Blessings And Curses Of Argentina's Economy

For all its resources, the South American country still struggles with high inflation and extreme poverty. The solution must be both deep and long-term changes.

'Are we cursed? What are we doing wrong?'
"Are we cursed? What are we doing wrong?"
Alicia Cabellero*


BUENOS AIRES — In her delectable and very original book Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?, Swedish author Katrine Marçal highlights the ways (both paid and unpaid) that women contribute to the economy. She also makes the case that homo economicus — the so-called economic or rational man — is oblivious to the moral, emotional and cultural considerations that have contributed so much to growth and economic development, and that his conduct jeopardizes, in the long-term, the things that are most valuable and precious.

Likewise, the recent Nobel economics laureate Richard Thaler argues that when we buy into the idea that people behave rationally, the forecasts we make based on that assumption are at odds with reality.

I welcome these new lines of thinking, which understand economics to be a social science and expand its analysis to include cultural, historical, political and ethical dimensions. The functioning of the economy depends on millions of decisions motivated by interest and greed, but also fear, a sense of duty or solidarity, or transcendental aspirations.

No economic system can function without an underlying scale of values

Furthermore, it should be clear that a country's wealth and the welfare of its inhabitants do not depend exclusively on natural resources or interest or exchange rates, but also on the ability to create consensus, and build and administer the right institutions while respecting rules, generating certainty and applying an adequate system of rewards and penalties.

The economy is closely linked to society's values. Indeed, it's safe to say that no economic system can function without an underlying scale of values. A sustainable program that seeks to reduce structural poverty using education and job creation follows different axes from one that merely seeks to keep poverty in check. And it is diametrically opposed to a clientelist system that creates even more needy people. Political rhetoric has at times made people believe that handouts that enslave them are actually a great help.

The OECD reports that inflation in Argentina will touch 34% this year — Photo: Steve Johnson/Unsplash

Argentina is a nation blessed with so many natural resources. It also managed, at one stage, to stand out for its public education standards (a prerequisite for generating human capital) and the quality of its scientists. And yet, it has so far been unable to move on from the types of economic problems — like inflation and extreme poverty — that so many other countries have long overcome.

Are we cursed? What are we doing wrong? The answer is not purely and exclusively one of economic variables. It lies, rather, in our inability to generate, agree on and sustain a long-term project that defines the country's productive and trading profile (goods and services) and levels of integration with the world, while considering geopolitics, demography and a range of limitations.

It's also crucial that we go beyond just words: Decisions need to be made to match the rhetoric

One must also define the precise kinds of policies that can be implemented to gradually reduce structural poverty. This will never happen through magic or trickle-down, but with long-term programs that not only distribute resources but also, specifically help youngsters insert themselves in some productive, work scheme. If we blame our current economic problems on bad monetary, fiscal or exchange decisions, we shall never be able to get back on track toward creating a system that benefits everyone.

It's also crucial that we go beyond just words: Decisions need to be made to match the rhetoric. Part of that too is recognizing that everything will pass, including power. We should turn to the most suitable people in each area. And that means choosing not just the most intelligent people, but those with experience and specialization.

There can be no economic development (defined as growth plus human promotion) without a prior institutional reconstruction. And that, in turn, requires a profound ethical dimension — in all areas, from politics to business to law. Even in sports.

Lastly, an element of crucial importance is the moral and technical quality of our leadership (politicians, businesspeople, trade unionists and intellectuals). Just as it is difficult for rude parents to raise a respectful child, one can expect little from incapable and immoral rulers.

Not only that, but we must hold them to an even higher standard than that of ordinary folk, as their actions affect the lives and welfare of so many. This may all seem abstract, but it becomes dramatically real when — through a mix of negligence and shared immorality — an entire city is flooded or a train cannot break on time.

*Caballero heads the Economics Faculty at Argentina's Pontifical Catholic University.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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