Book Review: The Global Political Economy of Raúl Prebisch

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Publication details

JournalReview of Radical Political Economics
DateAccepted/In press - 24 Apr 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 20 Sep 2018
Number of pages4
Early online date20/09/18
Original languageEnglish


This edited volume by Matias Margulis examines Raúl Prebisch’s ideas, agency, and influence in an interdisciplinary manner, with a particular emphasis on his relevance for Global Political Economy (GPE). This interdisciplinary approach reminds the reader that Prebisch was indeed much more than just an economic theorist and that his influence on development policy was profound. An important contribution of this book is the emphasis on how Prebisch’s ideas changed over time, partly in result of the failure of his political projects, first in Argentina and later in ECLAC. With time, Prebisch became more acutely aware of the importance of political power, not just economic capabilities, for shaping institutions as well as for forming the rules of the world economy. This is important to emphasize, as Prebisch’s work is sometimes criticized for being overly economistic (see, for example, Palma 2016; Shivji 2016), which is not a valid critique for his work during the last part of his life. There is a clear parallel to be drawn between what Margulis calls the peripheralization of Prebisch in GPE and the role of Prebisch’s ideas in the Economics field (see, for example, Kufakurinani et al. 2017). With the term peripheralization, Margulis is referring to the transformation of Prebisch from providing intellectual leadership in international development in the 1950s–1970s, to being relegated to a “historical footnote” in the 1980s. Prebisch also disappeared from the Economics curricula in the 1980s as suddenly, and perhaps more completely, as he disappeared from GPE (Kvangraven 2017). Although his core ideas may be found in mainstream economic history literature such as Kenneth Pomeranz’s (2000) The Great Divergence or Sven Beckert’s (2014) Empire of Cotton, such authors tend to not cite Prebisch as a source, perhaps because they are unaware of the origin of the concepts they use in their analysis. ECLAC itself also explicitly abandoned Prebisch’s main ideas in 1994 in favor of a policy of “open regionalism” (ECLAC 1994). Furthermore, Margulis’s observation of Prebisch often being incorrectly portrayed in GPE (e.g., as an advocate for economic autarky) is also paralleled in Economics. This can partly be attributed to the rewriting of the intellectual history of these fields.1 Eurocentricism in both GPE and Economics is another possible reason for the exclusion of Prebisch from the field.

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