the market. Essential features of these programs included industrial privatization of formerly nationalized sectors, regulation rollbacks, and currency convertibility schemes that aimed to attach capital inflows with the nation’s internal currency. It is important to note that many, if not all, of these policy reforms, were grudgingly accepted by the politicians of developing countries through “conditionality” programs wherein debt-ridden countries received much-needed loans from these KIEOs on the condition that they carried out policy changes. These reforms saw entire state institutional practices and administrations discarded under the auspices of capital aid and necessary macroeconomic stability offered by such programs.
Argentina’s national economy, like many others, became a subject of a structural adjustment regime dominant among developing countries during the outset of the neoliberal era. This era, however, is only the latest juncture to emerge out of the paradigmatic relations of the post-war global economy between the core and periphery nations. Prospects of development and the imposition of developed countries’ mode of governmentality was one of the main theoretical subjects of the highly popular development framework in the 1960s known as dependency theory. Dependency theory was the theoretical brainchild of Marxist and structuralist approaches to development relations that had a targeted focus on development in Latin America.
Dependency theory was frequented by developmentalist intellectuals, including Argentine economist Raul Prebisch, Andre Gunder Frank, and former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The primary thrust of their work, and the theory generally, was to dissect the structural factors of development in Latin American regions and the obstacles to development by the intentional structural relations of global trade and finance between DCs and LDCs. The dependency school rejected conventional notions that predicted increasing growth and modernization by way of global trade and financial integration of these LDCs and instead argued that periphery nations would encounter declining terms of trade. The theory imputes a structural and relational struggle between the two paradigms of the GPE in which developed nations not only benefit from favorable trade conditions but also impose structural practices in LDC economies that ultimately disadvantaged them and further reinforced a dependent relationship. Therefore, a central claim of dependency theory is that LDCs are bound to experience sclerotic growth by the very fact of their economic association with DCs.
Such a relationship encourages financial and trade penetration into these LDCs by DCs. More than this, dependency theory aimed to shed light on the internal factors that simultaneously reinforced the relation and stifled prospects of autonomous sustained growth over time. For instance, as Tausch notes, the advancement of modernization brought about by dependent development limits the formation of a national entrepreneurial and middle class and consolidation of labor strength. The integration issue, argued Sunkel, was its partial nature which saw a certain class of national elites and entrepreneurs engage with and incorporated into the enterprise of transnational corporations. The remainder of the workforce consisting of the middle and working-class would be subjected to disarticulation from the social and economic benefits of capital penetration thus consolidating a stark class divide. In response, developmentalist economists like Prebisch encouraged protectionist trade policies such as import barriers which would serve to protect LDC industries from exploitation by core countries; many of which were adopted by politicians during this period only to be reconstituted or completely abandoned during the neoliberal turn.
A Brief History of Argentine Political Economy
It is often remarked that Argentina is the only country to be regarded as developed at the beginning of the 20th-century only to become a developing one at the beginning of the twenty-first. A massive influx of foreign capital helped to bolster an export market of agricultural goods such as grain, meat, leather, and wool. Overall, the large South American country experienced rapid economic growth during the early twentieth century with per capita income higher in the country than many prominent European countries shortly before the onset of the first world war. Some scholars, however, have argued that much of this growth occurred in lieu of equitable distributive economic policies. The agricultural sector, for instance, was dominated by wide-reaching privatization controlled by an oligarchy that would take advantage of most of the benefits of agricultural expansion prior to World War I and exercised cast influence in political affairs as well.
The poltico-economic trajectory of the nation would change fundamentally with the elections of its most pivotal political leader Juan Domingo Perón in 1946. Perón had founded the nationalist-populist Justicialist party in 1945 after a military junta seized power in 1943. He was democratically elected in 1946 based on intransigently populist sentiments. Perón’s presidency has been categorized as dictatorial and have even drawn comparisons to fascistic regimes in twentieth-century Europe, with observers confirming that Perón drew much inspiration from fascism’s tenets. “Perónism” consisted of inherently nationalistic economic and political policies which emphasized the necessity for national economic independence and determination as well as the assurance of social justice and labor security. Both Juan Perón and his wife (and eventual successor) promoted protectionist policies as prescribed by Raul Prebisch. Immediately after World War II, the Peróns utilized policy instruments such as “import and export taxes, import controls, exchange rate and wage policies to turn the domestic terms of trade between agricultural and manufactured goods in favour of the urban industrial and working classes.” Peronism’s communitarian ethos, underscored by fervently distributive policies to the urban working class and strong political alliances between his administration and the labor union, garnered wide support from the voting base throughout his tenure. Support for Peronism largely persists to the present day.
Unadulterated Peronism and its attendant economic policies did not go unchallenged, however, nor were these policies unassailable when it came to prospects of economic prosperity. Protectionism would eventually see the decline of agricultural production and sclerotic export sectors which contributed to the country’s balance of payments crises in the 1950s. Eventually, Perón was ousted in 1955 and exiled to Spain for nearly two decades before dying of pneumonia in 1974. Shortly after, Juan Perón’s wife Isabel succeeded her husband as president of Argentina. The country continued to face mounting tumult due to several economic and political crises. A military coup against the democratically elected Isabel eventually usurped power and usher in the transition toward neoliberal governance in the country.
