Blaming Peronism For All That's Broken In Argentina

Juan Domingo and Eva Peron memorial in Buenos Aires
Juan Domingo and Eva Peron memorial in Buenos Aires
Susana Decibe*

Argentina's former Minister of Education Susana Decibe asks if "Peronism" — that brand of Latin American politics named after the 20th century Argentine President Juan expand=1] Domingo Perón and his second wife Eva Perón, and popularly associated with a unique mix of social justice and state paternalism — is to blame for the country's current dysfunctional democracy.

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina emerged from a military dictatorship 30 years ago, and we have yet to establish an intelligent state that acts as regulator and provider of basic services, and attain a more integrated and peaceful society. Worse, the Republic's basic laws are weakened and subjected to debate every time some minor problem comes up, fundamentally unrelated to the national interest.

I wonder: If Peronism has been the political current that has governed for big chunks of this period, is it principally responsible for the fragility of state institutions, persistant poverty, violence, a growing drug trade and the degradation of basic services? Let's see.

The brand of Peronism that has governed in this period has had little to do with the historical movement that worked in the mid-20th century to forge a fairer society and guide the country on the path to industrialization.

Rather than fighting poverty and promoting development, this new Peronism has devoted itself more to representing the vested interests of certain leaders — administrators of territories practically turned into private political estates, or provincial or local leaders often bereft of a strategic vision or concern for development or social inclusion. It has built an efficient system of personal favors, clientelism and dependence that has not so much ended poverty as solidified it.

Not without reason, Peronism has taken the blame for everything these past 30 years, while its current "non-version" has merely had the task of winning and exercising power. My opinion is that Peronism has become a particular form of being Argentine — valued, imitated and even outdone by leaders from other parties and sectors of society.


It seems to be a way of disregarding norms, reaching your objective by hook or by crook, or shamelessly trading it in for its own exact opposite. And why not, when there is no moral or ideological anchor?

This decline began with the military dictatorship in the 1970s, and no social or political force could reverse it. There has been little progress since. We learned the value of living in a democracy, but are more determined to right the wrongs of the past than change current problems — even if these provoke deaths or quite considerable suffering.

We seem to find it hard to link the state's shortcomings to corruption or lack of accountability. Without an exemplary administration, nations do not evolve, and ours seems increasingly deprived of the means and freedom needed for participation. Indiscipline, road blocks and looting are given space to exist, but not, it seems, the intellectual and physical means of exercising the rights of full citizenship.

An incipient trend toward decentralization in the 1980s, designed to improve the economy's efficiency, apparently disintegrated into a draining of the state and its resources in the 1990s. Debates, long-term political agreements, transparency and the defence of the public good were absent. Privatizations were supposed to represent a transfer of know-how, technologies and procedures, to make us more capable and competitive. Peronism under President Carlos Menem made bold changes and oversaw Argentina's entry into the free-market economy, while the opposition retreated into a bitter defence of the public sector, even though it knew the model had collapsed.

Thence we came, via a crisis, to a new Peronist phase — of the Kirchner variety. Without any desire to correct mistakes or reflect on past events, a new discourse arrived with the presidents Nestor and Cristina Kirchner, supposedly "national and popular" in nature, and based on an inexistant "youth" following represented by La Cámpora.

Kirchner, Peron: power women — Photo: Presidencia de la N. Argentina/La razon de mi vida/Worldcrunch

Basically, thanks to the high prices our agricultural products have fetched on international markets, a flood of financial resources have created a state that is bloated, unprofessional and incompetent. Around it is a society more divided and violent by the day, infected with drug trafficking and the setting of increasingly anarchical protest movements and uncertainty about the future.

So yes, Peronism did this, but very often with the help of other parties, the judiciary, media, leading actors in the economy, guilds, soccer leagues and large segments of society. From a means of winning and exercising power, it has become a way of coming out of crises. It used to be the Army, now it is Peronism.

In response, and before we start blaming the evident culprits while a "new version" of Peronism emerges to help us recover from this latest crisis, we must instead begin to push the political system in its widest sense. We must launch a profound debate on the type of state we need to build, which commitments we will need to revive a better political culture, and how we can thrive again on the example of a society eager for good customs, lawfulness and peaceful coexistence.

*Susana Decibe served as Argentina's Education Minister from 1996 to 1999 under President Carlos Menem.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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