Article March 17, 2023

Roundtable Panel—Christy Thornton’s Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy

The Toynbee Prize Foundation Presents
A Roundtable Panel Discussion on:
Christy Thornton, Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy (University of California Press, 2021)


Christy Thornton’s Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy (University of California Press, 2021) places Mexico at the center of histories of international economic governance. In the wake of Mexico’s exclusion from international capital markets following its 1914 default, she argues, Mexican economists and diplomats began to consider the nature of sovereignty, political and economic, and imagine a reconfiguration of international credit-debt relationships in order to foster development. Rather than envision autarky, Mexican leaders pursued a politics of both recognition and redistribution on the international stage from the interwar period to the crafting of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) in the 1970s. Recognition entailed equitable representation in multilateral institutions, while redistribution meant long-term, concessionary lending. According to Thornton, their reckonings with the existing international economic order presaged modernization and dependency theory and reached a climax when President Luis Echeverría Álvarez led the movement to author and pass the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States.

In offering a story of multiplicity and cooptation, Thornton reinterprets US hemispheric hegemony and provides an ambiguous, cautionary tale. Charting the interface of domestic and international politics, she traces the shift from a revolutionary social program to state developmentalism alongside Mexico’s advocacy for institutions aimed at international development. She assesses the rise and fall the project for an Inter-American Bank as first coopted by US planners, successfully resisted by US capitalists, and ultimately contributing to figures within the US government recognizing the importance of multilateral financial institutions as a pillar of hegemony.

Revolution in Development marks a major contribution to a wave of international history increasingly emphasizing the salience of the interwar period for economic thought (e.g. Jamie Martin, The Meddlers: Sovereignty, Empire, and the Birth of Global Economic Governance) and the role of thinkers from the Global South in shaping and challenging postcolonial and neo-colonial orders (e.g. Eric Helleiner, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods; Adom Getachew, Worldmaking After Empire). Revolution in Development bridges these bodies of scholarship by crossing the “decolonization divide.”

In this roundtable, historians of debt and development from Egypt to India and international political economy in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries respond to Thornton’s insight-filled and thought-provoking work. We have invited three scholars with wide-ranging perspectives—Elizabeth Chatterjee, Aaron Jakes, and Marc-William Palen—to offer responses to Revolution in Development. Christy Thornton then replies to the roundtable contributions. We thank them all for their engagement.

—Liat Spiro, College of the Holy Cross


Participant Bios

Christy Thornton is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair of the Program in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She is also the Co-Director, with Quinn Slobodian, of the History and Political Economy Project. A scholar of global inequality and development, labor and social movements, and Latin American political economy, she is author of Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy (University of California Press, 2021). Before graduate school, she served as the Executive Director of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), a 50-year-old research and advocacy organization. Her current project, “To Reckon with the Riot: Global Economic Governance and Social Protest,” investigates the impact of social protest around the world on international financial institutions (IFIs), asking how widespread protest against policy implemented at the behest of organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization was understood inside those institutions. 

Elizabeth Chatterjee is Assistant Professor of Environmental History at the University of Chicago, where she specializes in energy history, critical infrastructure studies, and the history of capitalism in India. Her current book project, Electric Democracy, traces the flows of electricity to provide an energy-centered history of India’s transforming political economy since independence in 1947. Among other topics, her other recent and forthcoming publications explore the early history of solar energy and international development, the comparative political economy of “fuel riots,” and the place of Asia in the planetary history of the Anthropocene.

Aaron Jakes is Assistant Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History and the College at the University of Chicago. He is author of Egypt’s Occupation: Colonial Economism and the Crises of Capitalism (Stanford University Press, 2020), which explores both the political economy of the Egyptian state and the role of political-economic thought in the struggle over British rule in Egypt following the occupation of 1882. With interests in the historical geography of global capitalism, comparative studies of colonialism and empire, and environmental history, he has published articles in Comparative Studies of Society and History, Critical Historical Studies, Antipode, International Journal of Middle East Studies, and Arab Studies Journal. He is currently at work on a project tentatively titled Tilted Waters: The World the Suez Canal Made.

Marc-William Palen is Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter and a member of the Centre for Imperial and Global History. His research focuses on British and American empires, exploring how political economy, gender, humanitarianism, and ideology have shaped global imperial expansion. He is author of The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade (Cambridge University Press, 2016), which charts how the ideological conflict between free traders and economic nationalists reshaped Anglo-American party politics and imperial expansion in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. He is currently writing a history of the intersections of global capitalism, anti-imperialism, and peace activism from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.


Reviewers' Comments


Elizabeth Chatterjee, University of Chicago

Think of Mexico and the history of global economic governance, and one narrative springs to mind: in late 1982, unable to meet its obligations to international creditors, the country became the most famous victim of the newly pitiless fiscal discipline imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. In the popular story, this global financial architecture was a neocolonial imposition on a hapless Mexico. Christy Thornton’s Revolution in Development upends the conventional wisdom. Spanning the 1910s to the 1970s—the country’s long journey from international credit pariah to foreign-aid darling, concluding with its transformation into the IMF’s “model debtor”—she shows that Mexico was no mere victim but a key protagonist shaping the global governance of development and debt.

As this roundtable suggests, Thornton’s brilliantly conceived and meticulously researched study has much to offer historians of international organizations and the twentieth-century world well beyond Mexico. Like important recent works by Eric Helleiner, Amy Offner, and Tore Olsson, Revolution in Development excavates the influence of Latin America on global intellectual and economic history. Drawing on archives across three continents and taking seriously initiatives that remained stillborn as well as more celebrated institutions, Thornton provides a valuable ‘outside-in’ methodological model for scholars of the Global South, even if the centrality of the United States to this case means it only partially unsettles the ‘America and the world’ approach that dominates the historiography of international development.

Especially compelling is the link that Thornton teases out between the national and the international, showing that the Mexican Revolution had long-term reverberations through the country’s foreign policy. Mexico’s post-revolutionary elite recognized that political sovereignty was inseparable from economic decolonization. Theirs was a developmentalism that transcended borders: in an analysis that prefigured dependency theory, they argued that only within a restructured international economic order could newly industrializing countries flourish. Mexico accordingly became a vocal advocate for multilateral institutions that would offer both representation and redistribution for the world’s poorer nations. It is a powerful challenge to the caricature of import-substitution industrialization—predicated around the postcolonial world on access to foreign capital, expertise, and equipment—as an inward-looking strategy. Mexico’s governing elite emerges as remarkably clear-eyed about the inescapability of what was then called economic “interdependence,” an ancestor of the later, much-despised “globalization,” even as they used this idea to argue that creditors needed borrowers as much as the reverse.

If we step back to clarify the stakes of Thornton’s argument, might we see in her rich account an alternative, demand-side origin story for the so-called liberal international order? In Revolution in Development, it is not the (neo)imperial powers but the aspirant states of the developing world that emerge as the most committed advocates of multilateralism, rules-based institutionalism, and even a restructured global trade regime, as in the abortive efforts to establish an International Trade Organization at Bretton Woods. Recognizing that weaker states can reap benefits from international rules and organizations that bind the hands of the strong, Mexico’s diplomats became adept at deploying “a politics of immanent critique to hold the United States accountable to the promises of multilateral liberalism.” (2) To borrow Andrew Sartori’s phrase, a form of ‘vernacular liberalism’ seemed to spur on the emerging international order, paradoxically advanced by those at that order’s margins.

If we step back to clarify the stakes of Thornton’s argument, might we see in her rich account an alternative, demand-side origin story for the so-called liberal international order? In Revolution in Development, it is not the (neo)imperial powers but the aspirant states of the developing world that emerge as the most committed advocates of multilateralism, rules-based institutionalism, and even a restructured global trade regime, as in the abortive efforts to establish an International Trade Organization at Bretton Woods.

At the same time, this conciliatory liberalism calls into question the radical potential of Mexico’s efforts. It is easy to (mis)read at least the first six (of eight) historical chapters of Revolution in Development as a tale of the noble South, its earnestly egalitarian projects stifled by a domineering global North. Yet Thornton herself emphasizes that this is no “straightforward story of heroic resistance,” and the book is most interesting in its ambivalences. (13) Even before Mexico abruptly abandoned its vanguardism for lashings of international development aid in the 1950s and 1960s, the technocratic elite of economists and jurists who dominate this story took little apparent interest in domestic equity. Rejecting Marxist analyses of class conflict either between capital and labor or the First and Third Worlds, their worldview instead envisaged corporatist negotiations to draw up “‘good collective contracts, beneficial for both parties,’” in the words of one purportedly leftwing advisor, and they opportunistically positioning themselves as crucial mediators of such a compromise between the global South and the United States. (189) This elite did not aim to challenge capitalism but merely envisaged “a ‘redistribution of acquisitive power’—the ability of people to consume,” even as the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional became ever more venal and authoritarian. (136–7) ‘Worldmaking’ seems a rather grand moniker for technocratic tinkering around the edges of the capitalist and nation-state systems. How different would the alternative futures imagined by such conservative reformers have looked if they were actualized, especially for other Southern nations who did not share the privileged position of a border with the world’s rising superpower?

More broadly, what is the relationship between elite discourse and political practice? Mexico’s Third Worldism sometimes appears self-serving rhetoric, as talk of a New International Economic Order was for President Luis Echeverría Álvarez, otherwise busy surveilling and disappearing leftwing opponents. Might the audience for this rhetoric have been domestic, rather than global? Did competing domestic factions opportunistically leverage international connections to advance their own goals at home, as David Engerman shows for India in The Price of Aid (2018)? Scaling up, perhaps Thornton’s most provocative claim is that it was through interactions with Mexico that the ascendant United States “learned to rule.” (196) Surely, though, the liberal-institutionalist, consent-seeking face of American hegemony did not preclude an imperial countercurrent of unilateral coercion, as the history of Latin America all too readily attests. Thornton convincingly writes the issue of sovereign debt into the heart of the history of global governance. Yet it is notable, too, that the transformation of the IMF into a mighty fiscal disciplinarian occurs off-stage; we must look elsewhere in the study of political economy, as does Jerome Roos’s Why Not Default? (2019), to understand the consolidation of an international creditors’ cartel in the years before 1982. Whether we consider US coup-mongering or the rise of finance, what is the relationship between the rarefied domain of international summits and the actual workings of global power?


Aaron Jakes, University of Chicago

For anyone who has spent time in American academia writing and teaching about the Global South, it would be hard not to identify with the research agenda Christy Thornton announces in the opening pages of Revolution in Development. With rare clarity and force, the book’s introduction explains the double bind, both historical and historiographical, of those vast regions so often viewed from the United States as “the rest of the world.” On the first count, Thornton asks: “Under what circumstances could a country like Mexico have an impact on the creation of international institutions and the reform of global governance”? (2-3) But on the second, as Thornton’s incisive review of dominant approaches to the study of the international order quickly reveals, this question of historical sociology mirrors another we might pose toward the hierarchies of academic knowledge production itself: Under what circumstances does a book about “a country like Mexico” achieve recognition as global history? In other words, the long and sweeping history of rejecting, denigrating, or simply ignoring the ideas of those who happen to reside beneath the towering heights of a steep global hierarchy has been refracted, albeit in subtler forms and different language, into the structuring patterns of scholarly discernment that designate some works as worthy of broad circulation and others not. Although Thornton stops short of saying so directly, her own role as author and narrator thus parallels that of the Mexican diplomats and theorists whose struggles to bring their insights to bear on the institutions of global economic governance she tracks across the twentieth century.

At its most ambitious, then, Revolution in Development is pitched as a carefully-argued case for an approach to global history from the bottom up. “While specific historical circumstances allowed Mexico to assume a particular role in the story told here,” Thornton observes, “methodologically, such a perspective could be replicated for other Global South cases, and it is my hope that future scholars will take up the framework developed here to examine how this story might be different if told, for example, from Brazil or from India.” (197)

Central to the story Thornton tells is the orientation of the book’s central figures toward the international institutions that they sought to establish and shape. Like their counterparts in many other parts of the globe at this time, the architects of Mexico’s “revolution in development” had come to understand by the early decades of the twentieth century that sovereignty was as much an economic as a political problem and that struggles for representation therefore needed to be paired with novel mechanisms of redistribution. But owing to the specific forms of isolation and capital flight that ensued from the Mexican Revolution’s novel, public claims upon private property, these same thinkers recognized that “the world’s reactions to the policies pursued in the name of economic nationalism made an internationalist project necessary.” (8) This was so, most of all, because any sustained program of economic development, as these thinkers understood it, would require access to supplies of capital lying beyond Mexico’s borders.

In building their case for the establishment of new lending agencies at the succession of international summits, conferences, and treaty negotiations that frame the book’s central chapters, Mexican delegates articulated a sophisticated critical analysis of international finance as a social relation. As the Mexican Foreign Minister José Manuel Puig Casauranc explained at the Seventh Inter-American Conference in Montevideo in 1933, the asymmetries of power that had long characterized international lending disguised an underlying reciprocity fundamental to how capital accumulation works. In Thornton’s rendering of the argument, “extending credit was a necessity for holders of capital, as only through investing and lending that capital could it bring any return.” (53) It was this reframing of the debtor-creditor relation as one of mutual interdependence that underpinned proposals for new international financial institutions designed to foster national development. And while several of the earlier designs—most notably the plans for an Inter-American Bank—foundered on the organized opposition of the American banks and their willing proxies in Congress, this longer history of plans and negotiations ultimately positioned the Mexican delegates to play a pivotal role in the establishment of the IMF and the World Bank at Bretton Woods.

If Thornton thus demonstrates convincingly that Mexico made significant and heretofore underappreciated contributions to the architecture of the post-war economic order, however, her answer to the project’s framing question—about the historical circumstances subtending that influence—remains rather more ambivalent throughout. One of the book’s many virtues is the care and attention Thornton devotes in each chapter to treating her protagonists as original thinkers every bit as worthy of serious intellectual history as their more famous American or British counterparts. The book’s most striking one-liner—“Mexico has the theories”—is a fittingly powerful rebuke from the archives against the blinkered idiom of diffusionism in the history of ideas. But this same attention to the ideas themselves stands in tension with the book’s framing concern to elucidate the structuring conditions under which those ideas were made to matter. In other words, “having the theories” was a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the sort of Mexican exceptionalism that Thornton offers up as an object of historical analysis.

As the book unfolds, the narrative content of Revolution in Development suggests that it was far less often the creativity or transformative potential of the Mexican delegates’ proposals that won them recognition than the availability of more revolutionary possibilities that other powerful international actors hoped to forestall. In this respect, one of the book’s more striking omissions is instructive. Although Mexico was, along with Bolivia, one of the first countries outside the Soviet Union to nationalize its petroleum industry, that distinction receives only passing attention. Where Thornton does mention it, she describes the nationalization as an instance of “domestic policy” in contrast to the imperatives of the “international financial climate.” (66) This way of bracketing oil nationalization out of a history about “the governance of the global economy” is significant for at least two reasons. First, once nationalization became available as a possible strategy, it figured prominently in the efforts of other countries to finance their own national development projects, whether as an alternative to loans from the IFIs or as a way of maneuvering toward a better negotiating position. Second, given the energetics of industrialization, the costs—both in absolute terms and in demands upon foreign exchange reserves—of purchasing oil on the world market could represent a significant line item in the budget of a given national development plan. The glowing reports that the World Bank produced about Mexico’s economic miracle in middle of the 20th century may have carefully skirted the issue, but nearly all of the projects its loans funded benefited in one way or another from a nationalized oil industry that was, in those decades, targeting its production toward subsidizing domestic needs.

As Thornton explains in the book’s seventh chapter ‘The Price of Success,’ international lenders were drawn to Mexico in the 1950s and 1960s because of both the country’s booming economy and the hope that ample credit would temper the Mexican state’s support for more radical forms of Third-World solidarity. The moment when the long history of Mexican arguments for development finance bore the most fruit was thus one in which Mexican officials were willing to position their country as a moderate alternative to political-economic trajectories that Washington found more threatening. But as US officials sought to cultivate their southern neighbor as a bulwark against the expropriation of foreign-owned resources in other Latin American states, Mexico was benefiting from the consequences of its own pioneering act of nationalization decades beforehand. To the extent that this prior history of claims upon subsoil wealth set a global example that subsequently conditioned Mexico’s relations with international lenders, in this moment, the acts of nationalization that Thornton labels as “domestic policy” arguably represented one of Mexico’s major contributions to the making of the international order.

Ultimately, then, Thornton’s careful and illuminating exposition of the role Mexican thinkers and diplomats played in forging international institutions from within points to a much more complex global field lying beyond those formal processes of negotiation. In that respect, the book’s invitation to pursue its findings in other directions is far more than a concluding flourish. Thornton has forcefully upended “a conventional understanding of the history of global economic governance . . . in which powerful states acted, and less powerful ones reacted.” Producing a global, counter-narrative to that tired convention will necessarily be a collective endeavor. Revolution in Development goes a long way toward setting the agenda.


Marc-William Palen, University of Exeter

Christy Thornton’s excellent book provocatively argues that “Mexico’s revolution in development was . . . a vision that transcended the boundaries of the national developmentalist project, seeking not just to transform the domestic economy but to devise new rules and institutions for managing the global economic systems into which Mexico was increasingly integrated.” (2) In doing so, the book refreshingly demonstrates how this was not merely a post-1945 story, but a much longer one of anticolonial (economic) nationalism within Mexico that stretched back to the late 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. Thornton’s book is an important contribution to a growing body of scholarship recentering the Cold War around Mexico and Latin America.[1] It is also a much-needed corrective to our understanding of twentieth-century global economic order(s).

Mexican and Latin American sovereignty loom large throughout the book, an issue that Mexican officials were instrumental in inserting into plans for international economic governance. Gaining political sovereignty was a necessary requirement to obtaining economic sovereignty. Mexican officials fought hard for the former via the League of Nations, and the latter through nationalization of foreign-owned land containing natural resources like oil and minerals from 1918 to 1923. The Great Depression then offered up a series of crises, as well as Mexican opportunities for reshaping the international order through the 1933 World Monetary and Economic Conference in London, where problems surrounding sovereign debt, monetary policy, and economic nationalism loomed large. The Inter-American Conference at Montevideo later that year witnessed an underappreciated clash between the free-trade internationalism of FDR’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull and the economic nationalism of Mexican Foreign Minister José Manuel Puig Casauranc. While the former would claim a moderate victory, Thornton lays out how Puig’s defense of economic sovereignty and an alternative international system of credit laid the ideological groundwork for subsequent demands from Latin America and the Global South over the coming decades. It was here that “Mexico’s revolution in development was beginning to take shape.” (39)

The Mexican developmental revolutionaries maintained the fight for sovereignty for decades to come. For example, they successfully lobbied the United States to support the establishment of the Inter-American Bank, the first such international development bank, to curtail predatory lending and encourage investment in Latin America. Thornton then delves into Mexico’s neglected, but by no means insignificant, role in the Bretton Woods negotiations as chair of its “Other Means of International Financial Cooperation” Commission: a role long overshadowed by a focus upon Anglo-American battles over the postwar world order. Mexican defense of economic sovereignty spilled over into UN planning in 1944, leading to a tempering of US free-trade demands to support Latin American industrialization. The experience informed Mexican attempts to shape the rules of the International Trade Organization (ITO), the failed forerunner of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, 1947), by inserting protectionist exceptions for Mexico. The same concessions were not included in GATT, and as a result Mexico wouldn’t become a signatory until the country’s neoliberal reformation in the late 1970s and 1980s. Instead, it stuck to import substitution and high tariffs, ushering in an era of economic growth in between, the so-called Mexican Miracle. The book ends with an exploration of Mexican contributions to the 1975 UN Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States, which represented the high-water mark of Mexico’s revolution in development, as well as its “last gasp.” (189)

As is to be expected with such a sweeping and ground-breaking work, Revolution in Development raises further questions and avenues for exploration. Taking advantage of the rare opportunity offered up by this roundtable to get a response from the author, I would like to lay out some possibilities.

First, taking on board Emily Conroy-Krutz’s point in her 2022 Bernath Lecture that “nineteenth-century history . . . is essential for understanding what will come to happen in the twentieth,”[2] I wonder how much this story might change (or not) if we were to push the chronology even further back, say, to the late-nineteenth-century battles over the creation of the Pan-American Union, bimetallism, Mexican-American trade reciprocity, or the wider fallout from the Long Depression (1873-96), all of which presaged the book’s twentieth-century fights over political and economic sovereignty. We do in fact get glimpses of these connections here and there: for instance, that foreign debt was a “chronic issue . . . throughout the nineteenth century,” before it became “an acute one” in between the First World War and the Great Depression (40), but one would like to hear more about these connections.

Second, Thornton provides a riveting play-by-play of the male-dominated official diplomatic negotiations and battles over Mexican sovereignty and global economic governance. The addition of those Mexican feminists involved with reforming the world order and fighting for Mexican rights could provide further avenues into this big story. I’m thinking here in particular of the Mexico Section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), one of the most active and influential NGOs working on behalf of reforming the interwar global order to make it more peaceful, prosperous, and conducive to women’s political empowerment. Supporting Thornton’s point that “nationalism and internationalism were two sides of the same coin,” the Mexico Section was in frequent conflict internally with the wider WILPF internationalist pro-free-trade leadership in Geneva because of the Mexico Section’s unyielding support for economic nationalism. (8) Mounting nationalist-internationalist tensions between the Mexico Section and WILPF would ultimately reach a breaking point in 1939.[3]