The military junta which organized against Isabel Perón’s democratically elected government began to introduce initial neoliberal reforms. During the seven-year military dictatorship (1976-83), numerous policy measures were implemented which only vaguely tended down the path of the neoliberal revolution taking place across the globe during the late 1970s and 1980s. Known as “Proceso,” this dictatorial regime designed its policies to favor increased financial speculation. Financial reforms occurring during 1977 made financial operations more flexible and foreign debt in Argentina much more prevalent. Argentine foreign debt raised from $7 billion USD at the beginning of the dictatorship to $46 billion USD at its end in 1983. The military dictatorship collapsed shortly after their defeat in the short-lived Falklands War with Great Britain in 1982. Newly elected president Raul Alfonsin of the Union Civica Radical party (UCR) would come to inherit a rapidly corroding national economy, inflation and currency debt crisis along with the national outrage associated with such crises. Crises for which he and his eventual successor, Perónist leader Carlos Menem, would respond with more aggressive neoliberal reforms and structural adjustment policies than had been heretofore achieved in the country. The 80s and 90s were two pivotal decades in Argentina marked not merely by economic and political crises but a sharp and widespread transition in policy and governance practices toward neoliberalism that would have lasting impacts on its prospects for political determination and economic development.
The Role of Structural Adjustment Programs
The KIEOs, especially the IMF and WB, have been two mainstays of post-war international economic coordination and governance as well as being the fundamental structural vestiges of economic distribution and development. SAPs have been a tool widely deployed by the KIEOs to address underdevelopment in the global south for the last three decades with varying degrees of effectiveness. Blanton et. al. mentioned other IMF and WB lending programs such as Stand-By Agreements, Extended Fund Facility programs. SAPs are comprised of a combination of two types of policies disambiguating stabilization and structural adjustment. The former is tackled by the IMF and the latter the World Bank. According to the researchers, stabilization policies are those that attempt to “return an economy to equilibrium path that was followed prior to a shock” and are typically short-term and corrective in nature. Meanwhile, structural adjustment takes aim at a more sustained growth and development issues by addressing “better supply responses to market liberalization and efficient macroeconomic management.” Moreover, the major objectives of SAPs are as follows: “(1) macroeconomic stability; (2) the need for prices to reflect relative scarcities; and (3) a reduction in the role of the state in economic affairs.” These objectives are achieved by employing the following policies instruments and/or practices:
To achieve the objectives of SAPS, the primary policy instruments employed are (1) exchange rate adjustment, primarily devaluation; (2) control of the money supply and credit ceilings; (3) interest rate policy, allowing interest rates to respond freely to market forces; (4) debt rescheduling; (5) fiscal policy, including measures to reduce public expenditure and mobilize resources; (G) deregulation of prices of goods, services and factor inputs; (7) liberalization of trade and payments. (Kayira & Hope 1997, 118)
SAPs have long been touted by the IMF and WB as viable solutions for developing regions to tackle institutional challenges. More than this, however, it has long been argued that the SA policy regime, including and especially in Argentina, was a forceable imposition of liberalized economic governmentality at the behest of the United States, which then and now wielded vast influence on the incumbent KIEOs. As I will attempt to show, SAPs affected numerous aspects of Argentina’s economy since its subtle to rapid transition to a neoliberal mode of economic governance. Effects that run the gamut of trade, currency stability, union power, and productive capacity.
Effect on Labor and Trade
One prevailing policy conditionality that came along with the SA or the the “Washington Consensus,” was the immediate liberalization of trade. In the literature, trade liberalization is often measured as cross-industry tariff cuts on imports. The Menem years, beginning with his election in July 1989, saw a stark reversal of the import substitution industrialization (ISI) strategies in place during the three decades preceding the Second World War. National and regional protectionism seen in import substitution and targeted sector subsidies between Argentina and its larger neighboring countries were rapidly replaced by some of the most sweeping liberalization reforms in the global South during this period. Acosta and Montes-Rojas point to the large import tariff reductions implemented on frequently imported resources to the country such as wood, paper, chemical and petrochemical resources, and electrical equipment. The large commercial regional trade bloc agreed between Argentina’s large neighbors (Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay), known as MERCOSUR, was instrumental during this period of tariff reduction too. Their data indicate a sustained decline in import tariffs from 21 per cent in 1992 to 14 per cent in 2003 and an inverse rise in trade openness as a measure of GDP from 14 per cent to 39 per cent across the same period. An associated rise in international imports from $6.8 billion USD in 1990 to $32 billion USD in 1998 and an import of goods and services/GDP ratio increase of 12.6 per cent to 22.2 per cent in 2000 are notable here as well.
Londero theorizes an effect on price responsiveness on exports due to trade liberalization. Essentially, because trade liberalization opens up the availability of substitutes for synthetic and non-traded goods, price responsiveness of import demands will likely increase. This was the main impetus for the import substitution prescriptions offered by Prebisch in the 1960s as means of trade protection for Argentina’s heavily industrialized sectors. Londero argues that reducing protections for exports has a strong positive relationship with the reduction of “labor intensive manufactures in total exports and to an increase in the share of more rent intensive products.” Liberalization, therefore, may lead to decreased price responsiveness of a country’s exports. Argentina during the latter decades of the twentieth century experienced one of the greatest increases in import coefficients in Latin America.
Structural adjustment, whether explicitly imposed by the KIEOs or tacitly implemented, underwrote the intention for global economic liberalization tout court. This is to say, this policy regime and alternate form of economic governmentality bore credence to a rapidly transitioning global economy in which American and British neoliberal economic policies of monetary, trade, and industrial liberalization were instituted as the new norm. That said, the SA policies modestly undertaken first by Alfonsin and then more aggressively by Menem had staggering effects on industry and labor both on economic and political levels. According to Ejdesgaard-Jeppesen, Menem’s introduction of economic reforms based on intense liberalization, wage restraints, privatizing welfare sectors and other industries, and cutting down public expenditure, was conducted to attract foreign capital investment and gain favor with the IMF and WB to negotiate new credits and payments.
Alfonsín and Menem’s administrations saw Argentina go from being one of Latin America’s industrial powerhouses, on par with that of South Korea in terms of technological integration into industry and industrial production, to an industrially sclerotic and socially disarticulated nation. Specifically, the Economic Emergency Law passed by Menem in 1989 which eliminated a number of subsidies for manufacturing eliminated redundancies for public sector employment and a State Reform Law which legalized the wide-scale privatizations that took place. Under the new regime of accumulation occurring during the mid-1970s dictatorship, which marked the neoliberal structural turn in Argentina, ISI was slowly beginning to be abandoned. Under import substitution and protectionism, large corporate conglomerates in Argentina existed in equanimity with medium and small-sized businesses. Other major effects of liberalization in this era were the shift in employment rates and hiring practices. The privatization of public companies and enterprises during the 80s and 90s saw a marked reduction in the total share of public sector employment between 1990 and 2000 all across Latin American, with some of the most severe reductions in public sector labor occurring in Argentina.
Using a time series between 1980-2001, Cruces et al. examines the strong connections between Argentina’s SAPs, including and especially trade liberalization and the increase in labor informality. Informality can be described as a lack of both taxation and regulation compliance by employers and a lack of social protection for workers. This may also include limited ability to contest for higher wages, social security, and other benefits Across the time frame of the data set, tariffs fluctuated considerably but a continuous downward trend was recorded from an average of 40.95 per cent in 1980 to 18.73 per cent in 2000, only for it to rise dramatically in 2001 to 25.51 per cent; this is presumably due to the economic collapse experienced by Argentina during these two years discussed later in the paper. Acosta and Montes-Rojas’ work show similar results that within both natural resource industry and service industry, labor informality from 1992-2003 increased steadily across crucial manufacturing sectors.
Their study’s findings further corroborate Teubal’s work to the extent that labor informality experienced as a result of trade liberalization after SA implementation had a more disproportionate impact on labor belonging to smaller firms. In their words, “In the cross-section, inter-industry differences in tariff cuts increase labor informality being the effect differentially stronger in industries with a larger share of small-size firms.” The neoliberalization of Argentina during these decades is defined by numerous approaches to economic liberalization and financialization that does not strictly harp on trade openness as described here. Nonetheless, the reversal of ISI was a serious hamper in the country’s development prospects. As a result, income distribution began to regress, wages and income of lower-income groups declined, and unemployment and poverty in numerous forms increased. Much of these trends, I suggest are the direct results of the specific aspect of trade liberalization within the SA regime adopted since 1983 after the fall of the Proceso dictatorship. Liberalization, in essence, spelt a new form of capital consolidation and accumulation, privileging larger conglomerates of old and new and disarticulating capital from workers. Menem’s reforms came as a surprise to Argentine labor at the time of implementation. Menem, then leader of the Perónist party, campaigned on the distinctly nationalist protectionist sentiments and values as the Peróns had practiced only to eschew the close ties to labor that had fostered political cooperation between governmental institutions and labor in the 40s and 50s. Perónism had then (and still does) a massive economic and symbolic gravity in the lives of labor unions and ordinary working-class Argentines who viewed Perón as the man who proffered to them a dignified and secured position within the economy and society. The subsequent gradual transition to liberalization and asymmetrical capital accumulation can be viewed, in their eyes at least, as no less than political betrayal, regardless of the perhaps earnest economic stabilization efforts of Alfonsín and Menem.
