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Trade contraction and economic regression: the Paraguayan economy under Francia, 1814-1840

Pastore, Mario H. (1994): Trade contraction and economic regression: the Paraguayan economy under Francia, 1814-1840. Published in: Journal of Latin American Studies , Vol. 26, No. 3 (October 1994): pp. 539-595.

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I argue here that economic activity fell considerably in the first three decades of Paraguay's early national period, below levels it had attained in the late colonial period and would attain again only after the mid-nineteenth century. I attribute this economic depression primarily to regional political fragmentation and the institutional regression it triggered. In the 1810s, the United Provinces of the River Plate sought to keep the former Viceroyalty of the River Plate under a single federal government, but failed to prevent Paraguay's early secession. Their subsequent trade blockades and military threats had profound economic and political effects on Paraguay: revenues from foreign trade taxation fell, scale economies in defence and justice provision vanished, a standing army emerged, government budget deficits worsened, mercantilist regulations heightened, the fiscal burden increased, and transactions costs generally rose. Proponents of federation, more representative governments, and freer trade progressively declined, while supporters of secession, political absolutism, and government regulation became ever more prominent. In the 1820s, blockade relaxations exacerbated economic intervention by the state, which substantially redistributed property rights in land towards itself. In the 1830s, renewed blockading had more than proportional negative effects on economic activity, which remained below late colonial levels at least until international waterways became freely navigable shortly after mid-century. Colonial absolutism and mercantilism may be said to have been restored with a vengeance. Long-run economic performance worsened.

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