The economic-theoretical underpinnings of Latin American ‘pink tide’: a Marxist critique

Isabel Estevez


The failures of the governments of the ‘pink tide’ are generally attributed to insufficient political will or to the ‘correlation of forces’, nebulously defined. In this paper, however, we argue that a neglected, yet important, contributing factor can be found in the way these governments have conceptually problematized ‘economic development’ and the strategies of achieving it. Furthermore, we argue that these conceptual limitations are largely due to the inherent theoretical-methodological shortcomings of existing approaches to ‘economic development’: from structuralism and dependency theory to neoclassical growth theory and institutional economics — all of which have profoundly shaped the ‘pink tide’ policies.
We argue that all of these approaches, including those most closely related to Marxist theory (structuralism and dependency theory) fail to capture the nature and extent of the challenges (and opportunities) for economic transformation in peripheral states for two reasons: (i) they largely neglect the role of power dynamics — especially geopolitical power dynamics — both, as a factor conditioning the agency of peripheral states and as a tool of economic strategy; (ii) they insufficiently consider how peripheral states fit within the global tendencies in the dynamics of capital accumulation, and the extent to which they have the capacity to modify these tendencies.
Using insights from Marx, Lenin and Luxemburg, this paper begins by presenting a critique of existing approaches to ‘economic development’ (structuralism, dependency theory, neoclassical growth theory, and institutional economics). On the basis of this critique, the second section presents an alternative framework for problematizing economic transformation. In the third section, we focus on the case of Ecuador under the Correa administration. We show how the economic-theoretical underpinnings of the project have limited its ‘productive transformation strategy’ and show how our alternative framework could have been used to approach the problem of ‘economic transformation’ in a more effective way.

Latin America - economic developement - political and economic power - geopolitics - dependency theory - critique of political economy - Accumulation - imperialism - neoliberalism - Capitalism - Economics - The Pink Tide