When considering the impact of SA, especially as it came to define Argentina from the mid-1970s onward, one would be remiss to not thoroughly examine the role that the neoliberalization of finance and currency in the country had to play in its various crises. A confluence of factors contributed to the particular direction and scope of economic policy during the military dictatorship. The Proceso made foreign indebtedness a hallmark of its economic policy. The beginning of Argentina’s neoliberal turn included a newly found openness toward financial penetration and speculation within a once populist and highly protectionist economy. National debt began to quickly diverge from the imports or exports of commodities and capital goods to pure finance. Foreign debt and the interest on it rose exponentially by nearly $39 billion USD. According to Teubal, the major impetus for the accumulation of such debt was Proceso’s preoccupation with the integration of Argentina’s finances with the international financial markets and the monetary liberalization—including floating exchange rates and capital mobility—that defined it then and now. The financial regimes implemented in 1977-79 which introduced full mobility of foreign finance capital and financial activities all but guaranteed that foreign debt would come to categorize economic affairs in the country for years to come.
Amid the crisis of 1981, public enterprises were deprived by the central government of the liquidity necessary to finance their operations or investments to be put toward public services. Instead, these funds were allocated for speculative uses by the governments in foreign exchange markets, which effectively funded capital flight from the country (Teubal 2004, 177). In 1981, the country experienced extraordinary levels of inflation. Soon to follow was a currency devaluation of 500 percent. A crisis for which the reaction under Alfonsín was to carry out stabilization mechanisms that were inadequate at tackling the deepening economic and social crises of the runaway inflation and mounting foreign debt. The consequences of this pervasive speculation and the failed attempts at stabilization were that foreign creditors in both the United States and Britain as elsewhere exercised enormous leverage over domestic economic policy in Argentina, every ally translating to more vehement IMF conditionalities and, thus, greater structural adjustment. By 1989, inflation had grown to annual rates of 5000 percent. Menem would appoint several neoliberal-oriented ‘Chicago Boys’ (economic thinkers influence by the University of Chicago brand of economic liberalism) to important government posts, including the finance minister Domingo Cavallo. Cavallo introduced the infamous Convertibility Law in 1991 which mandated that the Argentine peso be pegged to the US dollar. This entails that the Argentine currency maintain a fixed exchange rate between itself and the US dollar.
Under the new currency convertibility law, price indexing was prohibited and the full backing of the US dollar—which became legal tender—was required for monetary circulation. Money creation not backed by the foreign exchange reserves of the Central Bank or by a foreign inflow of capital was distinctly prohibited. The embrace of this extreme financial neoliberalization was justified by Cavallo under the promise that the currency peg would curtail inflation by tamping down on devaluation expectations. As Felder and Muñoz-Martinez explain, part of the Convertibility plan was to “back the circulating money with the foreign reserves accumulated in the central bank” and that “the central bank had to sell or buy both currencies without restrictions.” Monetary creation in this context was the imbrication of the peso to foreign reserves ultimately entrenching an exogenous mechanism for the creation of money beyond the control of the domestic economic authorities. What convertibility meant was that the prosperity of the Argentine currency was no longer in the hands of Argentina.
There were some positives to be taken from the Convertibility plan, at least ostensibly. The liberalization of finance from earlier regimes coupled with the currency peg and low-interest rates on foreign reserves meant a large inflow of capital and a penchant for foreign reserves. The tacit implementation of neoliberal reform that came with a bevy of financial and industrial reversals to their traditionally protectionist values and policies appeared to bring beneficial results. Exports increased, agricultural activity experienced a boom and the country was becoming competitive again. The stability experienced after these massive adjustments were short-lived, however. The original success of the swift neoliberalization under Menem and Cavallo was pivotal in securing the legitimacy of SAPs in Argentina even if this came at the real and symbolic expense of labor strength and economic determination which underpinned the early developmentalism of Prebisch and Perón.
A combination of external shocks such as the Mexican liquidity crises in its banking sector in 1995, the precipitous rise in international interest rates not to mention that the Argentine peso was perennially overvalued caused the economy to suffer. Rising interest rates reduced capital inflows to emerging markets, currency overvaluation seriously hampered exports, and competitiveness and the trade deficit became imminent. The abiding currency peg to ensure stability became unsustainable as US reserves became increasingly expensive and the peso continued to devalue, even as outlying deficits payments loomed. Unironically, only an assistance package conditioned by the IMF was able to prevent courage flight and halt an irremediable debt crisis.
The veritable solidification of economic dependence came in 1993 when Argentina joined the Brady Plan with an aim at restricting outstanding debt and the attached interest. The plan would securitize the debt principal and some of the interest into US Treasury bonds. In other words, old bonds were repackaged and consolidated into new bonds with less interest. Although the previously defaulted bonds were now able transformed into new ones with less interest to pay, a new and more intractable cycle of public debt emerged in its place.
SA reforms presented a surreptitious issue of economic governmental indeterminacy. The sad fate of Argentina after the fall of Perónism in 1976 was that the gradual neoliberalization of the economy steadily relinquished economic (namely financial) determination to an ever-advancing neoliberal order imposed more after each crisis by IMF and WB conditionality as a stopgap to preceding crises. For instance, a price the Argentine people had to pay for the high and stable currency peg domestic production becoming more expensive thus paving the way for an influx of cheap imports that devastated local industries and jobs. The Argentine economy became more unstable with the implementation and progression of SAPs until it eventually teetered on collapse—only to be rescued by the two KIEOs whose conditions for crisis mitigation expanded over time and fostered greater dependency on relations to the core. A dependency that elides the labor relations to economic stability, social welfare, and development in favor of a regime of capital accumulation for economic elites.
