Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union

 Today is the annual State of the Union address so as we enjoy Buenos Aires we pause to give thanks for the blessing of a free country and the chance to fix the problems we face. Two hundred years ago both the US and Argentina were lands of great opportunity, vast natural resources and the destination of hundreds of thousands of European immigrants searching for a better life.  I have read some fine books trying to explain why the US became the greatest power in world history, the richest country in the world (also the biggest debtor) and why Argentina rose to economic strength in 1900 only to fall from grace and be the world's worst serial defaulter nation.  Argentina has borrowed billions from the worlds banks and then failed to pay them back.  They have done this multiple times and even today, the local crisis is because President Kirchner wants to use bank reserves to pay back the defaulted bonds issued a decade ago.  The state of this union is not good.  The President does not trust her own Vice President, wants to sack the head of the Central Bank, and even cancelled her trip to China last week as she is afraid if she leaves the country her own VP and some cabinet members will do things behind her back. She cries out "conspiracy" day after day in the press.
  Yet there are when we go to the airport, there are no long lines at security.  In fact, there is not much security.  You walk through a metal detector and the man looking into the machine is not even paying attention, he is laughing and chatting with his fellow guards.  Pro forma, and then you realize this country is not at war.  In fact, the people here are happy, do not fear terrorist attacks and are enjoying a fine summer without daily headlines of car bombs or failed airline disasters, or soldiers dying in Afghanistan. Their economy is running pretty well, as they are a huge agricultural export economy with plenty of their own oil, gas and all kinds of food.  Their number one export market is China and their Trade Minister is there today signing a major expansion of that relationship.  Their politics are messy, the left wingers still blockade streets to force the government to give more benefits. They have 10% unemplyment and 7% inflation.  Their economy is a mix of social welfare political redistribution and they love to blame America and European bankers for their problems.  Say, it sounds like the state of their union is not that much different than the state of our union.  Except we are still at war and we will eventually solve our economic problems.
 So we spent the day walking through the vast Recoleta Cemetary, wandered through the Art Museum (fantastic European collection) and walked down Alvear Street from one beautiful end to the other.  Ah, Argentina is magnificent.

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