A Brief History of LACEA

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How it all started

The Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association (LACEA), or Asociación de Economía de América Latina y el Caribe, was founded in July of 1992 in order to encourage greater professional interaction and foster increased dialogue among researchers and practitioners who focus their work on the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean. The idea of creating such an association of economists was first put into action during the April 1991 Washington, DC meetings of the Latin American Studies Association by Michael Conroy, then a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin. At a meeting attended by close to forty participants, a seven-member Organizing Committee, led by Nora Lustig, was appointed.The Organizing Committee quickly obtained enthusiastic support for the idea of creating an association from a dozen leading scholars in the field, including Albert Hirschman, Eliana Cardoso, John Williamson, and Albert Fishlow. This early support was critical to the success of the efforts to create LACEA. Soon after, the Organizing Committee identified the initial Executive Committee, drafted the association’s bylaws, and applied for membership of the Allied Social Science Association (ASSA), officially launching LACEA. Over one hundred prominent economists from throughout the region were invited and accepted the invitation to be charter members of LACEA. The first Executive Committee was selected and Albert Fishlow, then professor at the University of California, Berkeley was invited to become the first President of LACEA. Nora Lustig, then at the Brookings Institution, was selected as Vice-President, and Darryl McLeod, professor at Fordham University, was invited to become the Treasurer of the association. The other members of the Executive Committee were: Edmar Bacha, Carlos Bazdresch, Guillermo Calvo, Michael Conroy, Vittorio Corbo, Carmen Diana Deere, Sebastian Edwards, Raul Feliz, Daniel Heymann, Ricardo Hausmann, Patricio Meller, and John Welch. On July 1, 1994 the charter members officially approved LACEA's Bylaws and its first Executive Committee.

In January, 1993, under Albert Fishlow’s presidency (1993-97) LACEA became a member of the Allied Social Science Association and soon began to host sessions at the annual meetings of the American Economics Association, the Latin American Studies Association and the Latin American Meetings of the Econometric Society.

In 1996, LACEA began to host annual international meetings of its own. The first meeting was hosted by ITAM, in Mexico City, and featured 157 papers and over 200 participants. The 1997 meeting was held in Bogotá, Colombia and was co-organized by Fedesarrollo and Universidad de los Andes. At this meeting, close to 250 participants attended and 208 papers were presented. Ever since, the meetings have taken place annually (see box), attracting larger numbers of partipants and papers. On average since 2010, 560 economists have attended LACEA's meetings, and 280 papers have been presented during the three-day conference.

Under Nora Lustig’s presidency (1998-99), LACEA expanded its activities in several directions. In conjunction with the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, it created the Network on Inequality and Poverty in 1998. It also started the Network on Political Economy and a series of seminars on International Economics and Finance, a joint initiative with the Center for International Economics at the University of Maryland. All these activities were carried out in conjunction with academic centers in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1999, at the Fourth Annual Meetings in Santiago, LACEA announced the launching of a new academic Journal, Economia. Professor Andres Velasco was appointed as Editor of the journal, which was modeled on the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity and Economic Policy. The first issue was released in 2000. Another significant event in 1999 was the awarding of a major grant to LACEA from the Development Grant Facility of the World Bank (later transformed into the Global Development Network), which gave support to the annual meetings, the research networks, and the journal.

Since 2000, Profs Fishlow and Lustig have played many influential roles in the Association, most importantly as advisors to the presidents and the Executive Committee, and as “goodwill” ambassadors of the Association before other international organizations and academic institutions. Every major initiative by LACEA has been blessed by their encouragement and support. The title of President Emeritus awarded to Profs Fishlow and Lustig at the 2017 Lacea meeting in Buenos Aires (November 9-11) is a very deserved recognition of their leadership and commitment to the Association.

