Raúl Prebisch and the beginnings of the Latin American school of economics: a rhetorical perspective

Journal of Economic Methodology 6 (3):423-438 (1999)
Fifty years ago, the Argentinean economist Raúl Prebisch published a paper called Estúdio Económico de América Latina. The Estúdio was one of the first texts that set up what was later termed the ?Prebisch-Singer thesis? or, more widely, the Latin American School of Economics. According to this document, Latin American countries should undergo an industrialization program under the direct supervision of the national state. The rationale for this thesis was the deterioration of the terms of trade for countries exporting primary commodities and importing manufactured goods. The focus here is on the argumentative structure of the document, which targets two different audiences, a lay and a specialized one. Relying on a center-periphery metaphor, Prebisch stresses the shortcomings of conventional economic theory when applied to distinct historical circumstances, i.e., to the peculiar conditions experienced by peripheral countries. A rhetorical approach to the Estúdio also shows that it represents a deliberate effort to assemble a large volume of empirical data about Latin America and its foreign trade. This was not a widespread procedure at the time. As is usually the case in well-built argumentative discourses, both inclusion and omission of certain sets of data look strategically contrived.
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