William Ratliff


William Ratliff was a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Independent Institute. His BA is from Oberlin College; his PhD in Chinese/Latin American histories is from the University of Washington. He passed away April 11, 2014.

He wrote and lectured on the history and politics of Asia and Latin America and how traditional cultures and institutions influence modern conditions and prospects for political and economic development. He also wrote on Chinese relations with Latin America and on US foreign policy.

Ratliff’s studies include "Development with Chinese Characteristics: Asia’s Sinic Revolutions in Global Historical Perspective," in P. Caringella, ed., Revolutions: Finished and Unfinished (2012), chapters for B. Creutzfeldt, ed., China en América Latina (2012) and M. Nilsson, ed., Latin American Responses to Globalization (2012). He also wrote Vietnam Rising: Culture and Change in Asia’s Tiger Cub (2008), Doing It Wrong and Doing It Right: Education in Latin America and Asia (2003), and Law and Economics in Developing Countries (2000) with E. Buscaglia. He has coauthored studies of US policy toward Cuba and Latin America with R. Fontaine and on Juan Peron with S. Amaral. He is coauthor of The Civil War in Nicaragua (1993) with R. Miranda and Inside the Cuban Interior Ministry (1994) with Juan Antonio Rodriguez Menier.

Ratliff lived and traveled widely in Asia and Latin America, published commentaries in all major US and many foreign newspapers and been interviewed on CNN, NPR, PBS, BBC, Voice of America, and China Radio International. On the Internet, he has written for "The Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and MSNBC’s "Opinion" section. He taught and lectured for nongovernmental organizations and at Stanford University, Tunghai University (Taiwan), the Austrian Defense Academy (Vienna), and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Beijing). For two decades he wrote classical music reviews and features for the Los Angeles Times and the Metropolitan Opera's Opera News.

His research papers (collection 1, collection 2, and collection 3) are available at the Hoover Institution Archives.

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Recent Commentary

Doing It Wrong and Doing It Right: Education in Latin America and Asia

by William Ratliffvia Analysis
Saturday, March 1, 2003

Forty years ago Asia and Latin America were at similar levels of economic development. This is no longer true, however, for reforming East and Southeast Asian countries, periodic problems notwithstanding, have made long strides toward the developed world. Meanwhile, most of Latin America, after the reform euphoria of the 1990s, is passing through yet another of its periodic crises. Serious economic development in much of Asia has reduced poverty and inequality; in Latin America sustained economic growth and effective institution building have rarely occurred, and the region is falling ever farther behind the rest of the developing world. One critical factor in Asia’s success has been its universal, increasingly high-quality education systems, particularly at the primary and secondary levels, that have enabled most people to promote their own well-being and contribute to national development. The high quality of Asian education is evident in international testing that finds reforming Asian countries at the head of the class. Latin Americans, in contrast, when they even dare to participate in such testing, come out at or near the bottom. Why the difference? Because although both regions began with rigid, elitist traditional ideas and institutions, Latin Americans have been much less willing or able or both to adapt and transform their past in order to participate more productively in the modern world. Latin American leaders have not chosen to undertake deep and lasting reform, and the Latin American people, to the degree that they have any voice in the matter, have not demanded such changes. It is in U.S. interests to support education reform in Latin America because doing so will promote development and stability there and thus more productive relations between north and south. But we should do so only when the region’s leaders demonstrate the will to undertake substantive change and commit the resources to make it happen.

A Nation under Siege

by William Ratliff, Edgardo Buscagliavia Hoover Digest
Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Colombia is under siege, with left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitaries in control of more than half its territory and a government incapable of restoring order. U.S. policy is only making things worse. By Hoover fellows Edgardo Buscaglia and William Ratliff.

Semper Fidel

by William Ratliffvia Hoover Digest
Tuesday, October 30, 2001

At 75, Fidel Castro has survived 10 American presidents, a 40-year American economic embargo, the collapse of communism, the loss of his principal benefactor, and the utter ruination of his country. Hoover fellow William Ratliff on a man too mean to die.

