The Latin American development problem: an interpretation

Available from: 
October 2012
Paper author(s): 
Diego Restuccia
Microeconomics, Competition and Productivity
Poverty and Aid Effectiveness

By international standards, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Latin America is low: around one fourth of that of the United States. Moreover, in the last five decades, Latin America has failed to catch-up in wealth to the level of the United States while other countries at similar or even lower stages of development have been successful. The failure to attain higher levels of relative income represents what I call the development problem in Latin America. Using a development accounting framework, I find that the bulk of the difference in GDP per capita between Latin America and the United States is accounted for by low GDP per hour and, in particular, low total factor productivity (TFP) in Latin America. I estimate that to explain the difference in GDP per hour, TFP in Latin America must be around 60 percent of that in the United States. I then consider a model with heterogeneous production units where institutions and policy distortions lead to a 60 percent productivity ratio between Latin America and the United States. Removing the barriers to productivity can increase long-run GDP per hour in Latin America by a factor of 4 relative to that of the United States. This increase is equivalent to 70-years worth of post-world-war-II economic development in the United States. 


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