Argentina under the sea

La Nación. Dec, 2021

"Every state expenditure is a private income. Every privilege regulation creates a captive market. And every market reserved for some is a cost for others.

After 80 years of experimenting with multiple dirigiste recipes, sectors that live off state spending or that thrive in niches without competition have been consolidated. Like geological layers, one recipe succeeds another and each one creates a new layer on top of the previous one. In the end, the status quo remains immovable, controlling politics and the economy, ensuring that no one can reform it, even if it means slow collective suicide.

This metaphor, so illustrative, should be the prologue of any essay that pretends to explain the Argentine drama. If a ship capsizes and its hull settles at the bottom of the sea, it could be refloated with air pressure, crane, linga and winch. But after eight decades, new forms of life are developing inside, claiming for the subsistence of their habitat: fish, octopus, mussels, sponges, crabs, sea urchins and coral polyps, as well as thousands of plant species. As in reefs, this ecosystem adapts and interacts through mutualistic practices that ensure its survival.

If someone were to try to revive it, they would face complaints, claims and pickets from those who would allege the alteration of their environment, the destruction of their homes and the extinction of their livelihoods. Under these conditions, any change seems impossible.

Politicians defend or attack public spending pretending to ignore the teaching of metaphor. Those who defend it coin increasingly absurd names for agencies and departments that describe laudable ends, but only create new forms of private income, such as the frustrated packaging law. More fish, octopus and mussels. Those who condemn it, promise to lower it in the abstract, avoiding, by strategy or ignorance, that every penny of expenditure has an owner who will not allow it to be taken away. Octopuses and urchins know how to defend themselves. As the IMF knows: it is the restriction that conditions any serious government program.

There is almost no activity that does not have a direct or indirect interest in the subsistence of spending or privilege regulations. Starting with the structure of the State, including the Nation, provinces and municipalities. With its political positions, advisors, employees or contracted employees. Essential, superfluous or redundant functions, described in detailed organization charts. In addition to the untouchable state-owned companies, decentralized and autarchic agencies, mixed entities and trusts, which defend their distance from the financial administration law. And in the last few years, the enormous flows of funds without control, poured into economic subsidies and social plans, with their opulent operators, their astute intermediaries and their rickety beneficiaries.

There is almost no activity that does not have or does not aspire to achieve some regulation that establishes entry barriers to competitors or imposes contracting conditions of public order. From labor unions, with their compulsory contributions and social security contributions, to "sensitive" industries; from liberal professions to transportation, commercial or financial services. Non-automatic licenses, tariffs, permits, discretionary authorizations, compulsory membership, bureaucratic registrations, technical homologations, arbitrary prohibitions (such as pharmacy chains), coercive costs, intentional obstacles, forced subcontracting and an endless number of devices to create private capital gains at the expense of the public treasury, at the expense of consumers' pockets.

Those who feel alien to state spending or its privileged regulations will be surprised when they realize, in their network of customers and suppliers, how many of them depend on these sources of income to survive in their businesses. The marine ecosystem has expanded from stem to stern.

There is no evil in this. After 80 years, there are millions of Argentines with honest jobs who, fearing change, oppose the salvage of the ship. Those who profit the most from the status quo are the corrupt trade unionists, the businessmen, the industrialists of the trial, the contractors of the return, the experts in exactions and the traffickers of influences, who use so many good men to shield their businesses, arguing the defense of employment.

Mobilizing crowds with other people's money, they fill squares and cut avenues to mark the court to politics. With the ability to obtain audiences, organize breakfasts and deliver briefcases, they make sure that their factional interests prevail over the general interest. They even pretend to identify them with sovereignty and the national being.

Without refloating Argentina from the bottom of the sea, it will not be possible to reduce the deficit, inflation or poverty. Without opening markets to competition, suppressing privileges and trading with the world, there will be no productivity improvements, in order to truly grow and improve real wages. Only by reducing public spending will it be possible to eliminate the deficit, monetary emission and stop the inflationary spiral, the main cause of poverty. Only by increasing the GDP per capita will it be possible to finance education, health, security and benefits essential for equal opportunities.

The leaders promise to achieve these objectives, avoiding the harsh reality, so as not to face it. The ship is sinking, with this ecosystem living inside it. Out of ignorance or strategy, everyone prefers to pull rabbits out of the hat, as if Argentina could be saved without structural changes. Each one tries to go off on a tangent with utopian or failed formulas. Some insist on going back to 1974, with national liberation. The more classical ones, with public works plans. The leftists, with the fair distribution of a non-existent income. The most innovative, with algorithms or cryptocurrencies. They all promise that the ship will advance without leaving the bottom, satisfying everyone, without disturbing anyone. The marine ecosystem has clouded their vision and conditions them.

The challenge is to convince a critical majority of the population about the promising future of Argentina if each sector would stop clinging to conquests already empty of content, an unsustainable ballast. Patches are useless, nor is acting on a case-by-case basis. No one will individually accept to join the change without the certainty that it is a simultaneous and collective mega transformation.

Argentina needs a qualitative leap to change its current living conditions and those of the next generations. It requires political leadership and unpostponable consensus to refloat the ship and reconvert its ecosystem. This is the only way to get out of the depths of the sea, to start sailing at full speed and leave behind the nightmare of exclusion and poverty that leaves us breathless, stuck to the bottom.

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