What Have the Americans Ever Done for Us? Lessons from the United States in Latin America, 1895-1929
The United States spent 20 years in Afghanistan attempting to achieve two interrelated aims: reduce the level of political instability and build Afghan state capacity. It partially succeeded in the first: the Afghan government weathered multiple political crises and the Taliban were unable to control the country’s economic centers. It failed entirely in the second; the Afghan government collapsed immediately following the American withdrawal.
We muster evidence from American intervention in Latin America from the period before the Great Depression to show that this pattern appears to hold historically. The presence of U.S. officials reduced the incidence of violent conflict and unconstitutional regime change. We also find, however, that the Americans failed to improve the state capacity (using the ability to collect tariff revenues as a measure of capacity). In fact, institutions worsened under the American presence.
Arroyo Abad, associate professor of Economics, City University of New York-Queens College, is an economic historian who specializes in the long-term economic development of the Americas. Her research takes her around the world to gather historical data from a variety of archives. ?Her research agenda answers questions about development and growth in historical perspective. Specifically, Why are some nations richer than others? What are the determinants of inequality?
Noel Maurer is an associate professor of International Affairs & International Business at George Washington University. His primary research interest is on how governments make commitments to protect property rights. Conversely, how do private businesses defend their property rights under political instability?
DISCUSSANT: Jane Esberg is a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University. Her research uses text and statistical analysis to better understand political and criminal violence, particularly in Latin America.