Economist magazine bashes Argentina!
Despite the breadth and quality of the Economist magazine’s international coverage, I often don’t bother reading stories on certain subjects because I already know what they’re going to say. Argentina is one topic which tends to bring out a particular strand of swivel-eyed lunacy.
“A Decade of Division” shouts the latest headline, above an article about ten years of rule by Nestor and Christina Fernández de Kirchner. The piece criticises the husband and wife pair for allegedly agreeing to take turns at the presidency, a plan which Nestor spoiled by inconveniently dying of a heart attack in 2010.
But before that he “pulled a subtler, counterintuitive power play: he stepped aside.” Stalinist! Clearly he must have thought that no Argentine voting in the 2007 election would have the gumption to vote for anyone other than his wife, who again won hands-down in 2011.
The article makes much of “rumours” “swirling” that Fernández might amend the constitution to seek a third term. “But she seemed to suggest otherwise when she spoke to supporters at her anniversary party on May 25th, stating: “I’m not eternal, nor do I want to be.” Ah. So she probably won’t seek a third term, then.
We just spent four months in the country travelling from north to south. We didn’t experience a country worthy of the mouth-frothing and negativity so prevalent in the English-language international media. Since Kirchner’s election in 2003 the economy has boomed, with a faster and more sustainable growth path than under the right-wing era of the 1990s. Domestic industry has flourished and the economy has avoided the dependence on the financial sector that artificially propped up many developed countries then sent them into slump. Poverty has fallen dramatically. As many as half of all families were poor at the height of the crisis, compared with around a tenth now. Unemployment is much lower now than in Europe. Until recently inflation has been manageable. Many Argentines actually still like Fernández, particularly because she has done something to tackle poverty.
This isn’t to suggest that everything is smiles — and nothing would excuse further concentration of power or the amendment of the constitution so as to support a third term for Fernández. Inflation is also clearly a big problem, as is the massaging of statistics. The black market dollar rate has diverged significantly from the official rate in the last few months, suggesting a worrying downturn in confidence. Calle Florida in Buenos Aires heaves with money changers. The middle class apparently take regular trips to Uruguay to get dollars.
But it does seem that publications like the Economist, and its readers, dislike Argentina’s alternative economic policy so much and want to punish it for its 2001 sovereign default, that they will concoct a negative story whatever the reality. Reading the comments under the Economist piece you’d think that the country’s economic performance in the 2000s didn’t outstrip either of the previous two decades or that the country has somehow been less politically stable. One poster says that the country used to be as wealthy as Australia and that somehow it’s the Kirchners’ fault. Er, maybe it was rich 100 years ago. The long-term decline in the country’s relative world economic standing might have something to do with the intervening century, during which it was ruled by dictators and quasi-fascists.
While in the country I began to wonder whether the Argentina that the Economist referred to was some other land, some fictional anti-Xanadu where journalists project their dystopias. The reality’s not that bad.