Monday, January 24, 2022

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 17-02-2018 13:47

Making Argentina safe for corruption

Are Moyano and the rest of the serious when they go on about the harm done by the constantly rising cost of living? Not really.

Union leader Hugo Moyano knows as well as anyone that a demo in favour of corruption would not attract that many people. That is why he says the mass rally he has scheduled for next Wednesday has nothing to do with his own personal problems with the law – it is all about inflation eating into workers’ purchasing power. Along with his Kirchnerite and leftist allies, the lorry drivers’ boss accuses Mauricio Macri of not doing enough to stop prices rising because he has it in for the poor.

Are Moyano and the rest of them serious when they go on about the harm done by the constantly rising cost of living? Not really. Were the government to take the kind of measures that are used elsewhere to keep inflation at bay, they would lose no time in bringing the country to a halt by staging huge street protests and ordering union members to snarl up the traffic nationwide by refusing to exceed a speed limit of six kilometres an hour.

So what would they have Macri do to bring down inflation? Neither they, nor the many progressive-minded people who insist that the staunchly middle-of-the-road government is ruining the country by letting it run riot, have the faintest idea. They are happy to be against both inflation and any conceivable anti-inflation policy.

In the days that followed World War II, Juan Domingo Perón presumably believed his free-spending economic strategy was viable. But a few years later, when it was clear that the country was plunging headlong into a monumental crisis, he made a politically costly U-turn in an effort to go back to basics. That should have taught his supporters a lesson but – thanks to the military coup of September 1955 – most contrived to remember only the good times when wages had gone up and up and there were plenty of jobs, while forgetting what came next.

Ever since then, many Peronists have taken it for granted that, seeing austerity as a nasty foreign concept only a military dictatorship would dream of applying, all decent people should reject it outright. As far as a considerable proportion of the largely populist local establishment is concerned, all governments – even military ones – are duty-bound to continue spending far more than the available figures suggest would be wise.

Being an engineer and not – as were most previous presidents – a lawyer skilled in the art of making nonsense seem plausible, Macri seems well aware of this, but he too has found himself obliged to pay homage to the national creed, according to which Argentina is far richer than the statisticians would have us believe.

For “gradualism” – the policy of chipping away little by little at the numerous deficits in the hope that, after several years, they can be brought down to a manageable size – to have any chance of working, the coalition Macri leads would have to remain in power for at least a decade. Just a few months ago, it looked as though something like that would probably happen, what with Peronism in disarray and much of the country apparently willing to go through with what could well be described as a cultural revolution, but since then the mood has changed.

A few half-hearted and, as even government spokesmen admit, clumsily presented attempts to clear away more of the mess that was bequeathed by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her friends made it easy for the government’s fiercest critics to charge it with mounting a full-scale onslaught against pensioners, the poor and, of course, the Peronist-dominated trade union movement which allegedly stands up for the workers. That is where we are now.

Individuals such as Cristina, Moyano and the former Supreme Court justice Eugenio Zaffaroni have succeeded in installing the idea that Macri’s days in office could be numbered. What may have started as a bit of mere wishful thinking by people who have good reason to fear ending up behind bars, has already become a hard political fact that is affecting the attitudes of many who are mentally preparing themselves for yet another period of chaotic strife.

That is bad news, not just for the government but also for the country as a whole. Unless the climate improves very soon, unease about what the future could bring could cripple an economy that, despite its many chronic weaknesses, has begun to move ahead at a fairly sprightly pace. Should the economy falter, Moyano and company would have no qualms about increasing their pressure on the government with the aim of driving it out of office.

For most Argentines, the failure of yet another non-Peronist government to complete its full term would be an unmitigated disaster. Perhaps things would be marginally different if the individuals determined to bring it crashing down had prepared a socio-economic programme that, once put into effect, would allow them to spare the country the horrors they say Macri has in store for it, but they do not even pretend to have any solutions to the problems they so vehemently denounce. Does that worry any of them? If their behaviour is anything to go by, they could not care less. Their slogan is the one used by the forerunners of the Bolsheviks: “The worse, the better.” Better for them, that is.

The world has never had a shortage of ideologues willing to sacrifice their fellow beings on the altar of some political or religious abstraction, but none of the people who are unabashedly expressing their hope that Macri gets thrown out of the Pink House by an angry mob seem to have thought much about what would happen were what they yearn for finally to happen.

Were Argentina to follow Venezuela into the night, leaving half the population to starve or resort to looting, that would be OK with them; Moyano, Cristina and the hard-left firebrands who much prefer turmoil to anything resembling stability would then blame it all on Macri and congratulate themselves for helping to get rid of him. From their point of view, a disaster as appalling as Venezuela’s would be more than welcome because it not merely helps them get away from the judicial attack dogs that are snapping at their heels but would also, in many people’s eyes, discredit the kind of economic policies Macri is trying to apply.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

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


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