During my first visit to South America, I was struck by the contrast between Chile (one of the economically freest nations of the Western Hemisphere) and Argentina (only Venezuela and Cuba are worse). Chile has enjoyed the benefits of its economic freedom, as the only Latin American country in the OECD, and through economic might that enabled it to cope with natural disasters and potential national tragedies.
Meanwhile, Argentina is suffering from a man-made disaster of more than a century of corrupt and incompetent rule, first by the oligarchs then by the Peronistas. As Stef Haggard noted in his book Pathways from the Periphery, Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world in 1900, but was easily passed by Korea and Taiwan with their access to education and the concomitant labor mobility.
Last week, the AP reported on the stark consequences Argentina by President Cristina Fernandez. With inflation running at 25% annually (10x that of neighboring Chile) none of the locals want to hold pesos, so for years they have been rushing to trade them in for foreign currency or goods:
Brazil once had an inflation problem too, but seems to have a more competent government that has promoted industrial development and economic growth. I don’t know a lot about Brazil, but the socialists seem more pragmatic (with an economic freedom index comparable to Italy) than in Argentina (which is more like Angola). Both are plagued by corruption (unlike Chile) but Brazil has average property rights and financial freedom versus Argentina’s abysmal record on both counts.
Despite their abysmal economic record, the Peronistas have dominated Argentinian politics for decades. Apparently populist demagoguery trumps actual competence — thank God we don’t have that problem in the U.S.