Making and Breaking the State: The US and Colombia from Developmentalism to Neoliberalism

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 11:10 AM
Bowery (Sheraton New York)
Amy C. Offner, University of Pennsylvania
When capitalist economies came to crisis in the 1970s, North Americans and Latin Americans did not merely reach for new ideas: they reordered their political-economic systems using tools already at hand. Many practices we regard today as hallmarks of neoliberalism—state decentralization, austere forms of social welfare provision, and private delegation—had earlier lives as developmentalist phenomena. At midcentury, they were tools used to extend the responsibilities of governments under extraordinary fiscal and ideological constraints. This paper unearths the midcentury meanings of those practices, their movement across the hemisphere, and their redeployment for new uses after the 1970s.

The paper begins in Colombia. For two decades after the Second World War, US policymakers considered the Third World the epicenter of poverty and deprivation, and as they channeled foreign aid abroad, Latin American development projects became some of the world’s most dynamic sites of policy experimentation. The paper examines Colombia’s first regional development corporation, the Corporación Autónoma Regional del Valle del Cauca, as a model of midcentury decentralization. It explores the largest housing project built under the Alliance for Progress—Ciudad Kennedy in Bogotá—as a model of austere social welfare provision. It then shows how Latin American developmentalism shaped the US welfare state. When the War on Poverty began in 1964, many Americans believed that knowledge of poverty lay abroad, and they took lessons from the Third World. The War on Poverty repatriated austere homeownership programs that the US had supported as foreign aid instruments, and put them to work among farmworkers and Native Americans. Systems for-profit contracting moved from foreign to domestic policy, producing the country’s first for-profit educational contracts. By the 1970s, Colombian and US statebuilding had generated novel forms of privatization, austerity, and decentralization that found new uses as instruments of structural adjustment and retrenchment.

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