Why Isn’t Everyone Talking About Argentina?

Have you ever read the New York Times Latin American coverage and asked yourself why it sounds as if it is being written by a CIA station chief, circa 1965?  The tone and analysis of the Times’ coverage suggests that their Latin American desk is still in feverish pursuit of communist revolutionaries.  Hugo Chavez is a red menace and every lefty is under suspicion.  It is like gun-boat politics never faded away.  Well, rather than having to parse through the articles and do my own analysis, I received a gift when I stumbled into this Salon article which notices the same thing.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was recently elected president of Argentina.  Why should you care?  First of all, Argentina is perhaps the best example of how a nation can survive sovereign default (not a story that MSM punditocracy wants to tell to Greeks, Italians, Portugese, etc).  Second, Argentina has been prospering under a decidedly leftist set of policies.  You read correctly, leftists can make a nation more prosperous.  So, is it any wonder that the New York Times and the Washington Post has nothing nice to say about Kirchner?  From Salon:

When Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was reelected two weeks ago by the largest margin of any leader since the return of democracy in 1983, even her bitterest opponents had to admit that she’d done something right. Clarín, Buenos Aires’ highest-circulation daily and a strong contender for the title of Kirchner’s enemy No. 1, acknowledged that the president had earned her victory by creating jobs and prosperity. Mauricio Macri, the conservative mayor of Buenos Aires, congratulated Fernández and told reporters, “If things go well for the president, things go well for us.”

But on the pages of America’s leading newspapers, the tone was strikingly less conciliatory. Despite her evident success, the New York Times dedicated itself to  cataloging Fernandéz’s failings before concluding, in the voice of one source, that Argentine economic growth will soon slow and “there will be a political reckoning.”  The editorial board of the Washington Post echoed this prediction, warning that Fernández might turn to authoritarian measures to preserve her power and suggesting, “so far the signs are not good.”

The U.S. press has been forecasting imminent disaster since Fernández’s late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, assumed office in 2003, promising to prioritize shared recovery over foreign lenders left in the cold by the country’s 2002 sovereign debt default. The couple’s unorthodox economic policies have done what Washington experts believed impossible. Kirchner’s way has fostered breakneck growth, dramatically reduced poverty rates and secured “kirchnerismo” three presidential terms. Yet U.S. media outlets have downplayed these achievements in favor of attention to the Kirchners’ perceived instability at home and unpopularity with creditors abroad.

It’s a narrative so ingrained in the DNA of Washington that not even a landslide election could wipe it out.

 You mean to say you can prosper without bond vigilantes shoving austerity down the populations throat and conducting a fire-sale of your nation’s assets?  The Kirchners had the nerve to reject the Washington consensus, and thus the intrepid Latin American reporters at the NYT and Post are relentlessly unforgiving and myopic.  Salon describes how The Post is nothing but contemptuous of Kirchner:

The Post editors saw no need for such niceties. They attributed Fernández’ victory to “familiar populist policies that produced a burst of growth” and to “dressing in black and benefiting from public sympathy” over her husband’s death in October 2010. Predicting that growth will slow next year, they offered the president a stark choice: “adopt responsible but unpopular policies to avoid another bust” (in other words, toe the line of the Washington Consensus on economic policymaking) or “redouble her populism” and face a “reckoning.”

Salon describes The New York Times contempt:

The Times’ takedown came not from the editorial board but from Southern Cone bureau chief Alexei Barrionuevo. Rather than condemn Fernández in his own voice, Barrionuevo cites a parade of analysts, all with negative things to say. The first one he quotes claimed that “this election seemed to defy the normal rules of politics,” presumably because of the government’s “corruption and cronyism.” Yet it would seem that voters’ willingness to overlook allegations corruption at a time of robust economic expansion and real wage growth follows rather than challenges “the normal rules” of politics.

The Salon aritcle provides genuine depth to the Argentine story.  As much as we heard about Celtic Tigers and other bank fueled miracle stories, you’d think there would be more time to discuss such happy outcomes:

The results of these efforts have been impressive, especially in terms of equality.  Unemployment has dropped by half since 2003. After decades of widening ineqality, the income gap that separates the wealthy from the middle class and the poor is finally diminishing. The percentage of the population in extreme poverty has declined from nearly 20 percent in 2002 to an astounding 2.4 percent in 2009. Meanwhile the income share of the top decile has fallen below 34 percent from its 2002 high-water mark of nearly 40 percent. Argentina may not yet have regained its standing in the eyes of the world’s investment banks, but it has recovered its middle class.

