All of a sudden, food is on the table. Hold on, isn’t that supposed to be good for a “former third World” and/or “developing” and/or “emerging” country like Argentina? It should be, unless what you are discussing is not how much food you’ll serve your family every evening but how much the dish will cost you tomorrow.
As if the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the first woman to run this country after succeeding her husband Néstor in December 2007, had not had enough in her first two years in office with a string of political misfortunes – starting with a campaign financing scandal on her third day in office, followed by an eroding bout for taxes with the country’s heavyweight farming sector, the worst global economic slump in a century and a midterm electoral defeat – now comes inflation throwing its weight around and feeding the price of food, and, most notably, Argentina’s darling, the beef.
Inflation is not just a key variable of Argentina’s economy, as it would be in any other economy. It is a collective psychological problem. If you were to look into historian parallels, you might want to re-read what the Weimar Republic hyper-inflation chaos meant for the Germans back in the 20s and how it ended politically. Argentina’s latest inflation outburst of 1989-90 – in two separate and short-lived but intense periods – did not end in the election of any Hitler-like figure but a mind-boggling eco-political gem called “convertibility” (the one peso is worth one US dollar formula). It was a collective decision to win monetary stability even at the expense of piling up a heap of debt that would for generations to come condition the country’s ability to live decently.
Worry about the symbols of beef, if you want, but do it at your own peril. The media/public frenzy about the price of tender loin might sparkle a short debate about the crazy fact that each Argentine, on average, chews (a little) and swallows over 70kg of beef per year, well in the lead in the global chart (Footnote: if poverty stands at around 30% and some ten do not have enough to eat everyday, a few Argentines are having much more beef than others).
But the beef situation is just the tip of an iceberg that includes a political psychodrama that, once it gets going, no government or authority can stop. Oh, and don’t even try to seek answers from economists. Inflation faces Argentina with a political version of an unresolved Oedipus conflict better suited for your Freuds and Lacans (there are plenty of those here) than your Adam Smiths and David Ricardos (we have a bunch of those too). The question is whether President Fernández de Kirchner will be inclined to listen to any shrink from the shrink and more importantly whether – as her approval ratings continue to sit comfortably at the lowest levels ever – Argentines will listen to her.