Colombia’s chapter in the story of the American and international economies

0
73
Amy Offner explained that her book’s cover is a work created by a local Bogotá artist. She hopes it brings more color and excitement to what some consider a gray subject area. Photo provided by author.

Capitalism is undoubtedly a key element of the United States and its past. Part of this complex past is the controversial relationship the American political system has with the capitalist economy. The 20th century was a turbulent era afflicted by two World Wars that grew, whether for better or for worse, into the interconnected and globalized society we live in today. Yet to what extent can we say these developments were American-made? What developments found elsewhere could have brought about widespread upheaval both at home and abroad? 

On Friday evening, the UConn History Department hosted keynote speaker, Amy Offner, associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. Offner’s acclaimed 2019 book, “Sorting Out the Mixed Economy: The Rise and Fall of Welfare and Developmental States in the Americas” was the topic of the seminar. The event was moderated by Bradley Simpson, associate professor of history at UConn. 

“I’ve taught the book in my global history seminar,” Simpson said. “It’s a really seminal work that engages with important theoretical and methodological debates in the history of capitalism, in the modern Latin American history, the history of development, U.S. foreign relations. The accolades it’s received I think are testament to what it has to say, how it speaks to a number of different fields.” 

This event marked the 135th foreign policy seminar hosted by the UConn History Department and is the second of three to be held this semester. 

“Sorting out the mixed economy travels through river valleys,” Offner said. “Housing complexes, job training centers, economic planning offices and college classrooms in order to understand how governments in the capitalist economies of Colombia and the United States first took on widening functions during the decades after 1945, and then how their functions were dismantled, reassigned and redefined after the 1970s.” 

Offner explained that her book seeks to rewrite some misconceptions of political economic history through the lens of 20th century U.S. foreign policy as seen by Colombia. The evolution of capitalism seen in the 1970s and 1980s, understood as the neo-liberalism movement of the right, has roots further back in history than the champions of the movement lead on. Much of the developments of the late 20th century can actually be traced to Latin American developmentalism. 

Amy Offner explained that several state-sponsored housing projects came out of the years following WWII. Photo provided by author.

“I want to be very clear that I’m not arguing that the form of capitalism that existed at the end of the 20th century existed in the 1930s or the 1960s,” Offner said. “I regard the political economic transformation of the late 20th century as a truly shattering event that dealt a severe blow to labor movements worldwide, brought economic inequality to heights not seen since the 1920s and inaugurated a very new era in the history of capitalism.” 

The imperialist era of world history followed by the era of decolonization in the post-WWII era tends to leave modern students with the impression that all change only moves southward; that developments of North Atlantic countries like the United States and Western Europe affects third-world nations like those of Latin America and never in the opposite direction.  

Offner instead argued that several political economic developments from various locations in both the first and third-worlds result in what she calls the mixed economy. Though nations throughout history have distinct boundaries and borders, ideas such as the end of slavery and decolonization after WWII transcend international borders. 

“In the United States, Colombia and in much of the first and third world, ” Offner said. “Mid-century policy makers and intellectuals commonly invoked the notion of a mixed economy to describe capitalist orders. In its moment the mixed economy was an imagined path between laissez faire and socialism or between the stylized competition of pure private competition and complete state government.” 

“In the United States, Colombia and in much of the first and third world, ” Offner said. “Mid-century policy makers and intellectuals commonly invoked the notion of a mixed economy to describe capitalist orders. In its moment the mixed economy was an imagined path between laissez faire and socialism or between the stylized competition of pure private competition and complete state government.” 

This mixed economy is by no means uniform around the world, so thus has taken different forms worldwide without the proper characteristics of a complete capitalist or socialist nation. 

The third and final UConn History Department Foreign Policy Seminar will be held on Friday, April 16 at 5 p.m. featuring sociologist Christy Thornton of Johns Hopkins University, so be sure to check it out! 

Leave a Reply