Iron Sharpens Iron 2011 in Latin America
The Political Economy of Latin America:
Iron Sharpens Iron Study Abroad Program 2011
This summer, a select group of International Relations majors and Business and Economics majors delved into an intensive study of the political economy of Latin America through the Hastert Center sponsored Iron Sharpens Iron program. This innovative curriculum gives students the opportunity to study first hand comparisons of business and economic policy across a broad range of countries. ISI 2011 was designed to give students analytical tools to understand the unique political economy of Latin America and to examine effective business strategies and sound economic policies in this region. Students in the program enrolled in 8 semester credits of specialized coursework on globalization, business strategy and politics with an emphasis on practices in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador.
A key feature of the program was to illustrate the ways in which the economic policies of different nations have affected development. For example, since the 1980s, the government of Chile has adopted polices supporting privatization and encouraging foreign competition. These practices have strengthened the Chilean economy and the presence of foreign competition has put pressure on local firms to raise quality and contend in the market place. The Chilean economy is now ranked number one in Latin America. Chile has the highest nominal GDP per capita in Latin America and in the last 30 years Chile has halved poverty rates.
Seth Norton explained that one of the major problem areas for Latin America, in general, has been hyperinflation. “One of the great successes of Chilean recent years is that when they reformed their government, they made their central bank independent. Chile has one of the most independent central banks going” said Norton. Students were able to see the strength of this system first hand. They were able to juxtapose the economic policies of different nations and directly see the ways that those policies affect business and development.
The first component of the program was intensive coursework, guest lectures and field trips conducted while on the Wheaton College campus from May 10-June 4. The group visited three corporations during the on-campus portion of the trip. Site visits were made to Caterpillar Inc., FONA International and Dover Corporation factory. These site visits introduced students to a range of American business activities and strategies. The students acquired a cognitive map for business activities so they could understand business generally and have a framework for understanding Latin American business. “This was the first time many of these students had ever been in a factory or manufacturing plant” said Greg Bunch who taught business and global strategy to the students.
The on-campus portion of the program also featured guest lectures by William Pollard and Floyd Kvamme, Hastert Center Advisory Board members and business leaders. Pollard spoke on the goals of economic activity and the role of culture in economic life and the varieties of the Latin American economic experience as well as biblical foundations for economic life. Kvamme spoke about entrepreneurial finance and the funding of both new and established businesses. Kvamme also stressed the development of the venture capital business in the United States and Europe and comparable institutions in Latin America.
The second component of the Iron Sharpens Iron program entailed travel to Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador from June 4-July 1. Approximately 45 site visits/lectures were scheduled in Latin America. The group met with corporations, NGOs, government agencies, financial institutions, research organizations or “think tanks,” local universities, and members of political parties. The group also visited numerous historical and cultural sites. Some of the highlights were visits to a cattle auction and fish processing plant in Buenos Aires; meeting with Dr. Carlos Ferrero, the former Prime Minister of Peru; academic briefings at the US embassy in each country, and visiting the Institute for Liberty and Democracy founded by Hernando De Soto. Students were overwhelmingly positive in their feedback of the program. Junior, Libby Strachan said “I learned much more than I expected. Getting to visit the countries and speaking to native individuals made for a once in a lifetime learning experience.”