War and Lack of Governance in Colombia: Narcos, Guerrillas, and U.S. Policy

by Edgardo Buscaglia, William Ratliffvia Analysis
Sunday, July 1, 2001

This essay is based on academic and field research conducted by both authors between 1994 and 2001 in Colombia and the United States. For more references, see Buscaglia, “Law and Economics of Development” in The Encyclopedia of Law and Economics (Cheltenham: Eduard Elgar, 2000).

Colombia today is crippled by its most serious political, economic, social, and moral crisis in a century, a condition that seriously threatens both Latin America and the national interests of the United States in the region.

The Carrot or the Stick?

by William Ratliffvia Hoover Digest
Saturday, June 30, 2001

The downing of an American spy plane on the coast of China this past April managed to worsen the already tense relations between the United States and China. As it seeks to improve our relations with the most populous nation on earth, what can—and should—the Bush administration do? By Hoover fellow William Ratliff.

Stalemate in the Drug War

by William Ratliffvia Hoover Digest
Monday, April 30, 2001

Under Plan Colombia, the United States will provide the government of Colombia with nearly $1 billion to use in fighting the drug trade. Yet if the war on drugs has already proven a dismal failure here at home, why should we expect it to succeed anywhere else? Hoover fellow William Ratliff reports from Bogotá.


Law and Economics in Developing Countries

by Edgardo Buscaglia, William Ratliffvia Hoover Institution Press
Friday, August 11, 2000

This concise volume examines the relationship between law, governance, and economic development and shows the main substantive and procedural legal factors that developing nations must address to promote political stability and economic growth, intended for the general informed reader as well as for policymakers in governments and civil society.

End the Embargo Now

by William Ratliff, Roger Fontainevia Hoover Digest
Sunday, July 30, 2000

Who is the biggest beneficiary of the U.S. embargo against Cuba? Hint: His first name is Fidel. Hoover fellow William Ratliff and Roger Fontaine explain why the time has come to bring the embargo to an end.

A Strategic Flip-Flop in the Caribbean

by William Ratliffvia Analysis
Wednesday, March 1, 2000

For almost three decades the U.S. embargo of Cuba was part of America's cold war strategy against the Soviet bloc. It should have been lifted after that ‘‘war’’ ended since Castro ceased to threaten the United States and its neighbors and adopted the standard rules of international behavior. But inertia, a powerful Cuban American lobby, and misguided politicians set new demands: democracy, improved human rights, and economic reform. When Castro demurred we tightened the sanctions in 1992 and again in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Law. The United States has never committed the resources necessary to overthrow Castro, however, and the pressures we have applied have utterly failed to advance the three objectives. Worse yet, in the post–cold war world the policy and political outlook that sustain it have become a strategic liability. They promote conflict, both within Cuba—where a crisis might draw in the U.S. military—and abroad, as occurred in 1999–2000 after the arrival in Florida of the rafter boy, Elián González. They allow pressure groups to stand in the way of the policy-making process of the U.S. government. For example, the lobby manipulated wishy-washy politicians in 1998–1999 and got the president to turn down a widely supported proposal for a bipartisan commission to conduct the first comprehensive evaluation of the policy in four decades. Finally, the imperialistic Helms-Burton Law alienates allies worldwide and will poison relations between the United States and Cuba for decades to come. Castro will benefit no matter what we do, but on balance he gains more if we maintain the sanctions because they provide a scapegoat for his own repression and economic failures even as they enable him to maintain his cherished global image as the ‘‘scourge of U.S. imperialism.’’ Castro can wage a worldwide campaign against the embargo to bolster his image knowing Washington is too inflexible to change it. Indeed, whenever Washington has lightened up, Castro has tightened up and effectively prevented further improvement. Lifting sanctions need not mean establishing friendly relations with Castro—which he would reject in any event—or supporting his efforts to get international aid without meeting standard requirements. The ultimate responsibility for maintaining this antiquated and potentially dangerous policy falls on politicians who either do not understand the need for, or for political reasons are afraid to support, a new policy to benefit both Americans and Cubans in the post–cold war world.

The Flashpoint at the Bottom of the Balkans

by William Ratliffvia Hoover Digest
Sunday, January 30, 2000

Cyprus has been one of Europe's tinderboxes for years. Could peace finally be at hand? Hoover fellow William Ratliff reports.