Back in 1996, during a six-month stay in Ecuador, I was invited by an economist to attend a workshop he was leading in an agricultural community in the western foothills of the Andes. The economist and the local nongovernmental organization he worked with were seeking to educate smallholder peasant farmers about the market forces that determined the prices of their crops. The goal was for them to rationalize their yearly planting decisions based on current market conditions, rather than to simply repeat them unchanged from year to year.
At the end of the workshop, which introduced basic economic concepts like supply and demand to people whose reading and math skills were rudimentary at best, I asked the economist whether he thought it would make a significant difference in the lives of the farmers who had participated. He shrugged and replied, “The age of revolutions is over. What more can we do?”
As unsatisfying as it seemed, it was hard to argue with his logic. At the time, the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union had cut off foreign funding and support for leftist insurgencies in the region. Besides the Maoist-inspired Shining Path in Peru and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, most had already been defeated or relegated to irrelevance.