Guardians of the Nation?

Economists, Generals, and Economic Reform in Latin America

Glen Biglaiser

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

“Glen Biglaiser has written one of the most intelligent books on the role of ideas that I have come across in years. Not only is the book theoretically clever, but it also is empirically sound . . . this book will make a substantial contribution to comparative politics and sociology.” —Anthony Gill, University of Washington

“Guardians of the Nation? is a particularly important contribution to comparative politics because it forms a well-constructed theory that helps explain policy choice. By recounting the story of economists and their development in Latin America, Biglaiser provides a unique and previously unexplored explanation to the debate over policy outcomes with respect to the adoption of neoliberal economic measures.” —David Brown, Rice University

Central to the question of how to promote economic growth in Latin America is the role different types of regimes play in determining economic performance. Guardians of the Nation? challenges conventional wisdom regarding the expected advantages of military rule for economic growth. Glen Biglaiser explains why many military regimes in Latin America have not performed noticeably better than their democratic counterparts.

Biglaiser argues that economic policy making under military regimes is essentially an unintended by-product of the military’s strategy to retain power. Using this premise, he examines the economic performance of regimes in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Biglaiser shows that the appointment of neoliberal economists occurred not because military rulers possessed inherent interest in following market-oriented policies, but because they saw the appointments as a way to solidify their power.

GLEN BIGLAISER is an assistant professor of political science at Bowling Green State University.


“Biglaiser . . . is to be applauded for offering a dynamic analysis that charts with considerable care subtle shifts in policy measures, even in those cases where others tended to see greater continuity. Guardians of the Nation? will command the attention of students of political economy, the institutionality of economic policy-making, and the ‘professionalization’ of economics in Latin America. Social scientists, in general, will welcome a systematic study of the impact of ideas and ideologies on the stance of the state.” — The Economic History Review

“Glen Biglaiser has written an interesting book comparing the performance of the countries of the Southern Cone of South America—Chile, Argentina and Uruguay—under military and civilian governments from the 1960s to the 1980s. Examples from Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Mexico are also used in the book to make some comparisons . . . . This book is the product of serious research, and well worth reading, especially for those interested in the economic performance of Latin America.” — Review of Political Economy

“Biglaiser’s work is . . . a serious attempt to understand the politics of economic reform . . . from the perspective of the military governments of the Southern Cone that ruled in the 1970s and early 1980s. The greatest strength of the work as a whole is . . . its careful documentation of the growing but varying influence of neoliberal economists in the various governments considered.” — Latin American Research Review

“Biglaiser seeks to fill a gap in the development of literature by identifying the larger historical processes underlying policy choices under military regimes.” — Iberoamericana

“[Biglaiser’s] analysis is instructive and original and does what the best books in comparative politics should do: it opens up new lines of inquiry that can be applied in a wide variety of countries. Guardians of the Nation should be widely read.” — Journal of Politics

“. . . readers of Guardians . . . will learn much about the politics of military regimes and the institutional differences of Chile’s, Argentina’s, and Uruguay’s armed forces.” — Perspectives on Politics

“. . . this is a remarkable book, one that combines throughout meticulous treatment of case studies with overarching theoretical projections.” — Latin American Politics and Society