Developments: meetings and networks

Subsequent presidents have expanded the activities of the Association in many directions. Under Guillermo Calvo's presidency (2000-01) LACEA started to explore holding annual meetings outside the region.  Negotiations started in 2000 with CEMFI, Spain, and came to fruition under Sebastian Edwards's presidency (2002-03). Thus, the 2002 meeting took place in Madrid, hosted by CEMFI, attracting researchers and scholars from Europe and broadening the LACEA network outside the region. Similarly, the 2005 meeting was held in Paris, under Mariano Tomassi’s presidency (2004-05), and hosted by the American University in Paris. More recently, efforts have been made to hold the meetings in cities other than capitals of countries. Medellín (Colombia) in 2010 under Ricardo Hausmann’s presidency (2010-11) and again in 2016 under Eduardo Lora’s presidency (2016-17) hosted the meetings, organized by Eafit. Similarly, Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia) was the venue of the 2015 meeting under Eduardo Engel’s presidency (2014-15), organized by the Bolivian Society of Economists (SEBOL), the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) and the Private University of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (UPSA). These efforts have substantially enlarged the membership of the Association and strengthened its relations with a wider net of academic institutions within the region. In the same vein, it is expected that the 2018 meeting will take place in Guayaquil, hosted by Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL), under Santiago Levy’s presidency (2018-19).

Since 2006, under Andrés Velasco’s presidency (2006-07), the annual meetings have been jointly organized with the Latin American Chapter of the Econometric Society (LAMES). The joint LACEA-LAMES conference is currently regarded as one of the most prestigious gatherings of academic economists in the developing world, not just in Latin America.

In addition to the annual meetings, LACEA holds a variety of specialized meetings, a practice initiated by its first presidents and continued by Sebastian Edwards with the Inter-American Seminar on Economics and by subsequent presidents. In paralel, the number of specialized networks have grown to eight, currently covering the following areas: Inequality and PovertyPolitical EconomyTrade, Integration and GrowthImpact Evaluation; Finance; Crime; Labor and Economic History. A new network on Health Economics has just been created and will have its first meeting next year.

Developments: research dissemination and academic awards

The Economía Journal of the Latin American and Caribbean Economid Association, launched in 2000, has continued apace, with major reorganizations under Roberto Rigobón’s presidency (2012-13), when the reviewing process through bi-annual panel meetings was substituted by the standard peer reviewing (keeping the panel meetings for discussion purposes), and in 2017 under Carlos Vegh’s leadership as Editor, when the bi-annual call for submissions was replaced by on-line rolling submissions.  The Journal has boasted an impressive list of Editors: Andrés Velasco, Eduardo Engel, Francisco Ferreira, Roberto Rigobón, Rodrigo Soares, Ugo Panizza, Raquel Bernal, Marcela Eslava, Sergio Urzúa, Julián Messina and Alexander Monge-Naranjo. Many more distinguished scholars have been Associate Editors. Economia has become the outlet of choice for some of the best research on Latin America and is currently ranked 71st among nearly 2000 journals worldwide evaluated by RePec and undergoing an accreditation process.

Other channels of research dissemination administered by LACEA include the internet site Vox.LACEA, created under Mauricio Cárdenas’ presidency (2008-09), and the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Repository, Lacer, created under Roberto Rigobón’s (2012-13). Máximo Rossi is currently the editor of Vox.LACEA and Lacer.

A new dissemination channel will soon be added to this list: the LACEA Working Paper Series (LACEA.WPS), which will be launched at the Buenos Aires meeting. Established researchers based on Latin America or with ties to LACEA, who have an outstanding record of publications in top journals, will become LACEA Associates and will have the exclusive right to publish their (not yet peer-reviewed) research in the LACEA Working Paper Series. The first Editor-in-chief of LACEA.WPS will be Irene Brambilla.