Given outcomes like these, it’s no surprise that Fernández’s opponents couldn’t gain much traction in this year’s campaign. And given kirchnerismo’s lack of regard for the creditors and advisors of the West, it also makes sense that the U.S. press establishment would be cold in its embrace. Thumbing your nose at the wise men of global capitalism, it would seem, is an offense not easily overlooked by the brightest beacons of our press establishment.

But maybe, just maybe, the United States has something to learn from Argentina’s recent experiment. Late last month at the G-20 summit in Cannes, France, Fernández denounced what she characterized as the “anarcho-capitalism” of a global financial system dominated by underregulated investors and demanded a “return to serious capitalism, where the priority is consumption, creating jobs, and aid packages that are meant to help the real economy,” not well-connected banks.

Please read the Salon article.  It is quite balanced.  It doesn’t shy away from the darkside of Kirchner’s politics, which are, apparently, intolerant of dissent.  Also, Argentina’s economy is undoubtedly benefitting from a commodities boom that is unlikely to last at current levels.

Nevertheless, Argentina’s story is interesting because it goes against so much of the received wisdom we hear from our opinion and policy leaders and because it is a feel good story too.  I used to think that being interesting mattered to news outlets who wanted circulation and eyeballs.  Unfortunately, it is naive to think that news outlets are trying to reach a mass audience.  They have become so beholden to their ownership that you can’t assume their interested in good stories.  In this time of crisis in Greece and in other Eurozone countries it is important to get the word out that there is another way that has been proven to work.  Let’s not forget that the U.S. is in the midst of its own austerity mania.  The US has a bi-partisan super-committee dedicated to making massive cuts.  The US has a president and two political parties on the verge of making drastic cuts to our safety net.  This bogus austerity agenda is exactly what the Kirchners rejected and their story is an important counter-point to the received wisdom that dominates economic policy discourse.

 

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4 thoughts on “Why Isn’t Everyone Talking About Argentina?

  1. berkeley22

    bravo.

    the people in the nytimes still act as if their words or lies will be believed simply because of who they are, as if no real alternative sources exist that could contradict them. this wasn’t true a hundred years ago, though it passed for true, but today it’s ridiculous.

    the article points to the continuing media monopoly that holds most of our fellow citizens in it’s grip. the internet’s biggest consequence will be the final demolition of that monopoly, sometime soon.

    1. mueblespasayo

      Great points. A hundred years ago Hearst had Ambrose Bierce chasing down railroad monopolists. From Wikipedia:

      “In January 1896 Hearst dispatched Bierce to Washington, D.C. to foil this attempt. The essence of the plot was secrecy; the railroads’ advocates hoped to get the bill through Congress without any public notice or hearings. When the angered Huntington confronted Bierce on the steps of the Capitol and told Bierce to name his price, Bierce’s answer ended up in newspapers nationwide: “My price is one hundred thirty million dollars. If, when you are ready to pay, I happen to be out of town, you may hand it over to my friend, the Treasurer of the United States”.[8] Bierce’s coverage and diatribes on the subject aroused such public wrath that the bill was defeated. Bierce returned to California in November.”

      These days our great papers value access above all else.

  2. mueblespasayo

    The New York Times is responding to pressure from this blog, but still only in the opinion section (its a joke, not a delusion). Here is the link:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/11/opinion/sunday/on-the-middle-class-lessons-from-latin-america.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2

    For this opinion piece: What Latin America Can Teach Us, Published: December 10, 2011

    Here is a nice couple of paragraphs from the end of the piece.

    Mexico and other Latin American lands are reshaping our national characters and democratic politics in our quest for a larger and more vibrant middle class, and at last we are having some success. The United States’ middle class is coming under increasing pressure as the income gap between it and the very rich widens.

    Do Americans really have nothing to learn from us, after we have learned so much from them?

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