The Global Political Economy of Raúl Prebisch

Matias Margulis (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportBook


This edited book offers an original analysis of global political economy (GPE) by examining it through the ideas, agency and influence of Raúl Prebisch. Raúl Prebisch (1901-1986) was one of the most important thinkers, leaders and personalities of the global political economy in the second half of the 20th century. His ground-breaking ideas as an economist – the “Prebisch-Signer” terms of trade thesis and the case for import-substitution industrialization (ISI) – changed the world as these ideas were adopted as the foundational core of economic development policies in the Global South. First, as the director of the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL) in the 1950s and then later as the founding Director General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Prebisch was on the frontlines of defining North-South political struggles to remake the world economy at the height of the Cold War; his leadership at the UN fostered the ideational basis (through economic studies and policy proposals) and institutional legitimacy for the South’s claim for a fairer global distribution of wealth and resources. Prebisch’s legacy and long-term influence is profound. Successive generations of Southern intellectual and political leaders’ understandings of the problems of and solutions to economic development continue to be shaped by Prebisch’s work. At the global institutional level, for example, the system of Generalized System of Preferences (GSPs) created by UNCTAD under Prebisch’s leadership continues to serve as the basis for developing countries’ preferential access to Northern markets. Prebisch was pivotal in fostering networks and global policy spaces for the development and circulation of heterodox and alternative approaches to the study of the world economy that remain influential today; more specifically, these spaces were among the first to create opportunities for global civil society engagement and established the agenda for regulating transnational corporations. Yet inexplicably, Prebisch’s ideas, influence and role are unfamiliar and/or neglected by most contemporary GPE scholars (as well as International Relations more broadly). This points to a major gap in our understanding of GPE as an academic field and object of study. This edited volume addresses this gap by taking seriously Prebisch’s role in constructing the contemporary global political economy. The book offers both historical perspectives, such as Prebisch’s contributions to international trade theory, promoting state-led import-substitution industrialization, creating UNCTAD and fostering South-South cooperation on economic matters, as well as extending his insights to recent and major changes in the global political economy such as the role of the state in poverty reduction in the Global South, intensifying global competition for natural resources, and the rise of the BRICS. The edited volume is original and innovative as it approaches the study of GPE through the ideas, agency and institutional legacy of one theorist and global policy actor. To my knowledge, no other original research monograph has attempted this approach before. To be clear, this book is not a “tribute”; rather, the book contextualize Prebisch’s ideas about the global political economy, how such ideas became diffused across space and time, and their relevance to contemporary issues.
Original languageEnglish
ISBN (Print)9781138219779
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2017

Publication series

NameRIPE Series in Global Political Economy


  • Raúl Prebisch
  • International Political Economy
  • Terms of Trade
  • commodities
  • GATT
  • WTO
  • Bretton Woods
  • geopolitics
  • globalization


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