Throughout the world, politicians are in a nervous mood. With hard times fast approaching, neither they nor anyone else know what could be done to prevent people from blaming them for what is coming their way. When they see what has just happened in Sri Lanka, where huge mobs hounded out the president and prime minister before going on to make the most of the amenities available in their plush residences, they tremble and ask themselves if something similar could happen to them.
There are no straightforward answers to the questions confronting them; politicians enjoy life when plenty of funds are available and become querulously miserable when told they have run out. In the UK, one of the two finalists in the Tory knockout competition, Rishi Sunak, sternly warns that taxes should remain high because otherwise inflation will skyrocket, while his opponent, Liz Truss, wants to lower them so people have more money in their pockets, smart phones, bank accounts or wherever they keep it.
Similar arguments are going on in most other countries but they are unlikely to lead anywhere. It will take time for economies which in effect closed down when the pandemic was raging and then started getting battered by the war in Eastern Europe which quickly pushed up energy prices to be able to provide people with the goods and services they have come to rely on. Even trying to explain this is enough to make a politician look like a heartless skinflint.
In Argentina, the hell-for-leather wing of the Kirchnerite movement is all for squeezing the rich and what remains of the middle class because it needs money to pay its own activists what they think they deserve and finance the welfare programmes that help them get the votes they need, while opposition leaders say taxes must be reduced sharply so business enterprises big and small can do their stuff. Both are right; without high taxes, millions will find it desperately hard to survive, but unless they are brought down, the productive side of the economy will collapse under their weight.
In a better ordered country, tax policy would head the government’s agenda, but as far as Alberto Fernández, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the rest of them are concerned, what Argentina most needs right now is a thoroughgoing judicial reform. If circumstances were different, their obsessive interest in the private lives of influential magistrates could be seen as reflecting a healthy understanding that Argentina’s plight is the result of the contempt far too many people feel for mere legality but, of course, it does not. What Alberto and Cristina pray for is that things in this department to stay much as they have always been. The last thing they want is an honest judiciary that, by making Argentina more like the Scandinavian countries and modern Germany which they say they admire and would like to emulate, would make life much harder for them.
While it is possible that they really do think that those northern lands are better than the alternatives and it would splendid if Argentina could be more like them, for that to happen she would have to undergo an ethical revolution which, though it would end up benefitting a great many people, would be extremely unpleasant for bent politicians. In Finland or Denmark, the kind of behaviour that enabled Cristina to rise to the top and then stay there would surely have landed her in jail.
If pressed, most Argentines will say that in their view corruption is bad and should not be tolerated, but the truth is that few are that much troubled by it. Time and time again, a majority has been more than happy to vote for politicians who were widely known to be on the take but supposedly were capable of governing more effectively than their rivals, an attitude which was summed up by the memorable sound bite, “ele rouba mas faz” (he steals but gets things done) which a Brazilian used back in the 1950s to describe what voters thought of the notorious Sao Paulo boss Adhemar de Barros and why they voted for him. As for the man himself, he did not object to what his opponents assumed was a deadly insult because he knew it helped him by crediting him with the ability to make things better despite his picturesque personal foibles.
Zealous Kirchnerites are kleptocrats who clearly believe that their leader’s willingness to appropriate large sums of public money, supplemented by whatever the business community had to offer, is a minor matter when measured against the immense benefits they think she has bestowed on the country, While it is feasible that some devotees really do believe that Cristina is a scrupulously honest woman who has never - well, hardly ever - laid a finger on anything that did not belong to her, it may be assumed that most are well aware that she is accustomed to grabbing everything within sight. Exactly how much she, her relatives and cronies have managed to rake in by illicit means since Néstor Kirchner took over Santa Cruz in 1971 is difficult to say. Some suspect it runs into the billions of dollars. They may be exaggerating, but there can be little doubt that many millions have been steered into their coffers.
To get away with ransacking the country, the Kirchnerites would have had to govern it with a considerable degree of efficiency. Here and in many other parts of the world, politicians are allowed to keep whatever comes into their hands if the populace feels they are doing a decent job. Unfortunately for Cristina, she has not kept her side of that tacit bargain. Thanks in large measure to her efforts, Argentina now boasts a country-risk rating which, according to some, is worse than Ukraine’s.
Cristina is as aware as anyone else that her own personal fate will depend almost entirely on how the rest of the population fares in the coming months. This is why she continues to throw tantrums and flail away at government members who attract her attention and, of course, the four Supreme Court justices. With support for her dropping week after week, she fears that more public prosecutors and judges are beginning to feel confident enough to sentence her to a lengthy jail term for her many misdeeds after letting her have her day in court. The evidence against her is certainly overwhelming. She herself says that the courts have prepared a guilty verdict and may have already signed it, presumably because she knows that, in the light of what is in the public domain, plus whatever else comes up when formal proceedings get underway, there is simply no way she can wriggle free.