Since the immediate post–World War II era, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has played a leading role in the political, economic, and social lives of Latin Americans. Its role has evolved from the Bretton Woods era of the postwar period, through the era of the Washington Consensus, and into the post-2008 crisis period. However, throughout those times the institution served as the enforcement instrument for orthodox economic policies within the liberal international order. It conditioned emergency lending to countries in economic distress on the implementation of austere economic policies. The region’s workers consistently bore the costs of the IMF’s prescribed policies. Such policies resulted in fewer public-sector jobs, reductions in welfare state benefits, and increased levels of foreign involvement in national economies. Consequently, the IMF became the subject of frequent labor protests. Workers understood the key role the IMF played in devising the policies that caused them pain and often took steps to resist. Although the IMF’s effects on the working class are well understood within Latin America, it has not been the subject of sustained historical analysis. To understand the dynamics of the region’s political economy, historians should focus on the IMF to a degree similar to that of economists and political scientists. More specifically, the relationship between the IMF and Latin American workers is ripe for sustained analysis across disciplinary boundaries.
Lisa L. Martin
In a comparison of today’s global political economy with that of the last great era of globalization, the late nineteenth century, the most prominent distinction is be the high degree of institutionalization in today’s system. While the nineteenth-century system did have some important international institutions—in particular the gold standard and an emerging network of trade agreements—it had nothing like the scope and depth of today’s powerful international economic institutions. We cannot understand the functioning of today’s global political economy without understanding the sources and consequences of these institutions. Why were international organizations (IOs) such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) or International Monetary Fund (IMF) created? How have they gained so much influence? What difference do they make for the functioning of the global economy and the well-being of individuals around the world? In large part, understanding IOs requires a focus on the tension between the use of power, and rules that are intended to constrain the use of power. IOs are rules-based creatures. They create and embody rules for gaining membership, for how members should behave, for monitoring, for punishment if members renege on their commitments, etc. However, these rules-based bodies exist in the anarchical international system, in which there is no authority above states, and states continue to exercise power when it is in their self-interest to do so. While states create and join IOs in order to make behavior more rule-bound and predictable, the rules themselves reflect the global distribution of power at the time of their creation; and they only constrain to the extent that states find that the benefits of constraint exceed the costs of the loss of autonomy. The tension between rules and power shapes the ways in which international institutions function, and therefore the impact that they have on the global economy. For all their faults, international economic institutions have proven themselves to be an indispensable part of the modern global political economy, and their study represents an especially vibrant research agenda.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is a major component of globalization. Because of the important role it plays in economic growth and development, many scholars have directed their interest and knowledge to theoretical and/or empirical studies of the causes of FDI. There has been a rapidly growing body of literature that theorizes, hypothesizes, and empirically tests the determinants of FDI. There is no single theory of FDI; rather, various theories look at FDI from different angles and complement each other. Likewise, the empirical studies of FDI are incremental and experimental. The main theoretical approaches to FDI are presented, the empirical evidence gathered in the literature is introduced, and future research is discussed.
Globalization, or increased interconnectedness between world regions, is a dialectical and recursive phenomenon that consequently tends to deepen through time as one set of flows sets off other related or counterflows. This is evident in the history of the phenomenon in Africa, where transcontinental trade, and later investment, were initially small but have grown through different rounds including slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism, and the early 21st-century era of globalization. However, globalization on the continent, as in other places, is not unilinear and has generated a variety of “regional responses” in terms of the construction of organizations such as the African Union and other more popularly based associations. The phenomenon of globalization on the continent is deepening through the information technology “revolution,” which also creates new possibilities for regional forms of association.
Neoliberalism refers to a set of market-based ideas and policies ranging from government budget cuts and privatization of state enterprises to liberalization of currency controls, higher interest rates and deregulation of local finance, removal of import barriers (trade tariffs and quotas), and an emphasis on promotion of exports. While the effects of these policies have been quite consistent, they have sparked sharp criticism from the left. Critics pointed out the elites’ consistent failure in areas such as development aid, international financial regulation, Bretton Woods reform, the World Trade Organization’s Doha Agenda, and United Nations Security Council democratization. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007–2008, the G20 held a summit in 2009 to discuss policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability. G20 leaders vowed to, among other promises, strengthen the longer term relevance, effectiveness and legitimacy of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and to seek agreement on a post–2012 climate change regime. However, many intellectual critics of neoliberalism insisted that the G20 represented nothing new. Instead, they emphasize several urgent political priorities, such as: immediately recall and reorganize campaigning associated with defense against financial degradation; reconsider national state powers including exchange controls, defaults on unrepayble debts, financial nationalization and environmental reregulation, and the deglobalization/decommodification strategy for basic needs goods; and address the climate crisis by rejecting neoliberal strategies in favor of both consumption shifts and supply-side solutions.