A Critical Theory of Structural Adjustment: Tackling SAPs with Dependency Theory
After exploring the structural reforms made to Argentina’s economy since the incumbency of the Proceso through to Alfonsín and Menem, I wish to take a critical view of the SA regime. It is difficult to examine the neoliberal SAPs adopted throughout this period and their gradual ascendance in Argentine political-economic policies without establishing linkages between a newly liberalized mode of economic governance and the manifold interests and institutions at play on a global economic level. The trajectory of Argentina since the Proceso has been the one tending towards greater SAs along neoliberal lines either taken implicitly or under the burden of IMF and WB conditionalities to attain economic relief. The coming and passing of each crisis has resulted in a deeper entrenchment of KIEOs and foreign capital involvement in Argentina’s economy. Hence, the structural crises SAs were deployed to solve has only worsened further.
Dependency theory was a widely embraced critical analytic framework to view the relationship of the core global capitalist system that enjoys profound influence over KIEOs and the periphery countries that behold it. Moreover, many developmentalist economic strategies such as those contained within the ISI regime were highly sought after by LDCs in the 1960s and 1970s. However, a there was a radical shift in the approaches of many LDCs during the global neoliberal turn in the late 70s and the early 80s. It reoriented economic governance to more open interaction between the core and the periphery under the auspices that liberalization was an indubitable spur to economic growth and development. So far, this hypothesis has come back with mixed results at best and I shall try to analyze why this might be the case.
SAPs carry out a systematic externalization of structural economic relations between the institutionalized apparatuses that design such adjustment measures (namely the IMF and WB). who condition monetary distribution around them and the developing countries that implement them to attain said distribution and capital inflows. To avoid the conceptual opacity that has been the object of criticism of dependency theory in the past, I want to make my nuanced position clear: I do not believe that Argentina has always been an undeveloped, let alone an underdeveloped country. Ample imperial evidence exists to show the wealth of natural resources and the depth of industrial potential displayed in the county for generations. As such, within the dependency theory, I adopt the position that the economic development in Argentina was regressively inhibited by interaction with the core via the integration of SAPs during the period in consideration.
The neo-liberalization of Argentina caused a regression in numerous key areas in the economy spanning from national institutional capacity and the regression of labor’s social positions to capital accumulation, and the potential of its currency among other things. Each in their turn, unraveled the protectionist systems of accumulation and growth the country once experienced and how they incrementally undermined its economic determination. More than just a mere scrutiny of the institutions and practices which have influenced this developmental trajectory, a critical theory of SA ought to account for the specific interests of the institutions at play within these structural relations. The IMF and WB have long functioned as the designated arbiters of global financial order and developmental stability, especially through their distribution of capital loans and liquidity. But, more attention should be paid to the relationship existing between loan conditionality and the soft enforcement of economic restructuring under a neoliberal guise in developing regions such as Latin America.
It is crucial to acknowledge the conceptual fissures between Frank’s contributions to dependency theory and the Cardoso-Faletto strain. While the former preferred to strictly examined the external factors of underdevelopment, the latter dually examined the multiplicity of internal and external factors contributing to asymmetrical capital accumulation and the underdevelopment. The same would later come to plague countries in the global south with Argentina being the main culprit. In taking on gradual SA, Argentina unfortunately brought about a transformation of its structural relations to the globally institutionalized neoliberal order, perhaps its most vital feature. Thus, Argentina lend itself to dependency through the ‘valorization of financial capital’.
Potts argues that debt crises have long served as the economic leverage necessary for KIEOs to employ SA and stabilization measures in developing countries through the means of bail-out loan conditionalities. Foreign financial concentration and foreign debt provided the perfect opportunity for various creditors including the U.S. to make Argentina a financial emissary. High levels of financial concentration manifest in foreign investment and reserve debt incentivize creditors to influence policy levers in recipient DCs to protect investments. Studies have found that higher concentrations of financial penetration in DCs and a “robust long-term negative effect on growth in GNP per capita that begins in the initial 1970-1975 period and lasts through 1990.” As Menem continued to accrue debt through foreign loans in the 1990s, they found it difficult to repay interest on loans that the IMF kept giving through 2000. Overvaluation of the peso pegged to the US dollar experienced an upturn in value which all but guaranteed incoming crisis.
When President Fernando de la Rúa came to power in 1999, a recession had set in. The looming crisis necessitated a preventative loan orchestrated by the IMF, WB, Inter-American Development Bank, and the other creditors. Several claims suggest that this loan, while being presented as a stimulus, actually was a protection for creditors against default of foreign loans. Kentor and Boswell’s suspicions proved true and dependency only continued.
