Argentina's next president, the center-right Mauricio Macri, must be deft in reforming the economy of a society that has moved beyond a developmental stage, to one that sees itself as "at risk."
BUENOS AIRES — The reality is that a president can wield only so much influence. Most of the issues a government today must deal with are driven by outside forces across an arc of time that extends beyond any one mandate: mediating between different interests, responding to society's entrenched and often urgent demands, making sure the state and its bureaucracy work reasonably well. After that, the president is left with a time slot in which he or she decides what to do and what to build, in line with chosen objectives.
And yet, it seems that so much is at stake with every utterance or action. It leaves us with the sense of living in a "risk society," a term coined by the sociologist Ulrich Beck to describe the threats to highly developed societies — threats that have become as important as the "developmental" issues of modernization and progress.
The concept applies to Argentina today for the very pervasive presence of insecurity, across a wide range of dangers. That inevitably leads to objectives imposed from within society that are defensive in nature, a constant quest to avert negative outcomes: Call it "preventive damage control." And while some feared situations can be sudden and surprising, like natural catastrophes, others are not hard to imagine: drug trafficking, rising crime or the need to fortify social welfare and curb environmental pollution.
If the need to modernize was the imperative before, the fundamental impulse today seems to be to seek protection against risk. In a society where uncertainty and fear are dominant, the future becomes irrelevant in the face of much more immediate threats. Expectations focus on the short term, on what is around the corner. The next government's inevitable task then, is to address the demands of our "risk society."
This defensive agenda includes two particularly relevant issues: Firstly, the new president must stop the economic deterioration bequeathed by President Cristina Kirchner, reduce the spending deficit and inflation rate, ease domestic and external trade, and recreate conditions in which the market will work reasonably well. Secondly, the need to order the economy must consider a chief aspect of the risk society: the fear of ungovernability, which carries more weight in our country than any specific values or ideologies.
Government survival and society's basic welfare are at stake in these questions. If a purely economic logic were to prevail, without regard for social and political consequences, the result would be disastrous. To overcome that danger, President-Elect Mauricio Macri and his team will require the highest level of political and technical imagination. Or they will lose public support — all the more crucial as Macri and his allies are a minority in parliament — strengthen their adversaries and enter a zone of heavy political turbulence.
And yet, beyond these defensive objectives born of the risk society, Macri should also define certain "offensive" goals for his mandate. His government must create the bases for sustained progress and modernization in Argentina. It is an exceptional task that some might call banal, but is practically a novelty in our country. Bringing change that will continue and sustain itself: That alone would usher in a whole new era in Argentine democracy.