Friday, September 27, 2019

Amy C. Offner's "Sorting Out the Mixed Economy"

Amy C. Offner is assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sorting Out the Mixed Economy: The Rise and Fall of Welfare and Developmental States in the Americas, and reported the following:
Page 99 recounts criticisms that Colombian and international observers lodged against Ciudad Kennedy, a massive housing project built with US aid in Bogotá, Colombia during the 1960s. Ciudad Kennedy was an international exemplar of “aided self-help housing,” an austere form of social welfare provision in which governments provided land, mortgage loans, building materials, and construction plans, and then deputized citizens to erect their houses and became private homeowners. Aided self-help allowed cash-strapped governments to fulfill their mandates by transferring to housing recipients those burdens they could not bear themselves. While Colombians clamored for the chance to move into Ciudad Kennedy, the critics on page 99 show the limitations of the program and the resentment it created among those excluded. Geographers observed that aided self-help cut the costs of housing in hopes of reaching the poor, but never in fact reached them; Ciudad Kennedy was middle-class housing that went to skilled workers with political connections. Communists launched an illegal settlement in the neighborhood and defiantly named it for Salvador Allende’s socialist government in Chile. One scholar at the National University dismissed Ciudad Kennedy as “a magnificent business” for residents but “a bad business” for the nation.

The story of Ciudad Kennedy illustrates one of the book’s central insights. Although developmental states of the mid-twentieth century are often remembered as great symbols of public munificence, they spawned some strikingly austere forms of social welfare provision that are generally forgotten today. We often think of austere social programs as neoliberal inventions born after the crises of the 1970s and 1980s. But Sorting Out the Mixed Economy argues that some of the policies and ideas that took apart midcentury welfare and developmental states came from the repertoire of midcentury state-building itself. The book takes readers through half a century of US and Colombian history—into housing complexes, river valleys, college classrooms, planning agencies, and job-training centers—to offer a transnational history of state formation and capitalist reconstruction since 1945. In the process, it shows the influence of Latin American developmentalism on the formation of the US welfare state and reveals the midcentury origins of practices that are regarded today as hallmarks of neoliberalism, including austere systems of social welfare provision, changing systems of state decentralization, and novel forms of for-profit and private delegation. Capitalism in the late twentieth century, the book suggests, was not built in simple reaction against midcentury political economy; it was a parasitic formation that appropriated and redeployed key elements of the very order it destroyed.
Learn more about Sorting Out the Mixed Economy at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue