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US as Argentina

It is sometimes useful (and depressing) to look at history as a guide. Ron Holland on the Daily Bell details the decline in Argentina as a parallel to what is happening in our country.

The parallel is not without reason. In 1913 Argentina was the third richest country in the world, behind Great Britain and the U.S. According to Holland:

In 1913 Argentina’s GDP reached 72% of the U.S. level. But by 1998 it had fallen to 34%. What went wrong?

His explanation should trouble us all.

DOWN ARGENTINE WAY

by Ron Holland

•A discussion of the ominous parallels between Argentina & the U.S.

•The question is asked, can America avoid the mistakes and economic consequences that Argentina has suffered?

•Is it too late?

“There are a lot of ways to ruin an economy. Argentina has experimented with most of them. It has devalued its currency, and revalued it. It has pegged it, and then knocked down the peg. It has regulated, controlled, inspected, taxed and confiscated. Following the 2001 crisis, earnings fell by 30% – with half the nation slipping below the official poverty line. What is remarkable is that the Argentine economy has survived at all.” – Bill Bonner

“Down Argentine Way” was the 1940 film that made a star of Betty Grable, who played an attractive young woman on vacation who fell in love with a wealthy racehorse owner. The storyline actually reflected a common occurrence during the 25 years prior to the film debut.

In the early 20th century, “as rich as an Argentine” was a common expression, often used in connection with land poor British aristocrats marrying off daughters to wealthy Argentinians. We all know about Harrods Department Store in London. Few remember that during this period of Argentine prosperity Harrods also ran a store in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires is still a beautiful and interesting city. If you visit, you’ll learn that despite all the doom and gloom we hear concerning Washington debt and the dwindling dollar, there is life after debt repudiation and currency collapse. The same thing has been proven in Russia, Germany and other nations numerous times. It has even happened twice in the United States.

“May you live in interesting times” – A Chinese Curse

Since 2008, we’ve certainly lived in interesting times both in politics and in the markets. The U.S. has tried standard Keynesian economic solutions with exploding deficits and trillions in government debt to solve the problems of mania, bubble and bust in real estate and the economy.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

If you haven’t noticed, the world is full of people who appear normal but by Einstein’s standard are insane. The problem for us is that many of them are politicians and government “leaders.”

Let’s Take A Quick Look At Some Insanity Closer To Home

Do you really think voting Democrat or Republican is going to give you less government or more liberty?

Will Americans ever vote in overwhelming numbers for a third-party candidate in a national election?

If you continue to lose money with a particular investment advisor, why do you count on the performance improving next year?

The U.S. has been accumulating trillions in national debt since World War Two. Why would we think this will stop with the latest GOP victory in the House of Representatives or with the success of a few Tea Party candidates?

America will continue down the same road toward less liberty and more debt until we reach the end of the road. We will trash the dollar and keep building up our national debt until the world stops buying our Treasury obligations.

In recent weeks, China, Brazil, Germany and France have warned the U.S. to get its dollar and debt problems in order, to no avail. This will continue for quite a while, but just as our current foreign policies are opposed by most of the world, so our financial policies are now being questioned by world leaders and economists. One day the world will have had enough of our dollars and will tire of financing our debt. The dollar will cease to be the world’s reserve currency.

There is no way to know when this will happen; it could be next year or a decade from now. Our view is that before the dollar free-falls and investors flee Treasury debt, the Washington politicians will be reaching hard for your wealth, to buy more time.

There is nothing unique about what we are going through as a nation; it has happened many times throughout history, to other countries. Here in the U.S. we have had so much prosperity that we forget that wealth confiscation and economic collapse are more the norm than the exception.

Look Back At Argentina in 1913

It was an important year.

While the British Empire was first in economic size, only the United States challenged Argentina for the position of the world’s second-most powerful economy. The nation was blessed with abundant agriculture, millions of acres of farmland, navigable rivers and an accessible port system.

The country’s level of industrialization was higher than that of many European countries: railroads, automobiles and telephones were commonplace. Argentina was one of the ten richest nations in the world, and the rate of economic growth from 1870 to 1913 far exceeded that of the United States or Germany.

In 1913 Argentina’s GDP reached 72% of the U.S. level. But by 1998 it had fallen to 34%. What went wrong?

Politics and corruption. Inflation and currency depreciation were in double digits from 1945 to 1952, from 1956 to1968 and from 1970 to1974. And they were in triple digits and then quadruple digits from 1975 to 1990. In 1989, the inflation rate peaked at 5,000%! In one month the Argentine currency fell 64% against the dollar. Finally, on April 28, 1989, the printing presses were shut down because the government ran out of paper for banknotes and the printers went on strike.

Argentina’s government defaulted on its debt twice between 1870 and 1914 and again in 1982, 1989, 2002 and 2004 (to foreign creditors). It led the world in selling IOUs to foreign investors, just as America does today.

On December 23, 2001, after GDP had declined 12% for the year, the government announced a moratorium on all foreign debt — $81 billion worth. It was the largest default in history. The 500,000 foreign creditors finally agreed to accept 35 cents on the dollar. China and other creditors of the U.S. government should be looking at what happened in Argentina very closely.

