PBS on Argentina
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
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
By LARRY ROHTER
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.
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.
>>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
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
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