Absolute Return Partners March 2014
A Century of Policy Mistakes
”There are four types of countries: the developed, the underdeveloped, Japan and Argentina.”
Simon Kuznets, Nobel Laureate
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When Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in June 1914 whilst visiting the city of Sarajevo, little did the people of Argentina realise what would follow. Not only did it mean four years of death and devastation in Europe but, for the good people of the Pampas and beyond, it would also mark the beginning of a very long slide from riches to rags.
It is not my intention to pick on Argentina; however it represents a unique opportunity to analyse and understand the long-term consequences of policy mistakes. In the case of Argentina, the fact that the ruling classes were kleptocrats didn’t exactly make the situation any better.
Don’t cry for me Argentina
Now, before you accuse me of having converted to the philosophy of Karl Marx, consider the following: A century ago Argentina ranked as one of the wealthiest countries in world, behind the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia but ahead of countries such as France, Germany and Italy. Its per capita income was 92% of the G16 average; it is 43% today. Life in Argentina was good. It enjoyed the benefits of one of the highest growth rates in the world and attracted immigrants left, right and centre. Boom times galore.
Argentina’s wealth was based on agriculture, but also on its strong ties with the UK, the pre-World War I global powerhouse. Equally importantly, it understood the importance of free trade and took advantage of the relatively open markets which prevailed in the years leading to the Great War. Most importantly, though, it benefitted from, but also relied upon, enormous inflows of capital from the rest of the world. All of this is well documented in a recent piece in The Economist which you can find here.
However, World War I changed all of that. The British Empire began to lose its gloss during the period that followed. The depression of the early 1930s effectively put an end to the free trade system which Argentina relied so much on and, critically, foreign investments dried up. These factors alone do not fully explain Argentina’s demise, though. The misery was amplified by a series of policy mistakes. At the most basic level, it failed to educate its children. For a country of such wealth, it is an embarrassing fact that it had a much lower literacy rate than
Full PDF The Absolute Return Letter 0314