André Gunder Frank was a rather particular sociologist and economistBasically, because contrary to what many of his neoliberal colleagues at the University of Chicago thought, he tended towards neo-Marxism.
Born German, raised American, matured as Latin American and died in Luxembourg, his life is that of a person in constant movement, in contact with different socio-economic realities and critical of how developed countries have prevented sub- developed to move forward.
Then we will immerse ourselves in the life of this researcher and we will see his thought and his works through this biography of André Gunder Frank.
Brief biography of André Gunder Frank
André Gunder Frank’s life has spanned many countries. Born in Germany, emigrated and raised in the United States, his identity and thought would be shaped by traveling again, this time to countries in Latin America. As an economist and sociologist he worked on a world famous theory, his theory of dependence, Which allowed him to explain why the least developed countries of their time were not able to progress economically.
Gunder Frank’s thought belongs to the neo-Marxist stream of economics, and in fact he considered himself a radical economist. This is not surprising because there are not a few economists, both in their time and today, who do not see the world beyond their neoliberal logic. Gunder Frank’s writings were not very well received by American economists, but they were in Latin America in the 1960s, coinciding with the years this economist lived in South America.
André Gunder Frank was born in Berlin, then Weimar Republic, on February 24, 1929. His youth was restless as he witnessed the rise of Nazism, forcing his family to travel to Switzerland and establish their new residence there. With the outbreak of World War II, his family left Europe to settle in the United States. It would be in this new country where young André would do his secondary studies.
Over the years, it was time to choose a college degree, choose economics, and enter the University of Chicago.. In 1957 he obtained his doctorate from this institution, presenting an excellent thesis in which he delved into agriculture in the Soviet Union, highlighting his thinking on the economy.
At the time, the University of Chicago was one of the most important centers in the field of economics as a science, and in fact the emergence of a group of neoliberal thinkers was brewing. Interestingly, Frank, of neo-Marxist ideas totally contrary to those of this group, would hold debates with them and further reaffirm his ideas.
Intellectual maturity and years in Latin America
At the end of his studies, André Gunder Frank decided to travel to Latin America to witness what was happening here. He traveled and lived in several Latin countries, among them Brazil, Mexico and Chile. Gunder Frank was impressed with the economic, social and political reality of these states and was actively involved in leftist movements in the region.
Of all the Latin countries he visited, Chile is the one that marked him the most. We settled in this nation in 1967 and had frequent meetings with Chilean universities. In fact, his wife Marta Fuentes was Chilean, which made it easier for André Gunder Frank to join the intellectual life of a South American country.
Be in these countries Frank he shared with the Marxist left movements his Marxist theses of the American intellectual scene. He also warned them against the dangers of neoliberal thought which was gaining strength in particular in its mother soul at the University of Chicago, especially in the hands of Milton Friedman.
In the same way that his life practically began with a forced march, having fled his family from the Nazis, having already his years André Gunder Frank and his wife Marta Fonts had to flee Chile. The reason was the rise of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who in 1973 staged a coup and overthrew the left-wing parties in power at the time.
Gunder Frank fled to the United States, although that country isn’t exactly a welcoming place. The US government did not treat Gunder Frank with courtesy because he had renounced his US citizenship. and he had regained his native German, in addition to so many years living in Latin America, they made him feel more of there than of the United States.
For this reason, he decided to return to travel to countries more favorable to him and his ways of thinking, including Canada and the Netherlands, but without ceasing to feel Latin American. This identity still linked him to Latin America, and at the same time filled him with a deep sadness to see how these countries which had until recently been a real partisan environment of free thought and defense of Marxist and social theses were becoming a continent full of military dictatorships.
But on top of that, he had to experience the death of his wife, a fact that would fill him with sorrow that would not leave him until the day of her death. After that, he decided to reside for a season in Canada, and when Bill Clinton won the presidency of the United States, André Gunder Frank was able to return to this country, which allowed him to work here. But his last days were not spent in the United States, but in Europe, although instead of living in his native Germany, he prefers to travel to Luxembourg. It would be here that he would die at the age of 76 on April 23, 2005, after battling cancer for 12 years.
