One of my favorite columnists is the Wall Street Journal‘s Mary Anastasia O’Grady. Today she points to disquieting similarities between the policy agenda endorsed by Barack Obama and that of Argentinian strongmen and strongwomen. After reminding readers of Argentina’s (true) liberalism of the late 19th and very early 20th century, Mary reports that this liberty and free enterprise were too-short lived.
An early example of this assault on liberty was when Congress imposed a rent freeze to deal with a housing shortage after World War I. This only exacerbated the problem, and in 1922 a politicized Supreme Court widened state powers to allow the regulation of rents. That decision put property-rights protection on a slippery slope. A decade later the Court gave the legislature the power to regulate interest rates.
The interventions didn’t end there, and as state control of the economy expanded and the nation grew poorer, the country could not recover its footing. Economic populism and labor militancy took hold; protectionism blossomed and Argentina became a welfare state. Meanwhile, the informal economy swelled under the high cost of legality.
Fiscal crises have been recurring. According to a paper recently released by researchers at the Buenos Aires business school Eseade, external debt as a percentage of GDP has now climbed to 56% compared to 54% in 2001. If you include the unpaid debt to bondholders, the number is 67%. More than a few analysts are worried that should the economy slow, the government may tap Central Bank reserves, sparking a run against the peso or, fearing that, choose
default, for the second time in a decade, as its escape hatch.
Will that mean an end to ballooning entitlements, class warfare, hostility toward producers, capital and private
property, protectionism and subsidized central-planning? Unlikely.
Americans reading that laundry list may note that it sounds a lot like the mindset of the left wing that will dominate the Democratic Party’s convention and choose Barack Obama as its candidate in August. From nationalized health care and government-owned refineries to punishing taxes on the rich, Argentina has been there, done that. There are good reasons to find the resemblance disturbing.
Disturbing indeed — although I’m perhaps a tad less worried about the U.S. than is Mary, if only because I sense that enough Americans today would resist the heavy-handed assaults on liberty and private property that have marked Argentina for much of the past hundred years. Many Americans who are charmed by Sen. Obama’s charisma and soaring rhetoric are, I believe (hope?), unwilling to go along with the concrete realities of many of the actual policies that are cloaked behind Sen. Obama’s vacuous, if pretty, public persona.
Think of seduction. The charming, worldly, handsome, silver-tongued gentleman assures the fetching babe of his sincerity and devotion to her — and, of course, of the fact that he’s not at all like the other boys and men who’ve come before him. He represents real change; he won’t deceive her, cheat on her, break her heart; he — and he alone — will sacrifice himself in long devotion to securing her happiness, for that really is all that he, enlightened by her majesty, truly desires. In return for the selfless devotion of this break-the-mold man, he asks only for access to her most select favors. He will love her in the morning, and always.
I suspect (although I’m hardly sure) that even if most Americans succumb to this deceiver’s charms and grant him access to the sanctum that is the White House, enough of these Americans — even many who are today swooning over his promises — will quickly enough start to see the real agenda (lust, for power) behind his fine words and reassuring promises. Skepticism and caution will come to replace infatuation — and hopefully soon enough so that we Americans don’t discover ourselves carrying an unwanted burden that will impoverish us. (The analogy ends here: this unwanted burden, should it come to life, will be a burden only. Unlike a child, it will be decidedly unlovely and a source of pride only to the most deluded amongst us.)