Vaccines and underdevelopment as dependency

The current vaccination scenario calls for a reflection on the conceptualization of underdevelopment as a process of dependency. Nowadays, to understand the big picture of the production and trade of vaccines, for instance, it is necessary to consider the analysis of the dynamics of the world-wide capitalist system.

Indeed, the access to vaccines has put in question the modernization process in Latin America. Regarding the global South, the Brazilian Celso Furtado was undoubtedly an intellectual who aimed to achieve economic transformation social change. Strong influence on him had the interpretation of the Argentinian Raúl Prebish, particularly the center-periphery approach to the understanding of the Latin American underdevelopment based on a deep critique to the competitive advantages approach to growth in the international economy. As a matter of fact, Furtados´s main contribution turned out to be known as the “structural and historical approach” to underdevelopment.

In his view, throughout the 20th century, the modernization presented further land, wealth and income concentration in Latin America.  Indeed, it was a false modernization process as it did benefit only a minority and reinforced the structural heterogeneity.  Moreover, Furtado´s legacy pointed out the political nature of development and the non-economic factors in the apprehension of economic trends The new kind of dependency subordinates society to the transnational and financial interests. In this frame, he believed that the rescue of some degree of autonomy in macroeconomic policies would be achieved by the establishment of capital controls and exchange rate centralization. Nevertheless, the challenges and possibilities of “national policies” turned out to be more complex in an interdependent global structure.  He was aware that in a democratic and pluralist society, the potential of transformation also depends on the emergence of forms of resistance to the social and ecological costs, and homogeneization of cultural values centered on the pecuniary motive. Another development is possible? Furtado´s late legacy pointed out the need to rescue the dynamics of social forces as expression of cultural values in order to shape institutions towards a socially embedded development.

It is important to highlight the relevance of these topics in the context of the current health and economic crisis. In 2020, Professor Carlos Mallorquin, from Autonomous University of Zacatecas, Zacatecas, México, published the book A Southern Perspective on Development Studies to call for a reflection on old ideas and recent perspectives about development in the global South This book suggests the importance of examining alternative discourses in the social sciencesHe sent to us a contribution that is presented below.

The book A Southern Perspective on Development Studies portrays some theoretical economic perspectives within Latin America after the Second World War, seeking to build a bridge between these perspectives (the Southern perspective so called Latin American Structuralism) and its northern counterparts whose “family resemblance” call for a reflection on their common perspective.

The Southern perspective was the product of several historical circumstances after the Second World War: the rise of the United Nations, the reconstruction of Europe, the various regional economic commissions, among which the Economic Commission for Latin American (ECLAC) reigns supreme, and not least the new international financial rules post Bretton Woods. This theoretical economic perspective was developed in Latin America vis-à-vis the then dominant orthodox tradition, both regionally and worldwide in the 1940s.

The decision to focus on certain Latin American theorists as the main contenders of the narrative about “development” is related, paradoxically, to its recent upsurge within Western-centric discourses where the names of Raúl Prebisch and Celso Furtado appear prominently. I believe it is time to recover the central themes and terminology of their ideas.

Regarding the book chapters, the first  one ,“A Southern Perspective on Development Studies: Contributions from Latin America”, offers a brief review of the rich and diverse “Southern” theoretical problematic and historical context that can be examined with more detail in the works of two preeminent theoreticians more familiar to western centric academia (Anglosaxon- Eurocentric discourses): Raúl Prebisch and Celso Furtado.

Hence the second chapter, “The Unfamiliar Raúl Prebisch – 1943-1949”, aims to exhibit the vocabulary of a relatively unknown phase of the theoretical transition in the vast work of Prebisch (1901-1986), in which the incorporation of the notion of Time in economics is crucial. . This aspect of his work was in part curtailed in 1949 given the responsibilities he was to undertake as the Executive Secretary of ECLAC.

Chapter three entitled “Celso Furtado and Development: A Brief Outline – 1950-2004”,   presents a brief summary of the work and struggles of Celso Furtado (1918-2004).

 Chapter four, “Theoretical Misrecognitions as the Source of Development Theory Déjà Vu,  highlights the figure and work of Albert O. Hirschman (1915-2012) during the 1950s and early 1960s. He was Furtado’s contemporary in most theoretical details of the period.

In the fifth and six chapters, “How Economics Forgot Power” and “All That Is Solid Does Not Necessarily Melt Into Thin Air”, respectively, the book changes its geographical direction examining two brave and recent critiques of mainstream economics as portrayed in the Western-centric academic circles. However, examined from a “Southern” or Latin American Structuralism perspective, our argument emphasizes mainly the theoretical aspects of those books that stopped short of the “full nine yards”.

The central themes implicit or explicit in the argument of the book are (a) the process of a theoretical reconstruction; and (b) the status of the notion of power. Considering this background,  

  1. It is assumed, on the one hand, that the Latin American critique of the ethnocentric characteristics of the discourse implies the construction of a set of new objects and categories. This, on the other, puts in question the adequacy of those categories to explain the evolution of those economies that are apparently their “image”.
  2. The theoretical reconfiguration pivots on a long well-established tradition, from Marx onward, in which power asymmetry among agents within social relations is considered. However, the Latin American structuralism´s critique of the Western-centric discourse embraces the idea that it has surpassed (“superseding” in Hegelian terms), in a very important sense, some of Marx’s concepts or even his pertinence.

Despite the recent decolonization narrative exponents (E. Dussel, W. Mignolo, E. Lander, A. Quijano, R. Connell, R. Guha, amongst others), the book underlines the pioneer role of Prebisch and Furtado in elaborating a “southern perspective” founded on historical trends.  At this respect, the nook also incorporates two proto-Postkeynesian authors from Anglo-Saxon Academia. One of them (P. Pilkington) unwittingly arrives to similar perspectives to Latin American structuralism, and the other is a conscious proponent (C. Danby). This consideration offers the possibility to reintegrate history and contingency within the study of development and economic policy.

This amendment in the theoretical and geographical perspectives of the book also acknowledges the displacement of the concept of “system” as well as its theoretical pertinence. Indeed,  power asymmetries and their conditions of existence are crucial  to the  understanding of the historical diversity  and  heterogeneities of the  Southern economies.

2 thoughts on “Vaccines and underdevelopment as dependency

  1. According to the personal stories of C. Furtado and R. Prebisch, it can be concluded that Celso Furtado influenced R. Prebisch’s thinking because structuralist thinking was already present in A Latina when R. Prebisch joined ECLAC, Las encyclopedias, including wikipedia, they make the “mistake” of assigning R Prebisch as the founder of structuralist thought

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