Sorting Out the Mixed Economy: The Rise and Fall of Welfare Developmental States in the Americas


Monday, December 2, 2019, 7:00pm


Harvard Book Store,1256 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge

Speaker: Amy C. Offner, Assistant Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
Moderator: Kirsten Weld, Professor of History, Harvard University

In the years after 1945, a flood of U.S. advisors swept into Latin America with dreams of building a new economic order and lifting the Third World out of poverty. These businessmen, economists, community workers, and architects went south with the gospel of the New Deal on their lips, but Latin American realities soon revealed unexpected possibilities within the New Deal itself. In Colombia, Latin Americans and U.S. advisors ended up decentralizing the state, privatizing public functions, and launching austere social welfare programs. By the 1960s, they had remade the country’s housing projects, river valleys, and universities. They had also generated new lessons for the United States itself. When the Johnson administration launched the War on Poverty, U.S. social movements, business associations, and government agencies all promised to repatriate the lessons of development, and they did so by multiplying the uses of austerity and for-profit contracting within their own welfare state. A decade later, ascendant right-wing movements seeking to dismantle the midcentury state did not need to reach for entirely new ideas: they redeployed policies already at hand. In this talk, Amy Offner brings readers to Colombia and back, offering a surprising new account of the origins of neoliberalism.

Amy C. Offner is an assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, where she researches and teaches twentieth-century US history in global perspective, with special focus on Latin America. Her work addresses the history of capitalism and political economy, empire and foreign relations, and social and intellectual history. She is the author of Sorting Out the Mixed Economy: The Rise and Fall of Welfare Developmental States in the Americas (Princeton University Press, 2019).

Kirsten Weld is a professor of history at Harvard University, where she researches and teaches the modern history of the Americas. She is the author of the prizewinning book Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala (Duke University Press, 2014), as well as articles and essays in venues including Hispanic American Historical Review, Journal of Latin American Studies, Radical History Review, and NACLA Report on the Americas. She is currently at work on a history of the Spanish Civil War’s impact and afterlives in Latin America.

Presented in collaboration with the Charles Warren Center for American History