In order to encourage high quality research and recognize talented scholars’ contributions, several awards have been established. The Carlos Díaz-Alejandro Prize, created in 1998, has been awarded every two years to outstanding scholars who have made significant contributions to economic policy issues of especial relevance to the region. Edmar Bacha, Arnold Harberger, Rudiger Dornbusch, Guillermo Calvo, Jere Behrman, Hugo Hopenhayn, Sebastian Edwards, Carmen Reinhart and Orazio Attanasio have been recipients of this distinction.

Under Ricardo Hausmann’s presidency (2010-11), the Juan Luis Londoño Prize was created to encourage research in social policy issues. Francois Bourguignon was the first recipient of the Prize. It is currently awarded every two years to the best paper on social issues presented at the LACEA meeting by a young researcher.

How LACEA’s governance has evolved

The foundational Bylaws approved in 1998 have served the organization well, with only one revision in 2015 introduced during Eduardo Engel’s presidency, by which a system of permanent committees was established and the responsibilities of the Executive Committee members and of some of the leading administrative positions were redefined. Also under Eduardo Engel, a protocol was signed with the Latin American Chapter of the Econometric Society (LAMES) in order to clarify the terms of collaboration between the two associations for the organization of the joint LACEA-Lames meetings.

Every two years, the active members of the Association have voted to elect the new Vice-President (who becomes the President after two years) and six new members of the Executive Committee (who serve for four years). Currently, the Executive Committee members are Laura Alfaro, Raquel Bernal, Irene Brambilla, Suzanne Duryea, Marcela Eslava, Claudio Ferraz, Francisco Gallego, Adriana Kugler, Santiago Levy (as Vice President), Eduardo Lora (President) Claudia Martinez, Miguel Urquiola, Sergio Urzúa and Eric Verhoogen.

Seven of the 14 members of the current Executive Commitee are women and the two candidates to become Vice-President in 2018 (and President two years hence) are both women: Laura Alfaro and Raquel Fernández. (No gender quotas or affirmative action policies are behind the high female participation in LACEA’s governing bodies or other activities.)

Since the presidency of Mauricio Cárdenas (2008-09), the Secretariat of LACEA is hosted at Fedesarrollo in Bogotá. The current Executive Secretary is Ana María Díaz, assisted by Elena Zadik. Executive Secretaries have been crucial for the success of the organization.

Current challenges

LACEA has established itself as the leading association of economists interested in the problems of economic and social development in Latin America and the Caribbean. For 25 years we have contributed to strengthening ties between the research community and economic decision makers in the region and we have fostered debate and dissemination of better economic and social policies based on economic research. As Colombia's Minister of Finance and former LACEA President, Mauricio Cárdenas, pointed out at the inauguration of the LACEA meeting in Medellín in 2016: "What we do in public policy is based on evidence. (...). The adoption of the fiscal rule, the design of monetary policy based on inflation targeting and the dismantling of payroll taxes are decisions resulting from academic debates that have taken place in LACEA meetings". Many LACEA members have already been, are currently or will become ministers or deputy ministers of finance and other economic and social ministries, as well as directors of academic entities, opinion makers, advisers or decision makers in international organizations and in private institutions in the region.

For many years, LACEA's main source of funding was the Global Development Network, an off-spring of the Development Grant Facility of the World Bank, which had given support to the association since 1999. Unfortunately, from 2017 the GDN will not make any further contributions because its own financial constraints have forced it to reorient its activities.

Fundraising is therefore LACEA’s main current challenge, but also a new incentive to continue expanding our activities and strengthening our relations with the community of academic economists, with the multilateral organizations, central banks and private institutions. In that vein, the modality of institutional affiliation has been recently created, by which a package of services is offered to selected institutions whose economists are regular attendants in the LACEA meetings and activities. Also, the creation of the LACEA Working Paper Series has been partially motivated by the need to expand our membership by offering the academic community an expedient channel of research dissemination and access. We are also exploring ways of making use of our ability to mobilize the talent of researchers throughout Latin America to offer large private organizations access to academic knowledge useful for their business purposes and, especially, for their social responsibility agenda.