Another political-economic vestige that KIEOs directed their reforms toward were the unions. Justification for labor reforms in recipient countries of IFI loans is founded upon concerns that labor inflexibility and the structural unemployment that strong unions are known to cause will have adverse effects on growth potential. It is often the case that the participation in IMF and WB SAPs directly undermines collective labor rights and instead cultivates the conditions for the disarticulation of capital accumulation among workers. This was realized in Argentina during the Proceso era when trade liberalization devastated labor for formality. Depletion of labor came to pass again in 2001 when default on foreign debt placed the country in a state of collapse and the conditions of the loan provided by the IMF and WB mandated a swath of policies aiming labor. Pensions were overhauled to reduce benefits, legal protections for workers were eliminated giving employers increased powers to lay off workers, and salaries for government employees were slashed.
Argentina’s SA regime came to a head when in a flagrant attempt to reel in inflation and reverse negative GDP growth, Menem instituted full austerity measures. Menem massively cut government spending and to further reduce public expenditure, several industries including oil companies, gas, electricity, water utility, post office, and telephone were privatized. Less than five years after taking office, the President privatized thirty state public sectors accumulating over USD 15 billion in government revenue by late 1993. The development literature is clear on the extent of state contribution to differentiated rates of capital accumulation, and by whom, through the design or repeal of economic policies. Policies for example, may include export subsidies, sectoral subsidies, import tariffs, and the nationalization of debt. Indeed, the inverse of these sort of policies that promote liberalization frequent and characterize Argentina’s political economy from the 70s and onwards.
Castellani discusses three widely accepted explanations for underdevelopment in Latin America. All three are incisive when considering crisis and economic governance in this particular context. According to her, these perspectives consist of:
1) the structural explanation, which understands that underdevelopment is a structural phenomenon rooted in the historical dynamics of capitalism and thus the state is the main actor that can promote the economic “take-off”; 2) the neoclassical/neoliberal explanation, which considers that excessive state intervention causes severe distortions in the economic system hindering development because it obstructs the elementary market mechanisms; and 3) ﬁnally, the neoinstitutionalist explanation, which considers that the quality of state intervention and institutional framework can explain the causes of underdevelopment and its persistence.
One source of internal contribution to Argentina’s dependency was the proliferation of Privileged Accumulation Spaces (PAS). Castellani defines these as:
as a permanent source of privilege quasi-rents for the private corporations operating in it. That is to say, they are spaces where corporations earn extra proﬁts derived from privileges given by the state without the need to take compensating actions to raise development possibilities, either because they are not established beforehand or because the state fails to control their compliance.
PAS are relations that perpetuate the privilege of capital accumulation by the largest corporations. These relations largely remain unchanged even in the advent of policy changes. Accumulation in this sense obstructs the dissemination of technology; information transfer and innovation begin to stagnate and the increase in the economic power of the large business factions contributes to further underdevelopment. Unfortunately, a lack of state capacity reproduces the cycle of political domination which further enables asymmetrical accumulation which in turn leads reproducing state indeterminacy and underdevelopment.
In its early stages, ISI was successful in creating the conditions for industrial growth and development. As Castellani explains, these positive outcomes were evinced by the expansive involvement of the state in economic dealings especially regulating income distribution and enlarging its productive capacities. However, during the later stages of Perón’s last administration, this did not last. Bureaucratic porosity and the slim financial capacities hindered state and business relations and the pursuit of development projects. Thus, towards the end of ISI, state autonomy in economic functions reduced significantly to allow for public and private capital accumulation. PAS would only grow in depth and scope as the transference of capital and quasi-rents to large corporations rose. The military dictatorship and the democratically elected Alfonsín and Menem administrations all shared the tendency for state allowance of private expansion. Public resources continued the transfer of domestic concentrated capital and increased profits remained constant. PAS an already existing practice in Argentina, was necessary in some ways but at various instances, it did more to regress development and the state capacity to carry it out. It was the very impetus of state hollowing out that allowed for this one-sided capital accumulation to become so utterly gratuitous. In my opinion, there are major corollaries between the consistent and deepening restructuring of the economy toward liberalization as a part of KIEO conditionality and international financial integration and the constraint of development because of both internal and external factors.
The importance of state intervention or lack thereof is demonstrable in each explanation including the neoliberal and neo-institutional. Namely because a mixture of state diminution—as a part of liberalization— and privatization in addition to state oversight—when implementing the Convertibility Law in 1991 and other global financial integration measures summarizes the new regime of adjustment and capital accumulation after Peronism. A testament to the neo-liberalization of Argentina was the state’s simultaneous diminishment in allowing trade and financial liberalization, sectoral privatization, and its interventionist mode of governmentality. They were necessary to eschew its once-close ties to its unions in order to ally with international financial capital and imports which would weaken local industry and shed jobs. All of this coincided with the capture of the entirety of Argentina’s economy by SAPs which allowed capital integration, a series of crises stemming from this soon to follow. Goldin and Mariathasan assert that greater the deregulation and integration of an economy, the less reliable its domestic policy is at ameliorating the effects of exogenous shocks to its citizens and businesses. Incidentally, the vulnerability of the Argentine state due to its neo-liberalization effectuated vulnerability to endogenous events as well. This is precisely because the externalization (integration into foreign markets and liberalization elsewhere) of its economy became structured by SAP implementation. Hence, “Harmonization not only increases vulnerability to external or exogenous “shocks” but also catalyzes risks within the system or endogenously.”
