Joel Bowman

“The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta.”

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

We began yesterday’s bitty missive with a simple enough observation: The world, it turns. From light to darkness; day to night; freedom and liberty to control and coercion. Of course, when it comes to day and night, coordinates matter. And when the spreading creep of twilight washes the late afternoon sky of one horizon, the dawn of a new day peers inquisitively over another.

We were thinking about all this on our afternoon stroll through the city yesterday. The old porteños were out in the plazas, sipping their mates by the big iron gates, smoking tobacco and chatting idly amongst themselves. Their faces wore deep creases, choked with years of stillborn promises and hopes long since smothered in the still of night. Salt and pepper whiskers. Unkempt hair, longish below upturned collars. Sunset in Buenos Aires.

This was not always the case. The world has turned.

From the mid-1800s, following the ousting of Juan Manuel de Rosas, through to until the 1930-40s, Argentina thrived as a bastion of relatively free commerce and trade. Spurred by many of the ideas encapsulated in Juan Bautista Alberdi’s Bases for the Political Organization of the Argentine Republic, the South American nation became the envy of its neighbors. Echoing the writings of Jefferson and Madison, Alberdi was an ardent defender of what he saw as unalienable rights, including the rights to earn and own property, without let or hindrance from the state. At the time, his thoughts on the matter were considered revolutionary:

Today we must strive for free immigration, liberty of commerce, railroads, the navigation of our rivers, the tilling of our soil, free enterprise…

Our revolutionary wars sought to establish liberty from outside oppression…what we now need is liberty within…

Our leaders want both glory and liberty, and the two are contradictory…

And so the fruits of these ideas sprung forth. By the turn of the 20th century, Argentina was the 8th most prosperous nation on earth. Only Belgium, Switzerland, Britain and a handful of former English colonies — including the United States — were more favorably positioned, economically. In 1913, Argentina’s bustling, cosmopolitan capital, Buenos Aires, had the thirteenth highest per capita telephone penetration rate in the world. Her per capita income was, around this time, 50% higher than in Italy, almost twice that of Japan and five times greater than its northern neighbor, Brazil. Argentina’s industry churned out quality textiles and frigorificos (refrigerated ships) carried her prized beef from the fertile plains of the pampas to the farthest reaches of the known world.

Argentina rose with the arc of the century…and fell with it too.

Eventually, indifferently, came the long shadows of afternoon, and with them a costly era of protectionist policies at home and increased competition abroad from the post-WWII, export-led economies. The temptation to meddle became too much for the liberty-fed pupils of Alberdi to resist. War, currency debasement, civil unrest, military rule and the usual accelerant of politicians, equal parts corrupt and inept, conspired to stultify Argentina’s vast potential. Almost without a trace, and with precious few really understanding why, the warm glow retreated from the plazas. Then, evening fell.

“I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does.” — Jorge Luis Borges.

Even now, standing atop a half century of hard won disaster, of blood and of suffering untold, the Argentine state seems only to grow in its arrogance. Long is this darkness…and long-suffering its good people.

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning

Joel Bowman

Joel Bowman is a contributor to The Daily Reckoning. After completing his degree in media communications and journalism in his home country of Australia, Joel moved to Baltimore to join the Agora Financial team. His keen interest in travel and macroeconomics first took him to New York where he regularly reported from Wall Street, and he now writes from and lives all over the world.

  • Harold O’Shaughnessy

    Seriously, when is BB coming back?

    The people have spoken!

  • Bill B. Bonner

    Soon enough, Harry. Be patient.

  • Eric

    Brilliant content, and extremely well written!

Recent Articles

The Next Car You Buy Will Be an Electric Car

Stephen Petranek

Electric cars are proving to be far cheaper to operate than anyone could have guessed. In fact, many people are now just getting the equivalent of thousands of mpg to their electric cars. And that's presenting a unique profit opportunity. Stephen Petranek explains...


A Treasure Chest of “Secret” Buy Signals

Paul Mampilly

The world's most successful investors almost always think differently. That's nowhere more apparent than when you're trying to invest in health care. Today, Paul Mampilly - one of the world's top biotech analysts - reveals one "secret" for making money from a predictable cycle in the industry. Read on...


Natural Gas: How to Stay Warm (and Profit) This Winter Season

Greg Guenthner

Right now, the city of Buffalo, NY is covered in five feet of snow. And while that may be bad news for those poor folks, it could be good news for you. Because now that another harsh winter is upon us... you have a massive opportunity for quick double-digit gains. Greg Guenthner explains...


Tip of the Day
3 “Dirty” (and Sexy) Ways to Boost Your Health Tonight

Chris Campbell

Warning: The following article is not for the puritanical. Today, Chris Campbell shows you three "dirty" health boosters you can use tonight to raise your immune system... improve your outlook on life... and make your partner a happy camper. Read on...


The Shock Doctrine: When Order Trumps Personal Freedom

James Rickards

When some event - be it a terror attack, financial panic or natural disaster - upsets the status quo, people are more willing to relinquish their freedom in favor of a greater sense of security. And that's when ambitious political leaders make their move... And as Jim Rickards explains, another such event could be right around the corner. Read on...