Lastly, I would be interested to find out more about Mexican responses to continued Cold-War-era protectionism often practiced by the United States, even as the latter advocated for liberalizing trade in the Global South. In other words, the book’s contestation between US-led trade liberalization initiatives and Mexican economic nationalism, while effective, at times hides the persistence of protectionist policies from the Global North: a frequent sticking point for the G77, UNCTAD, and the NIEO, as Johanna Bockman and Victor McFarland, among others, have highlighted.[4] We do get hints of this contestation, as with Mexican President Echeverría’s indictment of Nixon’s 1968 Operation Intercept (167) and in Echeverría’s subsequent 1972 speech outlining “the culmination of Mexico’s long revolution in development,” the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States (171, 188, 89). But I wonder whether there might be more to this from a Mexican perspective, or whether this line of critique largely fell to others within UNCTAD and the NIEO.


Author Response by Christy Thornton, Johns Hopkins University


Years ago, I attended a conference on histories of capitalism as a freshly-minted PhD, eager to share my research on Mexico with others engaged in the deep study of capitalist processes around the globe. But while I looked forward to comparing notes and sharing ideas about histories of development, finance, and international trade, I found that those of us studying places outside of the North Atlantic were relegated to concurrent panels with geographic themes: the East Asia scholars matched with one another; the scholars of India all on a single panel; the Latin Americanists lumped together. It was as though we didn’t study models, or measurement, or hegemony, which other panels highlighted; we merely studied “places” where the history of capitalism had happened. It was a frustrating experience, but one indicative of broader cleavages in the field. I could find few spaces where I might be able to convince a scholar of the United States or Europe, or India or China for that matter, that a history centered in Mexico could matter for their own work.

This roundtable, on the other hand, demonstrates how far the field and the study of global history more generally has come in the intervening years, due in no small part to the labors of those involved in the Toynbee Prize Foundation. It is a massive privilege to have Revolution in Development read by such a far-ranging field of scholars from well beyond my own Latin Americanist subfield, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Marc-William Palen, Aaron Jakes, and Elizabeth Chatterjee for their careful engagement with the book, and to Liat Spiro for curating this terrific group. This is precisely the kind of cross-regional conversation I imagined all those years ago, and it’s an honor to get to respond here to their thoughtful comments on the implications of the work in a broader global context.

These reviews are generous and comprehensive, and I am very grateful that the readers found the book “brilliantly conceived and meticulously researched,” making a “carefully-argued case for an approach to global history from the bottom up.” Along with these kind words, of course, the reviews raise a host of different issues, though a few are addressed already in the book itself. To Palen’s point about trade liberalization, I would point to the many episodes in which Mexican officials detail the hypocrisy of US protectionism and subsidies, as they argued that the United States repeatedly tried to set rules it would not itself follow; this was a repeated criticism in Mexican analyses detailed throughout the book, from the 1930s to the imposition of the import tax in 1971. To Chatterjee’s reading of the apparently “off-stage” emergence of the IMF as a “fiscal disciplinarian,” I think this misreads the chronology; Roos argues that the IMF had become increasingly incapable of imposing discipline during the 1970s and therefore stresses the “structural transformation” of the IMF after 1982.[1] Thus, as he shows, the debt crisis of the 1980s facilitated a “reversal of fortunes” for the IMF, an analysis entirely in keeping with my own review of the surprising ways that Mexico worked to maintain Third-World engagement with and reform of the institution in the 1970s (chapter 7).

Beyond these small points, however, the reviews all raise important places where my analysis might give short shrift to phenomena that shaped the story I have told: among them, nineteenth-century antecedents; the role of other modes of internationalism, particularly that put forward by Mexican feminist activists in the early post-revolutionary period; and the role of the Mexican nationalization of oil in 1938. I will take each of these in turn before turning to larger implications raised in all three reviews.

First, it is certainly true that a broad Mexican struggle for economic sovereignty can be traced in the history of debt repudiation and conflict that marked Mexico’s 19th century, as classic works by Jan Bazant and Carlos Marichal, among many others, have demonstrated.[2] By the end of the 19th century, as Jurgen Buchenau has detailed, the longtime ruler Porfirio Díaz had developed his own eponymous foreign policy doctrine that argued that the Monroe Doctrine should not be understood as a unilateral prerogative of the United States—rather, Díaz argued, it should  represent a collective responsibility of the American Republics.[3] In outlining this framework, Díaz attempted to walk the thin line so often running through Mexican history, between independence from US government and military interference, on the one hand, and reliance on US capital and investment, on the other. There is no doubt that this longer history finds resonance in the period under study in my book, as Palen indicates. But while the creation of the Pan-American Union in 1888 provided the outlines of a multilateral infrastructure for what Tom Long and Carsten Schulz have called Latin American’s tradition of “republican internationalism,” and the development of a distinct body of Latin American international law in that same period provided regional and global fora for debating legal frameworks, it was only in the 20th century that struggles over the rules of international economic governance would begin to take institutional shape, as I detail in the book.[4] While this 19th century political and legal thought provided fertile soil in which ideas about economic sovereignty would begin to germinate in Latin America, it was in the institution building of the 20th century, as Jamie Martin has recently argued with regard to the League of Nations, that the governance of the global economy would be codified in conventions, regulations, and institutions.[5]