Semi-peripheral nations or the ones that have experienced levels of development of which Argentina is one present another conceptual wrinkle in dependency theory or so some have argued. I contend that significant levels of dependency can still occur even in the case of a semi-peripheral country like Argentina whose industrial, infrastructural, financial development have fluctuated throughout its history. In his quantitative study of dependency and development, Tausch lists several quantitative indicators pointing toward dependency, such as:
-high foreign savings rate
-high Openness-index (export + import shares per GDP)
-MNC penetration (Multi-National Corporations)
Others exist but among these, the author highlights the significance of MNC penetration above the others and declares that Argentina experiences a low level of MNC penetration as a percentage of GDP.  Nevertheless, the other quantitative indicators have been more than present in Argentina and support the multiplicity of internal and external factors that help to produce dependency. I have demonstrated how SAP implementation was pivotal in the creation of dependency both internally and externally. At the very least, I have put into focus the correlation between SAPs and structural/institutional dependency. Viewing SAPs from a critical lens, as I have done here, should reinvigorate the fundamental positions of dependency theory. The financial and institutional penetration by the developed capital center of the semi-periphery and periphery produces limitations to self-sustained growth and engenders unbalanced structures of capital accumulation and class relations. This happens both within peripheral societies (semi-peripheral in this case) and between them and the center.
Conclusion: Toward and Political Theory of Institutional Dependence and Determination
The primary issue with Argentina was the neo-liberalization of its state’s form of governmentality. That is to say, Argentina by dint of SAP implementation intentionally reduced their state’s capacity for economic determination instead of ceding more economic territory for capital accumulation and control to large domestic businesses internally and international financial institutions externally. Over time, the power of the state was harnessed to dilute itself and its relation to domestic development so that the dominant place could be given to the core of the world system and big capital.
I have discussed how the recent study of Reisenberg et al. holds that the conditions of intrusive structural adjustment reforms diminish the bureaucratic quality and capacity of the peripheral and semi-peripheral nations that implement them. On utilizing data from 1985-2014, and accounting for internalized or endogenous conditionality and non-random selection of IMF programs, the findings show structural adjustment reduced bureaucratic quality in developing countries. Liberalization lowers the ability of the state to obtain and retain qualified personnel which affect the efficacy and distribution of public services including social security, average wages, and benefits. Not to mention, SAPs mandate the hollowing out of labor, the public sector, and regulations which corral business and finance seeking more privilege at the expense of local industry. Stabilization regimes did not evoke the same effects but the SA was singled out as an indisputable condition under which state bureaucratic capacity for policymaking and social welfare, were demeaned.
While defining the relationship between institutional determination and economic growth and development, business and state relations are insoluble. A robust business class is imperative in prospects for development across financial and industrial sectors where private investment is often the sine qua non for local industrial productivity, healthy levels of exports, and employment. Moreover, well-established links suggest that strong state bureaucracy requires particular degrees of state integration with societal actors, notably big business. Understanding the significance of business class involvement in development does not necessarily undermine the part state capacity plays in helping to regulate disingenuous corporate practices that disadvantage labor and local industry and enable unbridled capital accumulation for a particular economic class.
Frustration and tension with state vulnerability and regression as a course of economic integration and dependency will only affirm the political risks inherent to globalization. The benefits of globalization notwithstanding the internal and external solidification of class disparity due to consolidation of capital by the domestic and foreign business class and the international institutional apparatus that buttress these class divisions will become increasingly untenable. The national populist tendencies evident in Argentina’s tumultuous history can only become more destabilizing and the benefits of democracy and globalization will vanish once the desire to become economically insular grows more attractive.Protectionist intervention already began to creep back into Argentina shortly after the default crisis with a popular backlash to external calls for additional fiscal austerity and liberalization. In 2002, in opposition to IMF conditionalities, the economic authorities in the country stepped in to regulate capital movements and control currency devaluation. The elections of Perónist Nestór Kirchner and his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2003-2007 and 2007-2011, respectively, signaled the rejection of international and domestic pressure to stay the neoliberal course. The political decision in the 2000s to raise exchange rates resulting in the reduction of domestic costs and improving conditions for import substitution sparked a subtle revitalization of industrial capacity. Competitive exchange rates and rising prices for the country’s agricultural and industrial resources helped in supporting export growth. State taxation on primary goods export has raised revenue and partially offset the foreign exchange and inflation crisis plaguing the country the decade prior. Adding to this, the reversal of fiscal austerity has widened the policy space for the state to reimplement subsidies and reinvigorate welfare and social security for its people. For better or worse, the consequences of this reversal have been the specter of inflationary pressures extending from growing consumption and wage demands coming from renewed union strength. Despite this tradeoff, the economic dynamism felt by the repletion of national economic institutional should not be neglected.
