Neostructuralism: neoliberalism in disguise?

Post-World War II Latin America served as the stage of among the most prominent economic and political upheavals in the Western Hemisphere – a series of hyperinflations, military coups and dictatorships, civil unrest. So it comes as no surprise that Latin America would give rise to a new school of economic, political, and (probably) development thought.

 

Rising from the heels of structuralism and dependency is the school of thought called neostructuralism and is characteristically implemented in the economic policies of especially Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, and Argentina. Neostructuralism, though mainly a critique of neoliberalism, keeps the market-friendly characteristic of neoliberalism but has more concern for the environment (kind of a response to the limits to growth previously put forward). It calls for a minimalistic role for the state, more of a guidance role rather than an interventionist, and has a deep concern for poverty issues. Conversely, it is populist and mildly nationalist.

 

The buzz of neostructuralism started with Jorge Castañeda, Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000-2003, and Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Brazil’s Minister for Strategic Affairs (around the same time as Castañeda). They placed themselves in a brutal opposition towards the Washington Consensus, as both ministers favour an expanded social service sector with the aim to eradicate poverty in Latin America. The rest of the region followed suit. Castañeda even furthers this as a distinction between the Latin American left that is ‘modern, open-minded, reformist, and internationalist’ and the Latin American ‘other’ which is ‘nationalist, strident, and close-minded’.

 

Sounds good aye? But if you notice the rhetoric used by neostructuralism, isn’t it just neoliberalism in disguise, or worse, neoliberalism back with a vengeance? The continued reliance on the market and free trade, the call for globalisation — all are neoliberalistic elements with a twist: the added rhetoric of reform using buzzwords such as poverty, inequality, welfare, and sustainability. Filipino sociology professor Walden Bello actually described that neostructuralism is about ‘social management’ and not ‘social liberation’, as it actually failed to address issues of gross inequality, class relations, and class structures. 

 

And with the continued utilisation of neostructuralism in Latin America, the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who is hugely anti-neoliberal, might be spinning in his grave right now. 

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