CFP: Special Issue in Business History: Business and Finance in Latin America: From the Oil Shock to the Debt Crisis

Paula de la Cruz-Fernández Discussion

Business and Finance in Latin America: From the Oil Shock to the Debt Crisis

Editors: Dr Carlo Edoardo Altamura (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Geneva) and Dr Sebastian Alvarez (Graduate Institute Geneva/University of Oxford)

Submissions due 31 August 2022

Since the 2008-9 financial crisis, Latin America has experienced a period of sluggish economic activity and increasing levels of external debt. In a world of low interest rates, the liquidity injected into the US and European banking systems flew over into Latin American economies as global demand dropped and commodities prices crashed downwards. The boom of private and public indebtedness over the past decade has increased the economic and financial vulnerabilities of a region that has historically been dependent on international trade and exposed to external shocks such as the current pandemic. In a context where governments have stepped in to offset the impact of the coronavirus crisis, debt levels are now approaching the peak seen during the international debt crisis of the 1980s, raising fears amongst policymakers and business leaders of new defaults and another “lost decade”.

This proposed special issue titled “Business and Finance in Latin America: From the Oil Shock to the Debt Crisis” aims to bring new insights into the current debates by looking at how local and foreign entrepreneurs, financiers and state actors reacted to the unstable economic and political context that preceded and followed the outbreak of the international debt crisis of 1982.

The scholarship on the business history of Latin America has expanded markedly over the last three decades. With the development and consolidation of the discipline since the mid-1980s, the number of historical studies of firms and entrepreneurship in the region grew considerably and covered a large variety of topics and sectors. This includes the foreign investment and diversification strategies of multinational enterprises (MNEs) in Latin America, the origin and evolution of local family-based economic groups and their connections with the social elites and the political ruling class. It encompasses regional and sectoral research on trade, banking, mining, transport, agricultural and manufacturing industries from a historical perspective that engages with the economic, social and organizational theories and other approaches to the study of the firm emerging in industrial countries. In so doing, this research has contributed to improving our understanding of the ways and conditions under which entrepreneurs and companies have succeeded or failed to develop their business activities in the region, as well as the specificities and distinctive character of Latin American capitalism.

However, while the bulk of the scholarship concentrates on firms that dominated before 1914 and the interwar and post-World War II years, the turbulent period of the 1970s and 1980s has received much less attention as firms and public institutions have only recently disclosed their files and opened archives for researchers. Moreover, the work that analyses the evolution of firms and national industries in Latin American during the second economic globalization since the 1980s has focused mainly on the liberalization, privatization and deregulatory policies adopted. Little is known, however, about how the economic crises that the region experienced in these years affected the way firms and entrepreneurs ran their businesses and overcame their debt and financial difficulties. In fact, while the long-term effects that the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s inflicted on the social and economic structures of the region have been extensively recognized and documented, the reasons why some companies disappeared while others survived has not yet been explored. Moreover, the policies implemented in the fifteen years between 1975 and 1990, first in Chile and Argentina, and then elsewhere following the 1982 crisis, totally changed the environment in which business in the region operated. This took the form of a wholesale shift from state-led ISI and a deepening distrust of FDI to open market economies characterised by policies emanating from the so-called ‘Washington Consensus’. Many older firms and business groups collapsed, some foreign investors withdrew while others, like Spanish MNEs, entered, and local business groups that survived and adapted to the new environment began to expand across frontiers, leading to the growth of the so-called ‘multilatinas’.

This Special Issue will contribute to filling this gap in the literature by providing a much more granular analysis of Latin American business and financial dynamics and bringing together a collection of new original historical studies from emerging and established scholars on business history in the region.

Our goal is to shed new light on how the multiple crises of the 1970s and 1980s affected industries and business organizations operating in Latin America and on the different ways in which they dealt with issues such as debt, investment and selling strategies as well as the economic and political risk assessments they undertook. It will do so by focusing on crucial but neglected actors in a region outside the Global North by drawing on material that was not previously available. To that end, the special issue focusses on contributions and interdisciplinary research from scholars who use historical methods and primary sources to explore:

  1. The behaviour and business strategies of financial and non-financial companies in the run-up to, and the aftermath of, the 1982 financial fallout.
  2. The impact of the debt crisis and the responses of MNEs and domestic firms in Latin America.
  3. The way that national and international companies managed economic and political risk in the region during the 1970s and 1980s.
  4. How business actors coped with foreign debt, inflation, and the uncertainties unleashed by changing government policies and crises during the 1970s and 1980s.
  5. The effects of the debt crisis and economic and structural reforms on state-business and domestic-foreign capital relationships.
  6. The long-term outcomes of the crisis and the reorientation of businesses in line with the neoliberal policies of Latin American politics.

In order to attract high quality papers for the special issue we will combine both strategies outlined in the guidelines for Business History special issues, i.e. invited contributions and a Call for Papers:

Three-four invited articles from the presentations at a Colloquium on the Latin American debt crisis of 1982.

Two-three articles from a Call for Papers for this Special Issue.