Argentina: Is the Pendulum Swinging, Again?

When Argentina entered the 20th Century, its prospects looked bright. On a per person basis, its economy was on par with Canada and Sweden and about two-thirds of the United States.

This all changed in 1946 when the country elected Juan Peron to the presidency. Peron launched plans to foster social justice through economic redistribution. The government sector grew rapidly (spending and money printing) and very high inflation (300%+) became the norm. Standards of living plummeted.

Without a change in policies, inflation could not be eradicated. Then, in the 1990s, Argentina tried a currency board arrangement where each Argentine peso was backed by one American dollar. Like the old-fashioned gold standard before the creation of the Federal Reserve, each unit of Argentine currency was backed by something that held its value. That currency board system worked for about a decade, bringing inflation down to US levels and spurring a decade of solid economic growth.

However, it broke down in 2001-02, largely because government spending never really subsided. When the government couldn’t print new money, it borrowed. Investors (correctly) thought politicians would abandon the currency board and let the value of the peso fall at the first sign of economic trouble. And that’s exactly what happened.