The Political Economy of Development Finance in Latin America
- Leslie Elliott ArmijoLeslie Elliott ArmijoInternational Studies, Simon Fraser University
Finance is frequently, but incorrectly, judged a technical matter best left to experts. Equally mistaken is the exasperated conclusion encapsulated in the phrase “people, not profits,” which holds that capitalism, private investors, and markets are simply evil. Finance is necessary for economic development, but also has profound, and often unexamined, implications for social and political spheres. Channels for financial intermediation may be public or private, and national or foreign, implying tradeoffs among organizational forms. Public banks typically are superior in providing public goods and implementing national strategic plans, but private banks and capital markets normally are more efficient, assuming competitive markets. Savings may be sought within the national economy or from abroad, with domestic savings implying a smaller pool yet less subsequent international vulnerability, and foreign inflows offering potential abundance at the cost of external dependence. This framing yields four ideal-types of long-term finance (LTF): national public finance from state development banks; national private finance from domestic private banks and capital markets; foreign public finance via bilateral or multilateral aid or state investment (including from non-traditional lenders, such as China); and foreign private finance sourced from global investors seeking returns.
Both national public and foreign public finance dominated long-term investment in Latin America in the early postwar decades of import-substituting industrialization. In the 1970s through the 1990s, they were succeeded by foreign private bank loans, followed by crisis and retrenchment. In the 21st century global political and market conditions brought a resurgence of foreign capital, including from both global private investors and non-Western public sources. Worries about problems arising from Chinese public finance to Latin America are likely overblown, as the quantity remains small, except in some Bolivarian Alliance countries. However, private foreign inflows, strongly promoted by Western-led multilateral actors, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to the World Bank, during the 2010s, may be more problematic. Excessive dependence on private securities markets funded by globally mobile capital often undercuts achievement of other valued societal goals such as reducing inequality and ensuring democratic accountability. Notwithstanding their predictable flaws, it may be time for a reemphasis on national, and possibly regional, public development banks.