PBS on Argentina

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 9 07:26:24 MDT 2002

Last night's "Wide Angle" Public TV documentary on Argentina was an 
eye-opener. Eschewing any kind of political or economic analysis of how the 
country ended up in the desperate situation it is in today, it focused on a 
handful of individuals who are emblematic of the country's fitful attempt 
to adjust to what amounts to Great Depression type conditions.

The title of the show was "The Empty ATM" since it concentrated mostly on 
the inability of Argentinians to withdraw money from frozen savings 
accounts that--in addition--have lost most of their value since the 
government enacted a series of financial "reforms". One woman's savings 
plummeted from $118,000 to $18,000 in a single year. Even then, she could 
not withdraw more than a pittance from an ATM in a single week.

In an attempt to survive, many are involved in a barter economy which uses 
an informal currency based on credits. People congregate at huge indoor 
spaces to exchange services like haircuts or household goods. A barter 
kingpin who is shown racing from town to town to set up new centers tells 
us that this is the best way to deal with the hardships and not to waste 
time protesting.

It also included contestants participating in "Human Resources", a TV show 
where one competes for a modest job, like a sales clerk, instead of one 
million dollars or a trip around the world. Tuesday's NY Times had an 
article on the show:

On Camera, Jobless Argentines Vie for a Livelihood

BUENOS AIRES, Aug. 6 — Other countries may have television programs that 
lure entrants with offers of a million dollars, a new car or a luxury 
vacation in a tropical clime. But in this nation of broken finances and 
shattered dreams, contestants on a popular new game show compete for a 
prize that is increasingly rare and precious: a paying job.

Broadcast five days a week, the hourlong program known as "Human Resources" 
pits two unemployed people in a contest to win a guaranteed six-month work 
contract. They relate their life stories and answer questions that test 
their ability to perform the duties they are seeking. Then viewers vote by 
telephone to decide which of the two should get the coveted job.

On Monday, the prize was a position as a sales clerk at a bakery in a 
suburb of the Argentine capital. Both contestants were pleasant young women 
who have been unable to find work since finishing high school. Fátima 
Rueda, an 18-year-old single mother, and Nadia Bravo, 20, pleaded tearfully 
with the viewing audience.

"I feel helpless" without work, said one. "I feel empty," confessed the 
other. After every commercial break, a well-groomed blond hostess, much in 
the mold of Vanna White, urged viewers to call a toll-free number to 
support their favorite.

On the air since mid-April, "Human Resources" is a reflection of a new 
national obsession in a country of 37 million that until recently was the 
most prosperous in Latin America. As the Argentine economy continues to 
contract in a collapse that is now the statistical equivalent of the Great 
Depression, fears of being pulled into the black hole are growing, 
especially among the middle class.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/07/international/americas/07ARGE.html


Afterwards Joseph Stiglitz spoke to an interviewer for about 10 minutes in 
a phony, hand-wringing exercise. He blamed IMF shortsightedness for 
Argentina's woes and emphasized the need for expanded trade to get the 
country on its feet again. He specifically cited Mexico's rebound after 
1995 as what Argentina needed, implicitly giving his approval to NAFTA and 
other forms of free trade liberalization. You can watch this excerpt at: 

You can also get an analysis of "what went wrong" in Argentina from Daniel 
Yergin, the author of "The Commanding Heights", a paean to the kind of 
privatization and deregulation that has had such devastating results. 
Yergin says:

 >>When did Argentina embark on this "distinctive" path? After all, 
Argentina was once one of the richest countries in the world. The answer 
starts with Juan Perón. Now best remembered as the husband of Evita, Perón 
emerged as Argentina's strongman in the years after World War II. The 
embodiment of nationalistic populism, Perón built on the prewar legacy of 
fascist ideas, turning Argentina into a corporatist country, with powerful 
organized interest groups -- big business, labor unions, military, farmers 
-- that negotiated with the government for position and resources. Perón 
nationalized large parts of the economy, put up trade barriers, and cut 
Argentina's links to the world economy -- long the source of its great 
wealth. Perón was also wildly popular -- until Evita's death in 1952. 
Thereafter, however, the economy became so chaotic that he prudently went 
into exile.<<

Of course, Argentina's troubles begin with the overthrow of Peron. Contrary 
to the mendacious Yergin, Perón was much more of a social democrat than a 
fascist. Nationalizing large parts of the economy and putting up trade 
barriers in fact is what helped the country begin to develop, just as 
protectionist measures helped turn Great Britain and other European powers 
into industrial giants. For an alternative analysis of Argentina's 
collapse, go to: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/state_and_revolution.htm


Louis Proyect

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