Andre Gunder Frank is the author of the controversial and widely read Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America, which introduced dependency theory to North Americans. Frank begins his contribution by refuting the main precepts of the modernizationists: their emphasis on endogenous factors as the main cause for the region’s underdevelopment, the “stages of growth” theory, and the dualism thesis. According to Frank, capitalism, by its penetration of Latin America, was the main cause of the region’s underdevelopment. Through capitalism, Latin America was incorporated into the world economic system, but also through capitalism a series of asymmetrical, metropolitan-satellite relationships, which exploited the region by draining resources and surplus capital from the periphery and moving it toward the center, were established.

In a controversial assertion, Frank maintains that Latin America had never been feudal but rather had been capitalist since its colonization in the sixteenth century. Rejecting the dualist structure—traditional society, modern society—Frank envisioned a linkage between the two systems, in which capitalism worked from the latter to exploit and expropriate surplus from the former. Since underdevelopment resulted from close ties with the metropolitan West, Frank reasoned that in order for development to occur those ties should logically be severed. As Frank acknowledged, this idea owed much to the work of Paul Baran, a Marxist theoretician whose classic work The Political Economy of Growth contained many of the ideas later elaborated by Frank.