Wednesday, July 17, 2024

OP-ED | 03-10-2020 09:27

The poverty trap

It is a sad reflection on a general resignation to economic decline that this confirmation of massive poverty failed to act as a national wake-up call in most circles.

Today’s 30th anniversary of German reunification finds this country anything but unified and nor is that only a question of the notorious “grieta” rift. The ruling Frente de Todos coalition is proving to be less rather than more than the sum of its parts with problems in finding a consistent stance on any issue, be it stop-go economic policies or security – the crisis of confidence it has yet to surmount cannot be simplified as just the dollar. This week’s great national loss, Quino, may have discontinued his trademark Mafalda comic strip in 1973 but the passage of nearly half a century does not find this country leaving any shortage of ammunition for the acid commentary of that precocious mouth.

Always easy to criticise, of course, and anybody watching Tuesday’s chaotic and dysfunctional debate between the two main presidential contenders in the United States would hardly dare to claim any superiority for the superpower’s domestic politics. Nor are there any guarantees that a government displaying more consistency and less procrastination would be performing any better in these strange times – if 20/20 vision is synonymous with normal eyesight, this pandemic year of 2020 is anything but normal. Covid-19 does indeed provide the perfect alibi, far more than the inheritance of the preceding Mauricio Macri administration, which the Frente de Todos government often singles out for the blame but is far more debatable (hinging on whether more debt and less deficit is better or worse with last year’s negative growth of -2.1 percent now looking highly relative). But the only problem with an entirely justified focus on the pandemic is that the suspended animation chosen to counter it is no more compatible with life than coronavirus.

Yet perhaps ignoring the elephant in the room should not be so difficult this week after the shocking (if not surprising) poverty figures announced on Wednesday. These are figures which cannot lightly be dismissed as a statistical blip of this pandemic year because they project into an ever darker future – if two Argentines out of every five below the poverty line is catastrophic, four out of seven children growing up in impoverished households ominously points to the worst being yet to come beyond the pandemic.

It is a sad reflection on a general resignation to economic decline that this confirmation of massive poverty failed to act as a national wake-up call in most circles. Perhaps mindful of its own crass failure to meet its 2015 campaign promise of “zero poverty,” the opposition preferred to focus on Tuesday’s Supreme Court per saltum to suspend the Senate vote transferring three federal appeals court judges back to their original benches – an issue given prime importance by both sides since this trio is involved in the corruption trials of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner but which really should not be competing with economic collapse, or Covid-19 carnage, or poverty.

Then on Thursday the government sought to change the agenda from the quarantine fatigue inflicting such damage on its opinion poll approval ratings with the “confidence shock” of lowering export duties (although only as a temporary reprieve) for a rapid injection of dollars into faltering Central Bank reserves – part of a drive to boost exports by 50 percent at all odds with global trends when world trade is forecast to plunge by nearly 30 percent in this pandemic year.

Yet nothing should change the subject from the appalling poverty statistics confirmed on Wednesday, however inevitable they might seem in the light of pandemic fatalism. Both state welfare and charity are urgently needed but at the same time they only serve to confirm structural poverty. That old adage about giving a poor man a fishing-rod rather than fish should be borne in mind but is also increasingly outdated – that fishing-rod could now cost thousands of dollars in the form of leaving the poor educationally and digitally equipped for work in the 21st century. The challenge of poverty is never going to be solved in the remains of this year and probably not in this decade but it should never be allowed to fade into the oblivion of an “Argentina secreta.”  


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