Monday, March 2, 2009

Proposing Change for Latin Americans

By: Elizabeth Lowry

Ohio University hosted the 8th Annual Latin Americanist conference this past weekend. The two day conference theme was "Links and Involvement in Our Ever Changing Economy." It combined the works of scholars, students and experts on Latin American cultures here in the States and world-wide. People came from as far as Brazil to attend the event. The event highlighted keynote speaker Dr. Werner Baer.

Economic Development in Latin America
Dr. Baer is regarded as one of the world's leading experts in Latin American economic developmental problems. Baer is currently the Lemann Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois. Baer extensively studied the Latin American culture and authored or edited books including The Brazilian Economy: Growth and Development and Brazil Under Lula: Economy, Politics, and Society Under the Worker-President.

Dr. Werner Baer talks about Grupos (groups) impact on Latin American economies.

Dr. Baer discussed and summarized several issues that were brought up throughout the two day event. Baer believes the issues our world faces link to globalization. Baer claims after World War II, many Latin American countries chose import substitution, or industrialization, as a strategy for economic development. Baer says this was an anti-globalization gesture, trying to promote economic development by closing the economies in Latin America.

Baer continuously compared Latin American economies to the United States economies. He used an indirect relationship to explain the power Grupos or organized groups hold. Essentially, the ten largest Grupos in a Latin American country are responsibile for 50% of the Gross Domestic Product for that country.

Baer said, "the Latin American economies are dominated by these powerful Grupos, all over and what I question often, in my profession, the American or Anglo-Saxon influenced economists, criticize them as failed market economies but never doing institutionalized studies as what is the impact of the Grupos." Essentially Baer, as well as other professors attending the conference, say they would like to see the Grupos power turned into a more positive element of economic development.

Dr. Werner Baer on solutions to economic realities of Latin America

So what is the solution? Or better yet, is there one? In the United States, more than 75% of employees work in the service sector, including commercial services, educational services and health services. The question is, according to Baer, "How can you develop a service sector in a globalized latin american economy that can effectively create well paying jobs and improve the distribution of income?"

Dr. Baer, as well as several other professionals at the event who have extensively studied Latin American, say they believe the solution lies in education. Currently there is a tremendous distortion in the allocation of resources for Latin American citizens, particularly in Brazil. If one wants to go to a decent university, then parents must send their children to a private primary or secondary school because only those schools can give students the proper education in order to get accepted to a university. Interestingly enough, the university is free, so it is free for the upper-income groups. Many professors say the development of human capital and the equitable distribution of education will lead to a more equitable society in a globalized world.

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