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Mark Weisbrot, Venezuela and the Venezuela Information Office

By K.A.

28.05.06 | Over the years many of us have become familiar with the international supporters of Chavez and his government. Some of these individuals claim to be lawyers then writers, some claim to defend the poor and marginalized Venezuelans of African and Indian ancestry, while others just go along for the revolutionary ride with the intent to gain some fame and bolster their image at home. However, there is one individual that deserves particular attention, simply because of his influence in Washington and in the media. This person has not only professed the wonders of Chavez but also of other populists in Latin America and is routinely introduced as an expert on Latin America. The person I am referring to is Mark Alan Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) in Washington D.C. In this part I will look at the early life of Weisbrot, then in Part II we will look at the connections between him and the Venezuelan government.

Mark A. Weisbrot - a short biography:

In 1971 Mark Alan Weisbrot moved from Chicago, IL to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to start his first year as an undergraduate in the College of Engineering. The following year Weisbrot transferred from engineering to the collage of Literature, Arts and the Sciences (LAS) where he obtained his degree in 1975. Then In 1979/80 he was a graduate student teaching assistant (TA) in the department of economics at UIUC, which lasted for one year.

After leaving UIUC, Weisbrot went to the University of Michigan Ann Arbor to attend graduate school in economics, where he obtained his PhD in 1993. His PhD thesis titled "Ideology and Method in the History of Development Economics" had as committee members Dr. W.H Locke Anderson (committee chair), Dr. Daniel R. Fusfeld, Dr. Terrence J. McDonald, Dr. Thomas E. Weisskopf.

The summary of his thesis can be read by clicking here.

Below are small bits of information that I have found that give a small perspective on Weisbrots committee members and their views, which may explain Weisbrot's views on economics.

Dr. W. H. Locke Anderson
"Locke Andersonís academic career was distinguished by any measure. But as time went by, Locke found himself increasingly critical of U.S. domestic and foreign policies and of the academy as it supported and colluded with these policies. As a consequence he became increasingly estranged from the tradition of neoclassical economics in which he had been trained. Like many of his contemporaries in the 1960s, he turned to the left; and, like a smaller number of them, he came to understand that only Marxism provides the intellectual equipment needed to understand the reality of a modern capitalist society. While at Michigan, Locke joined with colleagues from all over the country to organize what became the Union of Radical Political Economists."

Dr. Thomas E. Weisskopf
"In the late 1970s, his research interests shifted to the macroeconomic problems of advanced capitalist economies; among other things, he undertook studies of trends in productivity growth and profitability from a neo-Marxian political-economic perspective."

Dr. Weisskopf is also director of the Residential College (RC) at U of M Ann Arbor. For those of you unfamiliar with the RC it is well known for its very liberal/marxist leanings.

Dr. Daniel R. Fusfeld
From the literature searched Dr. Fusfeld seems to be the only individual with more mainstream economic views.

Dr. Terrence J. McDonald
Dr. Mc Donald's background appears to be Modern American History, political, urban, histography.

Thesis Notes

Weisbrot's thesis centered on Latin America and the role the US played (including the CIA) in the region from the 1950's to 1980's and how economic ideologies were shaped. Curiously, the thesis contains no formulas, figures, graphs, equations, or tables that one may expect to see in an economics thesis. Moreover, there are only a couple of references to the GDP and import / export numbers for a couple of Central American countries. Weisbrot's unconventional economic views may have been shaped by some of his thesis' committee members who appear to be proponents of marxist economics theories, thus more on ideology than numbers and statistics. In addition, Weisbrot unconventional economic views may have been shaped by his apparent background in left wing groups while at U of M as a graduate student.

Post-Graduate publications

Since obtaining his PhD in 1993 Mark Weisbrot and fellow CEPR co-director Dean Baker co-authored a paper titled "The Logic of Contested Exchange in 1994 in the Journal of Economic Issues. Then in 2003 he published in the journal Investigacion Economica a paper titled "The Relative Impact of Trade Liberalization on Developing Countries". Most recently he and Dean Baker published a book titled "Social Security: The phony crisis", which is a rather unconventional and not widely shared view of the state of social security in the United States. Jared Bernstein in 2001 wrote a review in the Journal of Economic Literature and had this to say:

"The authors are well-versed in neoclassical economic thought, but they clearly view the debate over Social Security as taking place in a highly politicized context..."

"It is herein that the authors' tone becomes too strident. Their attack of the crisis myth is sometimes too passionate, and they confuse those who may be twisting the facts for their own gains, such as vested interests that would benefit from privatized accounts, with economists and policy makers who genuinely believe a crisis is afoot."

(click here to read the full review)

Origin of the CEPR

It was apparently at the University of Michigan where Weisbrot meet Dean Baker, as indicated in Weisbrots' thesis acknowledgments. Then in 1999 they both decided to start their own 'progressive' think tank, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Do note that this is not the same, nor related to, the larger and more prestigious, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) based in London, UK.

Having established some background on Mark Weisbrot and the origin of the CEPR, in Part II I will look at his activities with the Venezuelan Information Office in Washington D.C. and the Venezuelan government.

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