Japanese Economic Thinking at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (1950-1990)
“Looking for Miracles? The Japanese Model in Latin America: Third Way to Development and Global Integration, 1950–1990”
From the “Japanese miracle” after the Korean war to the “Chilean miracle” under the Pinochet regime, international economic thinkers have wandered widely in Latin America between state-led development and free-market deregulation in their search for a development path that would be appropriate to the needs and capacities of the region. Central to this endeavor was the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (CEPAL in Spanish and Portuguese), a site of international economic thinking that allowed ‘mid-level intellectuals’ to establish counter-canons in the Western-dominated debate over economic ideas and policies for development and global integration in the second half of the 20 th century. From its inception, out of a diplomatic dispute over the definition and objectives of international economic cooperation, the CEPAL has been at the forefront of calls for development in the Global South. It has welcomed representatives and experts from outside the continent and has provided an forum open to foreign perspectives and references, including those from Japan, a country that has epitomized the alternative but successful path to development outside the beaten track of Western canons. This intellectual encounter contributed to develop original definitions of globalization and economic integration that circulated around the world, even as the Commission struggled to find a viable operating model and independent goals under authoritarian regimes that conducted neoliberal reforms.
This project focuses on the dissemination and translation of the ideas of key economists such as of Kaname Akamatsu, Kiyoshi Kojima, and Saburo Okita, and the concrete application of their ideas through policy-making and crisis management during the sovereign debt crisis of the 1980s. It challenges the notion of “regions” at the heart of the UN mapping of the world and show the fluidity of categories often taken for granted in Western economic thinking. In focusing on the participation of Japanese experts to the CEPAL and the discussions about development models from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and later China in Latin America, I hope to nurture a discussion about methodological cosmopolitism, but also about the role of international economic thinkers in the history of globalization.