In 1700, Latin America and British North America were roughly equal in economic terms. Yet over the next three centuries, the United States gradually pulled away, and today the gap is huge. Why did this happen? Was it culture? Geography? Economic policies? Natural resources? Differences in political development? The question has occupied policymakers and scholars for decades, and the debate remains intense.
In Falling Behind, Francis Fukuyama, acclaimed author of The End of History and America at the Crossroads, gathers together some of the world's leading scholars on the subject to explain the nature of the gap and how it came to be. Tracing the histories of development over the past four hundred years and focusing in particular on the policies of the last fifty years, the contributors conclude that while many factors are important, economic policies and weak institutions are at the root of the divide. Interestingly, while the gap is deeply rooted in history, they show that there have been times when it narrowed as a consequence of policy choices in nations such as Chile, Mexico, and Brazil, and that there has been genuine institutional reform across the region. Bringing to light these policy success stories, Fukuyama and the contributors lay out a path for Latin American nations so that they can improve their prospects for economic growth and stable political development.
Given that so many attribute the gap to either vast cultural differences or the consequences of U.S. economic domination, Falling Behind is sure to stir debate. And, given the importance of the subject in light of economic globalization and the immigration debate, its expansive, in depth portrait of the hemisphere's development will be a welcome addition to the conversation.