Hagley History Hangout: Conversation with Amy C. Offner
“In this episode Roger Horowitz interviews Amy C. Offner, Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, about her new book. Sorting Out the Mixed Economy: The Rise and Fall of Welfare and Developmental States in the Americas (Princeton University Press, 2019). Among other honors, the book won the First Monograph Prize from the Economic History Society and the Michael H. Hunt Prize for International History from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.”
In this book Amy Offner brings readers to Colombia and back, showing the entanglement of American societies and the contradictory promises of midcentury state building. She follows the flood of U.S. advisors who swept into Latin America after World War II intent on lifting the region out of poverty. In Colombia, these “experts” sought to encourage economic growth by decentralizing the state, privatizing public functions, and launching austere social welfare programs. In so doing, they generated approaches later adopted by the United States welfare state, especially when the Johnson administration launched the War on Poverty and turned to private firms to administer job training and educational programs. A decade later, ascendant right-wing movements seeking to shrink the midcentury state did not need to reach for entirely new ideas: they redeployed policies already at hand. Offner reveals that practices regarded today as hallmarks of neoliberalism -- including an austere social welfare system and reliance on for-profit operation of social programs – had their roots in the New Deal, and the policies promoted in Colombia and the Third World.