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Export-Oriented Populism: Commodities and Coalitions in Argentina


A new form of populism, combining broad-based benefits for urban workers with export promotion, emerged in Argentina under Néstor Kirchner (2003–2007). This article argues that changes in agricultural production created the conditions for this “export-oriented populism.” Historically, Argentina’s main exports, beef and wheat, were also the primary consumption goods of urban workers. Scholars such as Guillermo O’Donnell have argued that this linkage increased rural-urban conflict, resulting in shifting coalitions and recurring crises. Today, soybeans have replaced beef and wheat as the country’s leading export. Because soybeans are not consumed by the working class, Kirchner could both promote and tax their export, generating fiscal revenue for populist programs while not harming the effective purchasing power of urban workers or provoking a balance-of-payments crisis. Export orientation thus provided the basis for a new variant of Argentine populism. This study offers a new argument within the classic research tradition on the interaction between politics and various types of export growth. It likewise provides an additional basis for arguing that populism, as a form of politics, can arise in diverse economic circumstances. Furthermore, this article contends that, rather than uniformly promoting political stability, the effect of export booms is conditioned by the nature of economic linkages between the export sector and the domestic economy.

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