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(Mis)measuring Argentina’s Progress: Industrial Output, 1870s-1913

Francis, Joseph A. (2015): (Mis)measuring Argentina’s Progress: Industrial Output, 1870s-1913.

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Evidence of dramatic industrialisation has been used to support the optimistic, staple theory-inspired account of Argentina’s late nineteenth century, which is central to the dominant (neo)liberal narrative of the country’s history. This narrative is here challenged by a discussion of the available evidence of industrial output in Argentina from the 1870s to the eve of the First World War. Issue is taken, in particular, with Roberto Cortés Conde’s widely used industrial output index, which has suggested an 8-9 per cent annual industrial growth rate during this period. It is argued that he has overestimated the growth rate by relying upon dubious data taken from Argentina’s inland revenue service. Rather than reflecting increased production, the rapid growth of Cortés Conde’s index is actually due to increased taxation. Alternative indicators suggest a significantly lower annual growth rate of around 5 per cent, although even this should only be considered indicative, given the lack of data. This is illustrated by the case of textile production.

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