Second, with regard to the gendered world of global financial governance, there is no doubt that the negotiations I studied in this book were, as Palen points out, “male-dominated.” It was my intention in the book to pay close attention to what I called the “racialized and gendered forms” of exclusion (12) through which European and US officials rendered Mexican expertise insufficient for the world of high finance and diplomacy. But there certainly were, as Palen notes, other internationalist fora in which the question of Latin American economic sovereignty was debated, including among feminist internationalists. Indeed, Katherine Marino’s recent work has advanced this literature tremendously by centering the ideas and advocacy of Latin American women themselves.[6] In fact, there were many internationalist organizations like these feminist formations, which brought together political figures, intellectuals, artists, and others to fight for a fairer international order in the 20th century across a range of issues, interests, and groups. While these campaigns sometimes promoted the agendas of states and their governments, they were largely what social scientists might call “non-state” actors, outside the purview of my analysis of Mexican state actors. As Palen notes, however, reading that history alongside the history my book details would certainly “provide further avenues into this big story,” and will help us collectively build broader, multifaceted histories of twentieth century internationalism.

Third, the question of the Mexican nationalization of oil does loom large over a great deal of this history, as Jakes points out, but largely in a Borgesian “camels in the Quran” sort of way—that is, as something so obvious it largely goes unmentioned.[7] That this history has been covered by easily hundreds of books and articles and approached from myriad angles goes without saying, and the volume of that scholarship is one reason it gets little space in my own work. To be clear, the degree to which the Mexican miracle was one that was buoyed by nationalized Mexican oil is debatable; Mexican petroleum production would remain below its c. 1920 peak until the discovery of new oil reserves in the 1970s. But Jakes’s characterization of the expropriation as more than a domestic, nationalist act is one I agree with, and points to a larger intention of the book, despite any clumsiness in my quick characterization of the nature of 1938. For too long, the particular and nationalist character of the Mexican revolution, and its lack of a mechanism for outward projection similar to the Soviet Comintern or Cuban foquismo, allowed scholars to overlook the internationalist projects of the Mexican state. Recovering that internationalism, in all of its complexity, was a key project of my research. But perhaps more importantly, Jakes’s zeroing in on the radical act of nationalization as a catalyst is exactly right; as he puts it, “it was far less often the creativity or transformative potential of the Mexican delegates’ proposals that won them recognition than the availability of more revolutionary possibilities that other powerful international actors hoped to forestall.” This is a key insight, and one that points to larger questions raised about the implications of the book.

As the book details, across this history, these “more revolutionary possibilities” abound, pushing and pulling Mexican officials both from above and below. Here, Chatterjee is quite right to point out that the “conciliatory liberalism” of the Mexican political figures, diplomats, and economists “calls into question the radical potential of Mexico’s efforts.” In fact, as she notes, a key argument of the book is that the actions of the Mexican state officials I study should not be read as “a tale of the noble South,” a kind of heroic story of failed resistance, but rather as what I call a “cautionary tale” (2), one that demonstrates the possibilities and pitfalls of attempting to govern—not overthrow—global capitalism. Nevertheless, I do think that this attempt to imagine and construct constraints on the prerogatives of global capital has been a pervasive and persistent form of developmentalist “worldmaking,” consonant with the thinking that Adom Getachew details from figures from Julius Nyrere and Michael Manley to Gunnar Myrdal and Raúl Prebisch.[8] Imagining a negotiated way to a fairer world, with all the compromise and conciliation such a path required, was a strikingly widespread kind of worldmaking in the 20th century.