More Ominous Parallels Between Argentina Then & America Today

In 1916 a new president was elected in Argentina; he had a foreign sounding name I can’t hope to pronounce. ((Can you spell it?)) He led a party called the Radicals, and their slogan was “fundamental change,” with an appeal to the lower middle class. Doesn’t this platform and campaign rhetoric sound familiar? “Change we can believe in” with a different phrasing.

He advocated a mandatory pension program, like the mandatory or “automatic” IRA” being pushed by the Democrats and some Republicans (including deep thinkers at the supposedly conservative Heritage Foundation).

He wanted mandatory health insurance and supported construction of low-income housing to stimulate the economy. Basically, like the American bailouts of 2008, in Argentina the state assumed control of a vast swath of the country’s economy and began assessing new payroll taxes to fund its efforts.

Does this remind you of what is happening to the United States?

With an increasing flow of funds into these entitlement programs, the government’s payouts quickly became overly generous. Soon the government outlays surpassed the value of the forced taxpayer contributions. Put simply, it quickly became under-funded, much like our Social Security and Medicare programs are today.

The death knell for the Argentine economy, however, came with the election of Juan Peron. Peron preached a fascist and corporatist philosophy much like Mussolini in Italy. He and his charismatic wife, Evita, first targeted their populist rhetoric at the nation’s rich. But as time went on the targeted group expanded to include most of the propertied middle class, who also became an enemy to be defeated and looted.

Under Peron, the size of government bureaucracies exploded through massive programs of social spending and by encouraging the growth of labor unions.

Again, does this sound familiar? Remember that the automobile industry bailout was directed far more toward supporting unions and their underfunded retirement and health plans than helping GM or Chrysler. It was the same on the GOP side when Washington bailed out much of the corrupt and failing big players in the American and foreign banking systems.

High taxes and economic mismanagement continued to take their toll, even after Peron had been driven from office. His populist rhetoric and ignorance of free-market economics remained on the political scene as Argentina’s federal government continued to spend far beyond its means, like America today.

Hyperinflation exploded in 1989, which is usually the final stage of collapse brought on by industrial protectionism, inflated salaries and bureaucratic regulation of the economy. The Argentinean government’s practice of printing money to pay its debts crushed the economy when inflation reached heights reminiscent of the Weimar Republic. Food riots were rampant; stores were looted; the country descended into chaos.

By 1994, Argentina’s public pensions – the equivalent of Social Security – had imploded. The payroll tax had increased from 5% to 26%, but it wasn’t enough. So Argentina implemented a value-added tax (VAT), new income taxes and a personal tax on wealth. These crushed the private sector.

A government-controlled “privatization” effort to rescue seniors’ pensions was attempted. But by 2001 even those funds had a been raided by the government, the monies replaced with defaulted Argentine government bonds. (You can read more about this in my Get Ready for the Obama Retirement Trap.)

By 2002, the Argentine government’s fiscal irresponsibility had produced a national economic crisis as severe as America’s Great Depression.

Our problems promise to produce worse. The dollar is still the world’s reserve currency, and our fall will resound in a way that Argentina’s did not. Germany, China, France and other nations have warned us that there is limited tolerance for continued U.S. money printing. The jury is still out; but if the printing continues, America is not going to like the verdict.

America Runs the Risk of Being Blamed for the Greatest Depression

There are, as we have seen, parallels between Argentina and the road the U.S. has taken. Following the 2008 meltdown, the entire world is in a tough situation. The U.S., predictably, has decided on currency depreciation to “solve” its problems. Germany, China and Russia express their displeasure.

The United States, doubtless, will be blamed for the coming meltdown. Other countries fear quite rightly what they have seen before, a tidal wave of repudiation and currency depreciation that could dramatically change the world. They know the U.S. will postpone the inevitable – but sooner or later the cumulative impact of profligacy, waste and corruption will become unstoppable. The U.S. economy will likely implode, taking the current world order with it.

We are living in the midst of a paradigm shift; the internet is having an impact on politics, information and financial markets. Such a transformation has happened before, with Gutenberg’s printing press in the 1500s, which destroyed the existing power structure and left Europe in turmoil. The invention of the press did to the religion, to the state and to the economy of the 16th century what the Internet is doing to Western society today.

This is an exciting transition period, when every established institution, from the FED to the two-party political system to Wall Street to our banking system, is being questioned and challenged by the alternative press of which we are part. Truth and change may be good in the long run, but in the near term they stress the system much like national bankruptcy and debt repudiation did in Argentina.

America Is the New Argentina!

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to always tell the difference.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Right now we can’t change the direction our nation is heading, but with courage we can still take action now to defend our wealth while we work toward political change. The economic lesson to be learned from the Argentina experience is wealth and resources can be destroyed by big government and financial mismanagement. The United States is following a path similar to Argentina’s. Our political and financial leaders are doing the same thing that those in Argentina did and somehow expecting the outcome to be different this time.

The results will not be any different. Protect your wealth, and help us warn and educate the public through your support of the Foundation.

-Ron Holland