Austerity and Its Discontents: Lessons from Latin America

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses

This seminar introduces students to the logic, practice, and resistance to fiscal austerity as an orthodox macroeconomic policy response to economic crises in Latin America and the Caribbean since the 1980s. The design and enforcement of austerity programs prioritized the repayment of foreign debt over social and infrastructural spending, leading to decades of no and slow growth from which the region has only emerged in the last decade. What was the relationship between austerity and what we have come to call “neoliberalism” in Latin America? Who bore the costs of neoliberalization, and who reaped the profits? How did this “silent revolution” transform conditions of survival and struggle across the region, sparking new social movements and transforming others? How did rising inequality lead, by the beginning of this century, to uprisings that forced out neoliberal governments, especially in South America? What lessons might be learned from Latin America about this “market revolution” and reaction, as Europe and the United States struggle with austerity and its discontents in the contemporary moment? Students will examine the political and economic roots of the regional debt crisis in the global financial system, the consolidation and dispersal of austerity logics from the “Washington Consensus” to the “Buenos Aires Consensus,” the emergence of new and renewal of old social movements in response to neoliberal governance, and contemporary landscapes of struggle and renewal across the region. Approximately the first third of the class will focus on transnational political and economic contexts since the 1970s. The second two-thirds of the course will examine case studies of social movements across the region, including the MST of Brazil, the World Social Forum, the factory expropriation movement in Argentina, indigenous movements (especially in the Andes), and more. Conference projects that examine contemporary subjects and spaces of austerity are appropriate, and service-learning options for students who are concurrently involved in community organizing are especially welcome.