Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

An Emigrant Economist in the Tropics: Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen on Brazilian Inflation and Development

Suprinyak Carlos Eduardo, Cedeplar/UFMG

In a couple of autobiographical essays late in his life, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen described himself as an “emigrant from a developing country”. Escaping from communist Romania after the war, he settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where he built a career as Professor of Economics at Vanderbilt University. Since the 1950s, Vanderbilt boasted a very successful Graduate Program in Economic Development, through which Georgescu-Roegen came to visit several different regions of the developing world. He was thus a ‘travelling economist’ in two senses: a foreigner at home, he also became professionally entangled with the problems of economic development in other unfamiliar places. One of his missions brought him multiple times to Brazil between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, at a time when profound social, political, and economic changes were taking place in the country. From his contact with Brazilian reality, Georgescu-Roegen wrote an article on the complicated dynamics between inflation and economic growth in developing countries, first published in Portuguese in 1968, and later in English in 1970 – his sole incursion into the field of monetary economics, as he remarked himself. In this paper, we will set Georgescu-Roegen’s contribution against the background of the lively debates about inflation taking place in Brazil during the 1960s, stressing how his analysis departed from other contemporary approaches. Relatedly, we will show how he anticipated some of the aspects of the later controversy between monetarists and structuralists during the 1980s, especially concerning the perverse distributive effects of inflation. Finally, we will explore some of the reasons why Georgescu-Roegen’s arguments had only limited influence among other scholars then working on inflation, despite his prestige and very strong connections within the Brazilian community of economists at the time.

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Keywords: inflation, income distribution, development economics, structuralism, Vanderbilt University

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