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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 narrative of Argentina’s late nineteenth century. This narrative is challenged here by an analysis 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 suggests an 8-9 per cent annual industrial growth rate during this period. It is argued that Cortés Conde has overestimated growth by relying upon misleading 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 show a lower annual growth rate of 5 per cent, although this is necessarily an approximation, given the lack of data. The cases of textiles and beef products illustrate why the lack of data makes it easy to overestimate industrial growth during this period, as there tends to be more data for dynamic activities than for those that stagnated. The paper concludes with a discussion of wider implications for the study of economic history.

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