Section II, "Policies for sustainable growth", includes dialogues with Mauricio Cárdenas, Marcela Eslava, Ricardo Hausmann, Rodrigo Valdés and Alejandro Werner.
Returning to sustained growth is a key challenge for Latin American economies. This section discusses the causes of the dismal performance of Latin America and the post-Covid policies needed to change this reality. Contributors in this section suggest that the region will witness important rebounds during 2021-2022. The recovery that started in the second half of 2020 gained strength as the economies gradually reopened following rising vaccination rates. Some countries will be reaching 2019 GDP levels in 2021; others, in 2022. However, the concern is that these recoveries will be short-lived. And if global financial conditions become less supportive, the next decade could be quite demanding.
In the medium term, Latin America is expected to exhibit significant scars from Covid, as growth is expected to be permanently below the levels anticipated before the pandemic. But the severe problem of the limited growth potential of the region predates the crisis. And, even for countries that grew more than the Latin American average, the post-pandemic future looks bleaker. The contributors highlight several reasons behind this modest performance. The first and the most commonly cited is macroeconomic mismanagement (high inflation, financial fragility leading to balance-of-payments crises). However, even countries that successfully achieved macroeconomic stabilisation failed to achieve sustained growth. It follows that the forces behind low growth are more complex: the business environment has been feeble; there is a lack of appropriate governance; the natural resource curse applies in some countries, with weak institutions and short-sighted governments with the perception that there is no need for further effort; there are social, political and institutional factors that complicate the building of a consensus around an economic policy framework that sets the foundations for medium-term inclusive growth. In addition, relatively slow technological progress widens the region’s technological gap with the advanced world. Moreover, while the lack of social progress cannot be solved merely with a redistributive strategy, the region’s regressive income distribution and structural poverty are detrimental to growth through their impact on the expected sustainability of economic regimes, as well as, on occasions, pure expropriation risk arising from social tensions. In the meantime, local talent remains undiscovered and undernourished for lack of opportunities.
Most doubt the possibility of implementing successful industrial policies in the region, sceptical that Latin American policymakers could efficiently substitute for the right market signals and incentives, and propose that the development strategy should be largely based on horizontal policies. But some see a role for the state to address the many unexploited externalities, arguing that public goods do not possess the market’s invisible hand to signal where the information about what is needed, the incentives to provide these public goods, and the allocation of resources.