One of André Gunder Frank’s greatest theoretical contributions is his theory of dependence. The antecedent of this theory dates back to the 1940s, when the Argentinian Raúl Prebisch began to spread the idea of the differences in development between the center and the periphery.. However, it would be in Santiago de Chile where this debate would gain strength and where Gunder would hear about these ideas.
The basic idea of this dependency theory is that the global economy always ends up hurting the least developed countries. In fact, to make this idea more understandable, its authors used the terms “center” and “periphery”, which are nothing more than euphemisms for Western and white countries and non-Western and / or non-white countries. The periphery, which is not developed, must fulfill the role of supplier of raw materials, while industrialization and profits go to the center.
These ideas would be taken up by Frank himself and other authors, such as Ruy Mauro Marini, developing them further. Specifically, Gunder Frank argued that underdevelopment was not a consequence of the survival of archaic institutions in less developed countries, nor of the lack of capital in regions that remained isolated from economic movements. In reality, underdevelopment has been and is being generated by the same historical process that generated the economic development of capitalism.
In the same perspective as Gunder Frank, world trade has mechanisms that prevent peripheral countries from improving and developing, keeping them in a poverty that is already at stake in the countries of the center. Among these mechanisms, we can underline that the world market allows only the periphery to act as exporter of raw materials or as consumer of products already manufactured. They are not allowed to manufacture their own products.
Outraged, central countries monopolized all technical and technological development, By raising the prices of the products as they should if they want to become owners, you have to ask them to travel from these countries to the peripherals, which causes the price to increase because it has to go further. Even having better in the peripheral economy, the market is responsible for this, due to the price difference, imports increase and exports stagnate.
Repercussions of his ideas
The ideas of Gunder Frank and the rest of the ideological supporters were not simply a theoretical model. Several Latin American countries have started to implement maneuvers inspired by Gunder’s Marxist theses to avoid the stagnation of underdevelopment. that the central nations were trying to condemn them.
They highlight the application of trade protectionism, with the imposition of tariffs and controls on foreign products. In addition, a powerful industrial structure was built which provided manufacturing capacity for different products to the countries which previously imported them. Another strategy applied by Latin countries was to overvalue the currency, which made purchases a little cheaper.
However, although these strategies worked for some time, especially in the 1970s, pressure from central countries using the external debt that peripheral countries had always had ultimately caused the need to change strategy.
World System Theory
Another of André Gunder Frank’s contributions was his theory of the world system. It is a job in which addresses both economic and historical aspects from a naturally Marxist perspective and makes an important analysis of social and political relations throughout history. He talks about what he calls the “world-system” and, according to Frank, this system was primarily in command of China, economic center for centuries, but the discovery of America and its wealth has gives relief to Europe.
Out of curiosity, Gunder considered it a matter of time before the center returned to Asia, which he had somehow predicted fairly well. Today, China, Japan and India have become powerful economies in Asia, along with South Korea. In fact, many economists point out that if Korea ever reunites, Asia’s economic strength will be such that the global economic system will change dramatically.
Another interesting idea from André Gunder Frank is how America had been installed in capitalism since the 16th century, Practically since its discovery by Europeans. The continent operated with a Lumpenburger system (from the German “lumpen”, “beggar”), a concept invented by him. This idea refers to the context of Latin American colonial and neocolonial elites, which have become heavily dependent on colonial power and are linked to the fact that the upper class in these countries has little class consciousness and supports its masters.
- Kay, Cristóbal. (2006) André Gunder Frank (1929-2005): Pioneer of the theory of dependence and globalization, Mexican Journal of Sociology, 68, 1, 181-190.
- Mintz, Sidney (2007). Andre Gunder Frank (1929-2005) “. American anthropologist. 109 (1): 232-234. Doi: 10.1525 / aa.2007.109.1.232.