June 28, 2010
You gotta love Maradona’s new look – and his team are playing like angels.
What more could you ask for?
I’d love to be a fly on the dressing room wall for his team talks.
Let’s hope the Argentinians go all the way, because they are a joy to watch.
Seeing the Argentinians play football got me thinking of the mistakes they have made economically over the years. As someone who visits Argentina regularly and has a small business in that country, I find it difficult to reconcile these clever people with the mess they have made of the macro economy.
However, one thing that strikes you when you are in Argentina is the sense that life goes on, no matter how many financial crises the country seems to suffer.
At the moment, Ireland looks and feels like Argentina in the late 1990s.A few years ago, this column suggested that a heavily-indebted Ireland in a currency union would end up like Uruguay or Argentina and that we should examine what had happened there. The idea that we might have something to learn from Latin America was derided in 2007.We are here now.
Let’s go back to the late 1990s – when Maradona was trying to super-size himself – to see what happened in the last crisis. The major mistake the Argentinians made ten years ago was to stick with a hard currency when all of their trading partners devalued in 1998.After the Asian crisis, the world’s emerging market countries devalued to try to get out of recession.
Argentina, under IMF and Washington pressure, didn’t. It tried to stay with a currency linked to the US dollar.
The problem was that Argentina had run up huge debts in the 1990s and, in the subsequent recession, it had no way of paying the money back. So it did what Ireland is doing now: it borrowed more to try to pay off more. Clearly, this policy was doomed.
But the IMF, as it is now doing here, told them they were doing fine and that a recession was preferable to devaluing the peso.
So, without exports, the Argentinian economy seized up. On top of this, the IMF imposed an austerity programme, which cut back government spending at a time when the average Argentinian was terrified and – of course -not spending.
This made the economy weaker.
Unemployment rose and rose, and money flowed out of the country.
As private money retreated and the private sector stopped financing Argentina, the IMF stepped in with loans and loan guarantees. This is exactly what is happening in Ireland.
The ECB is the only institution now prepared to finance Irish banks.
The interbank market is closed to Ireland.
The government borrowed money last week at twice the interest rate Germany pays – despite ECB and IMF guarantees, and even though we are supposed to be in a monetary union with Germany.
We are still paying more for our debt than Spain yet, last week, the IMF said we were doing just fine. How can we be doing fine if we can’t get any cash, if no one trusts us?
Maybe the reason the IMF (an institution whose forecasters completely missed our crash, by the way) said we were doing fine is because it remembers what happened in Argentina. As capital left that country in 1999, the IMF kept telling the government it was on the right track, possibly because the IMF’s own money was on the hook. I was working in an emerging markets trading team at the time and I remember it well.
The parallels with Ireland are chilling.
Eventually, the Argentine banking system imploded as people took out their savings – they could see the nonsense of incurring more debt to pay old debt.
Not just Ireland, but the entire EU seems to be now moving down the road of needless austerity, at a time when unemployment is rising and, more severely, debts are rising.
You can’t deflate your way out of debt.
Last Friday in Toronto, Argentina’s flamboyant president, Cristina Kirchner, warned that ‘‘many eurozone countries today have applied the same policies that led Argentina to disaster’’.
You might find it difficult to take advice from the botoxed ‘‘high priestess of Peronism’’ but, the same day, George Soros said something very similar.
Soros argued that there was a fundamental inconsistency at the heart of the euro. If the Germans want to keep the euro alive, they have to keep printing money to make sure that peripheral countries don’t default.
This means that the austerity Germany wants will simply lead Germany itself to default unless it is prepared to accept much higher inflation as a result of the ECB printing money.
Soros concludes that the Germans won’t accept this, so he forecasts that either the Germans will leave the euro because of inflation, or the periphery – Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland – will leave because of default.
While all this is going on outside, and will have a huge impact on what happens next here, we in Ireland are being asked to cheerlead while Ernst &Young tell us about our ‘‘jobless recovery’’.
How can a recovery be jobless? It is only a recovery if it leads to jobs.
The jobless recovery is exactly what we had in the 1980s. In the 1980s,we had nine years of economic growth.
Only in one year did economic growth fall – and then it was modest – yet we had 400,000 people leave the country, and unemployment hovered at 18 per cent. So the term ‘‘economic growth’’ was meaningless to hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens.
The jobless recovery is an insider recovery where the outsiders, the unemployed and the emigrants, get cast aside.
This is what happened in the 1980s and it is being championed again now. The country is turned into a large debt-servicing machine.
This is not a growth strategy, it is a debt strategy whereby we pay the huge debts run up by our banks and property oligarchs.
Eventually, as has happened time and again in Latin America, the people say ‘Enough!’. If the government is not acting in our interest, we take matters into our own hands and take our money out, rather than see it used to pay for the mistakes of the banks.
At least Argentina has the consolation of great football teams and a manager who looks like Cesare Borgia!