André Gunder Frank: biography of this economist and sociologist
In this biography of André Gunder Frank we will see the life and theoretical proposals of this author.
André Gunder Frank was a rather peculiar sociologist and economist, basically due to the fact that, contrary to what he thoughtAndré Gunder Frank was a rather peculiar sociologist and economist, basically due to the fact that, unlike many of his neoliberal colleagues at the University of Chicago, he tended towards neo-Marxism.
Born in Germany, raised in the United States, matured as a 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 prevented underdeveloped countries from advancing.
In the following, we will delve into the life of this researcher and we will his thought and works through this biography of André Gunder Frank..
Short biography of André Gunder Frank
André Gunder Frank's life was spent in a lot of countries. Born in Germany, emigrated and raised in the United States, his identity and thought would be shaped by traveling again, this time in Latin American countries. As an economist and sociologist he elaborated a world-renowned theory, his theory of dependencewhich he used to explain why the less developed countries of his time were unable to progress economically.
Gunder Frank's thought belongs to the neo-Marxist current of economic science and, in fact, he considered himself a radical economist. This is not surprising, since there are many economists, both of his time and today, who do not see the world beyond his neo-liberal logic. Gunder Frank's writings were not very well received among North American economists, but they were well received in Latin America in the 1960s, coinciding with the years in which this economist lived in South America.
André Gunder Frank was born in Berlin, then the Weimar Republic, on February 24, 1929.. His youth was turbulent as he witnessed the rise of Nazism, which forced his family to travel to Switzerland and establish their new residence there. With the outbreak of World War II, his family left Europe and moved to the United States. It would be in this new country where the young André would attend high school.
As the years went by, it was time to choose a university career, choosing economics and entering the University of Chicago.. In 1957 he would obtain his doctorate in that institution, presenting an excellent thesis in which he delves into agriculture in the Soviet Union, bringing out his thinking on economic matters.
At that time the University of Chicago was one of the most important centers in the field of economics as a science and, in fact, a group of neoliberal thinkers was emerging. Curiously enough, Frank, whose neo-Marxist ideas were totally contrary to those of that group, would hold debates with them and reaffirm their ideas even more.
Intellectual maturity and years in Latin America
At the end of his studies André Gunder Frank decided to travel to Latin America to witness firsthand what was happening there. He traveled and lived in several Latin American countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Chile. Gunder Frank was impressed by the economic, social and political reality of these states and became actively involved in leftist movements in the region.
Of all the Latin American countries he visited, Chile had the greatest impact on him.. He would settle in that nation in 1967 and held frequent meetings with Chilean academic circles. In fact, his wife Marta Fuentes was Chilean, something that facilitated André Gunder Frank's incorporation into the intellectual life of the South American country.
While in those countries, Frank shared with the leftist movements his Marxist theses coming from the North American intellectual scene.. In addition, he warned them of the dangers of neo-liberal thinking that was gaining strength especially in his alma mater, the University of Chicago, especially from the hand of Milton Friedman.
The last years
Just as his life practically began with a forced march, his family having fled from the Nazis, in his later years André Gunder Frank and his wife Marta Fuentes had to flee Chile. The reason for this was the rise of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who in 1973 staged a coup d'état and overthrew the left-wing parties in power at the time.
Gunder Frank fled to the United States, although the U.S. was not exactly a welcoming place. The U.S. government did not treat Gunder Frank courteously because he had renounced his American nationality and had regained his German birthright, plus the fact that so many years living in Latin America made him feel more from there than from the United States.
For this reason he decided to travel again to countries more friendly to him and his ways of thinking, among them Canada and Holland, although he still felt Latin American. That identity still connected him to Latin America, and at the same time filled him with deep sadness to see how those countries that had been until recently a true environment for free thinking and the defense of Marxist and social theses were becoming a continent full of military dictatorships.
But in addition to this, he had to live through the death of his wife, a fact that would fill him with affliction that would not leave him until the day of his death. After this he decided to reside for a time in Canada and, when Bill Clinton won the presidency of the United States, André Gunder Frank was able to return to that country, allowing him to work there. But his last days were not spent in the U.S., but in Europe, although instead of living in his native Germany he preferred to go to Luxembourg. It would be there that he would pass away at the age of 76 on April 23, 2005, after having been fighting Cancer for 12 years.
One of André Gunder Frank's greatest theoretical contributions is his dependency theory. The antecedent of this theory dates back to the 1940s, when the Argentine Raúl Prebisch began to spread the idea of development differences between the center and the periphery.. However, it would be in Santiago de Chile where this debate would acquire more strength and where Gunder would hear about these ideas.
The basic idea of this theory of dependency is that the world economy always ends up hurting the less 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, has to play the role of raw material supplier, 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 in greater depth. 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 have remained aloof from economic movements. In reality, underdevelopment has been and is generated by the same historical process that has generated the economic development of capitalism.
From Gunder Frank's point of view, world trade has mechanisms that prevent peripheral countries from improving and developing, keeping them in a poverty that already pays off for the countries of the center. Among these mechanisms we can highlight that the global market only allows the periphery to act as exporters of raw materials or as consumers of already manufactured products. They are not allowed to manufacture their own products.
In addition, the central countries have monopolized all manufacturing, the central countries have monopolized all technical and technological development.In addition, the central countries have monopolized all technical and technological development, increasing the prices of products since they have to travel from those countries to the peripheral ones if they are to be possessed, causing the price to increase since they have to go further away. Even if there is better in the peripheral economy, the market ensures that, because of the price difference, imports increase and exports stagnate.
Repercussions of his ideas
The ideas of Gunder Frank and his ideological supporters were not simply a theoretical model. Several Latin American nations began to implement some maneuvers inspired by Gunder's Marxist theses to avoid stagnating in the underdevelopment that the central nations were trying to condemn them to. that the central nations were trying to condemn them to.
These included the application of trade protectionism, with the imposition of tariffs and controls on foreign products. In addition, a powerful industrial structure was set up to provide manufacturing capacity for different products to the countries that had previously imported them. Another strategy applied by the Latin nations was to overvalue the currency, which made it somewhat cheaper to buy.
However, although these strategies worked for a while, especially in the 1970s, in the end the pressure from the central countries using the external debt that the peripheral countries had always had made it necessary to change the strategy.
World system theory
Another of André Gunder Frank's contributions was his world system theory. It is a work in which he addresses both economic and historical addresses both economic and historical aspects from a naturally Marxist point of view and provides an important analysis of social and political relations throughout history.. In it he speaks of what he calls the "world-system" and, according to Frank, at the beginning this system had as its main command China, the economic center for centuries, but the discovery of America and its riches led Europe to take over.
As a curiosity, Gunder considered that it was only a matter of time before the center shifted back to Asia, something that in a way he predicted quite well. Today China, Japan and India have become powerful economies in Asia, along with South Korea. In fact, several economists point out that should Korea ever reunify, the economic power of Asia will be such that the world economic system will change very drastically.
About the lumpenbourgeoisie
Another of André Gunder Frank's interesting insights is about how America was installed in capitalism from the 16th century onwardscentury, practically since it was discovered by Europeans. The continent operated with a lumpenbourgeois system (from the German "lumpen", "beggar"), a concept invented by him. This idea refers to the context of the Latin American colonial and neocolonial elites, which became very dependent on colonialist power and relates to how the upper class in these countries has little class consciousness and supports their colonial masters
- Kay, Cristóbal. (2006) André Gunder Frank (1929-2005): pioneer of the theory of dependence and globalization, Revista mexicana de sociología, 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.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)