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ARGENTINA | 01-08-2022 16:46

Storms are heading everybody’s way

The last few years have been propitious for alarmists of all descriptions who have made a profitable cottage industry out of warning people, often quite plausibly, that the end is uncomfortably nigh.

The last few years have been propitious for alarmists of all descriptions who have made a profitable cottage industry out of warning people, often quite plausibly, that the end is uncomfortably nigh. Long before the coronavirus emerged from somewhere near a laboratory in Wuhan where experts with links to the Chinese military were trying to make variants found in bats more lethal, and the Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin thought he could get away with adding Ukraine to his own domains, there were plenty of signs that something very bad was brewing.

 Among these were the steep decline in birth rates almost everywhere, with Koreans, Japanese and Europeans rapidly turning into endangered species, large scale migratory movements from poor countries to safer ones with acceptable welfare systems, the explosion of “woke” activism in the United States, the unexpected metamorphosis of the reality TV star Donald Trump into what his compatriots call “the most powerful man in the world” and the inability of his Democrat foes to come up with anyone more impressive than Joe Biden, the almost universal panic over climate change accompanied by the widespread conviction that it could be put into reverse by closing down carbon-spewing factories and mines and, while about it, farming which depends on nitrogen fertilizers and flatulent bovines, plus the apparently imminent arrival of the “fourth industrial revolution” in which smart robots would replace flesh-and-blood workers. Any one of these phenomena would have been enough by itself to make it clear to even the most sanguine that drastic changes were fast approaching. Taken together, they paint a decidedly dark picture.

  Among other things, this means that Argentina’s decision to commit collective suicide by entrusting her fate to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Alberto Fernández coincided with the start of a period of worldwide turmoil in which some nations could go under or break apart as, in quite recent times, did Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. While it seems most unlikely that Argentina could disintegrate as did those Communist entities, with Mendoza, say, declaring independence and other provinces following suit, such an outcome is by no means inconceivable.

 In the short term, difficulties in Europe and North America will have a negative impact on Argentina, but if she succeeds in getting a decent government before the damage done by the present one becomes irreparable, troubles elsewhere could eventually help her get back on her feet. No matter what happens in the rest of the world, the demand for food products of the kind Argentina can produce in abundance, for the as yet largely untapped natural gas in Patagonia and for rare earth metals like lithium, seems certain to increase. If the Germans and other Europeans could be persuaded to invest as much here as they have in pipelines connecting them with Russia, Argentina could quite soon enjoy a boom of historic proportions which, if properly managed, would be bound to attract big investments from Japan, the US and, unless the cold war with the West hots up, China.

Unfortunately, getting from where Argentina finds herself today to where, with luck, she could be tomorrow would be anything but easy.  In addition to a thoroughgoing political makeover, such a transition would require something akin to a cultural revolution that would make people, as John F. Kennedy recommended in his well-remembered inaugural speech, start muttering to themselves “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

Attitudes related to the belief that the world owes all its inhabitants a living in exchange for nothing much apart from votes when elections are held have contributed greatly to Argentina’s decline. Over the years, far too many men and women have grown accustomed to living off handouts and every day more are being encouraged to do so by political bosses who use them in demonstrations in order to extort even more taxpayer money from the government of the day. One expert in this particular field, the papist Juan Grabois, has taken to mouthing threats about blood in the streets unless he and his recruits get what they are after.

 It has also become habitual to regard education as a right, something everyone should receive from a benevolent State, not as something which must be striven after and which cannot be acquired without a great deal of individual effort.  In other words, in would seem that at least half the population has become far too passive to play much of a part in any attempt to get Argentina in better shape so she can confront the tough challenges she will encounter after the current dispensation comes crashing down, as many expect it to do before the year is out.  

For understandable reasons, right now most people in the relatively rich countries are even more reluctant that they were just a few months ago to pay much attention to what is happening in other places and are prone to blame steep rises in the cost of living and the like on their own government’s alleged mistakes, but it would be strange if those who, despite such distractions, try to see things in perspective, showed no interest in finding a way of making use of Argentina’s considerable natural resources. Though these are certainly inferior to Russia’s, they are surely substantial enough to justify investments which would be huge by the very modest local standards.

 This is not necessarily an advantage because the possession of lots of land and minerals has long given politicians an excuse to adopt a dog-in-the-manger approach by patriotically refusing to allow outsiders with the necessary know-how to get anywhere near them, but after the country has gone through yet another disastrous economic and social crisis, a future government would be unlikely to behave like its predecessors, some of which made a name for themselves by telling foreigners to keep their distance. That particular policy failed so miserably that it would be insane to stick to it, but there are plenty of people out there who, accustomed as they are to blaming Argentina’s plight on the machinations of sinister conspirators holed up somewhere in New York or London, would be only too happy to do so.  

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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