One of the central claims of this paper is that the neo-liberalization of Argentina’s economy via SA was the exertion of international force by KIEOs as a means to cultivate institutional dependency and the synthesis of my research was aimed at proving this. A political theory of institutional determination for economic development will both recognize the impact of structural adjustment in this context in the creation of systemic vulnerability and institutional dependency by the by on the semi-periphery and its appending international neoliberal institutions. Liberalization in all the key aspects of political economy: trade, financial, and industrial induced positive results for only a short time when in reality, the depletion of state capacity at the behest of the WB and the IMF only produced toppling financial crises, decimated labor in every way, sullied the social attitudes and relations between the people and the state, all while failing to reverse the fiscal crises that implementation was promised to solve. There are considerable research gaps to fill regarding the competitive quantitative impact of particular dependency indicators such as foreign capital penetration and MNC penetration. Indeed, ambiguity still lingers over the strength of the relationship between these indicators and peripheral countries and semi-peripheral countries like Argentina who have enjoyed a degree of development and international financial integration in their history.
Neoliberalism has been lionized as the most viable form of economic governance for the growth and modernization of LDCs. The consensus on this has been greatly reversed as the DCs and LDCs neoliberalism was meant to help only damaged them further, prompting a form of economic neocolonialism. Technological, financial, and informational penetration, in theory, should expect to increase competitiveness and efficiency leading to productivity gains and improvements in the marginal product of labor. Trade liberalization is also predictive of reduced inequality of wage differentials in LDCs. These theoretical predictions are very often counter to the real-world evidence we see in these regions, however. The frequency of mimetic isomorphism or when states emulate the policy practices and behaviors of SAP success stories should be approached with caution. Considering the vastly different political and historical factors that define a country’s political economy and the fact that degrees on implementation, as in Argentina, have effectuated crisis and vulnerability which in turn reduces state capacity, any form of volitional economic mimesis should be reluctant at best and only done after a thorough assessment of the potential impacts this will have on industrial and financial durability and resilience.
This paper has further analyzed how the infamous SAPs were crafted and imposed by KIEOs on developing countries for decades in the twentieth century. The KIEOs put in focus during my research were the IMF and WB who have been the most influential regulators of the global economy since their introduction and who have conducted most of the significant capital transfers and redistributive measures in the GPE. Additionally, this paper has delved into the modern political and economic history of Argentina and the volatile relationship it had with KIEOs and the SAPs it candidly embraced beginning in the 1970s, marking a distinct break with its formerly national protectionist policies under Peronism. Using the once very popular dependency theory as my critical theoretical framework, I uncover the various means by which SA implementation in Argentina has systematically dissolved the country’s national state capacity for strengthening its internal economic relations and forwarding development in this way.
Argentina was once a paragon of self-sustained development and growth, enjoying a wealth of natural resources and comparative advantage in the global economic context. In equal measure, this nation has faced a plethora of complex and far-reaching economic crises which throughout its modern history has placed into its course a series of gradual structural alterations to its economy that have slowly eroded its national capacity and social relations attached to state oversight, notably ISI and social security. The dissolution of national economic institutional capacity in Argentina, as I have shown, was largely caused by, and inevitably helped to further, a broad index of neo-liberalization. Many of the benefits of these reforms were transient at best and financially calamitous at best. The price of capital integration in the country was the radical destabilization of the state and its industries across the most significant spheres. Trade liberalization as tariff reduction helped to consolidate capital accumulation by large conglomerates and depressed labor. The massive increase in imports devastated local industrial capacity. Deregulation of finance allowed a free-for-all for foreign and domestic capital to speculate irresponsibly, for personal interest, and ultimately, against the peso in 1981. Monetary convertibility attached the heavily overvalued currency to a hegemonic US dollar and as reserve borrowing waxed, financial stability and determinacy waned. The deregulation and privatization of over 30 important industries by the early 1990s in a bout of fiscal austerity forged an avenue for greater imbalance in capital accumulation for the corporate class to the detriment of the working industrial class. Finally, the total neoliberal transformation of the Argentine state by the prevailing SA regime mobilized its political powers for the very purposes of diminishing itself to be permeated by a neoliberal policy that would quickly produce crises. The solution to which even greater neo-liberalization, greater institutional corrosion, and greater internal contradiction and dependency had to occur. Recent economic trends in Argentina proffer optimism for a renewal of institutional determinacy that rejects the internationally imposed institutionalization of crises and dependency. Optimism founded upon the recognition that national economic and institutional determination often comes down to political choice. Argentina is far from being free of economic crisis and uncertainty. One does not escape one’s history and the choices defining that history without some measure of struggle. Yet, if there is anything to be learned from the structures and crises that have come to underlie the historical nexus of neoliberal governmentality and Argentina, it is that if progress is to be made in the country, such a nexus needs to be reimagined, if not broken.
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