In fact, despite increasingly conciliatory nature of Mexico’s interventions over time, the possibility that institutions might be created that could govern global capitalism and level the playing field was a threat that capitalists themselves very much feared across the period under study. This is clear in the hysteria of the National Association for the Protection of American Rights in Mexico rushing to Paris in 1919; in the National Association of Manufacturers’s mobilizing versus the Havana Charter after 1948; and the National Foreign Trade Council organizing against the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States in 1974. For US and European capitalists, that is, even the compromise efforts that Mexico and its counterparts negotiated represented an existential threat to capital’s prerogatives that required immediate, concerted action to push back against the gains that Mexico’s compromises had won.

What’s more, both more radical Third World states and Mexican domestic movements—whether nationalist industrialists and labor confederations marching in favor of more protection for their industries, or students and guerillas fighting the country’s growing inequality and soft-authoritarianism in the streets—repeatedly pushed for deeper, more fundamental changes, as the book demonstrates. (Thus, domestic politics in Mexico was key in each of these moments, as Chatterjee mentions and as the book highlights, situating each episode of international contention in its domestic political-economic context.) Therefore, as Jakes’s insight highlighting the “more complex global field” for these negotiations helps to crystalize, Mexican figures found themselves simultaneously negotiating the threat of further revolutionary upheaval, internal and external, on the one hand, and the reactionary fervor of organized capital and US power on the other. By paying close attention to how the institutions that were created to govern global capitalism were forged in this complex, multifaceted and multi-layered context, a central goal of the book is to demonstrate that what Chatterjee calls the “rarefied domain of international summits” has always been, in fact, shot through with “the actual workings of global power.”

Today, as debates rage over the demise of a market-oriented neoliberal order, with the UN General Assembly voting for a reconsideration of the New International Economic Order, and with the world haltingly negotiating a collective response to the accelerating threat of climate change, the lessons we can learn from how these negotiations unfolded in the past—surveying the range of alternative possible futures that were imagined and negotiated, and detailing precisely how these alternatives were foreclosed—might provide insights for the possibilities for our future.


[1] Jerome E. Roos, Why Not Default?: The Political Economy of Sovereign Debt (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019), 142-144.

[2] Jan Bazant, Historia de la deuda exterior de Mexico, 1823-1946 (México: El Colegio de

México, 1968); Carlos Marichal, A Century of Debt Crises in Latin America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).

[3] Jurgen Buchenau, In the Shadow of the Giant: The Making of Mexico’s Central America Policy, 1876–1930 (University of Alabama Press, 1996). More recently, see Buchenau, “The Rise and Demise of a Regional Power: The Multilateralism of Mexican Dictator Porfirio Diaz, 1876-1911,” The Latin Americanist 63, no. 3 (2019): 307–333.

[4] Tom Long and Carsten-Andreas Schulz, “Republican internationalism: the nineteenth-century roots of Latin American contributions to international order,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 35 no. 5 (2022), 639–661. On Latin American international law, see Liliana Obregón’s many works, including “Latin American International Law,” Routledge Handbook of International Law, D Armstrong, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2009), 154-164; and Juan Pablo Scarfi, The Hidden History of International Law in the Americas: Empire and Legal Networks (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), among others.

[5] Jamie Martin, The Meddlers: Sovereignty, Empire, and the Birth of Global Economic Governance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2022).

[6] Katherine M. Marino, Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

[7] Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 1.

[8] Adom Getachew, Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), ch. 5.


[1] See, et al., Renata Keller, Mexico’s Cold War (Cambridge University Press, 2015); Tobias Rupprecht, Soviet Internationalism after Stalin: Interaction and Exchange Between the USSR and Latin America During the Cold War (Cambridge University Press, 2015); Amy Offner, Sorting out the Mixed Economy (Princeton University Press, 2019); Thomas C. Field, Stella Krepp, and Vanni Pettinà, eds., Latin America and the Global Cold War (University of North Carolina Press, 2020); Eric Zolov, The Last Good Neighbor: Mexico in the Global Sixties (Duke University Press, 2020).

[2] Emily Conroy-Krutz, “‘What is a Missionary Good For, Anyway?’: Foreign Relations, Religion, and the Nineteenth Century,” Diplomatic History 46 (June 2022), 436.

[3] Megan Threlkeld, Pan American Women: U.S. Internationalists and Revolutionary Mexico (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 195-96.

[4] Johanna Bockman, “Socialist Globalization against Capitalist Neocolonialism: The Economic Ideas

Behind the New International Economic Order,” Humanity 6 (March 2015): 109-128; Victor McFarland, “The New International Economic Order, Interdependence, and Globalization,” Humanity 6 (Spring 2015): 217-233.

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