This chapter examines why Latin America's history has been characterized by mediocre growth, rampant protectionism, very high inflation, low productivity growth, and successive crises. Two themes run through it: (a) institutions have played an important role in shaping the Latin American economies; and (b) political considerations—including, in particular, distributional struggles—have been crucial in determining economic outcomes in the region. Inequality and backwardness have been two central features of Latin American economies during the last two centuries. The region's skewed income distribution was already apparent to European travelers journeying in the Spanish colonies at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The colonial institutions and economic performance in the half-century after independence remain crucial for understanding how Latin America fell behind.
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