In this paper the economic performance of post-independence Latin America is assessed in comparative perspective. The release from the colonial fiscal burden was partly offset by higher costs of self-government, while the opening of independent Latin American countries to the international economy represented a handmaiden of growth. Regional disparities increased after independence, so generalisations about the region's long-run behaviour are not straightforward. However, on average, per capita income grew in Latin America, and although the region fell behind compared with the United States and Western Europe, it improved or maintained its position relative to the rest of the world. Thus the term ‘lost decades’ appears an unwarranted depiction of the period between 1820 and 1870.