A Country with 1M Superfluous People?

From Cuidad Nueva via Mirada Global, a look at poverty in Argentina:

One of Argentina’s unresolved matters in its Bicentennial is related to poverty, which increased notoriously during the ‘90s, when it rose. ..to over 40%. The country has natural resources and it is far from being overpopulated; in other words, it doesn’t share the causes that provoke poverty in most of the world. Then what explains the poverty of 1/3 of Argentineans?


When this real social wound reaches the media, there are several arguments: that the poor have a much heavier fiscal burden than the rich, down to blaming everything going wrong to public corruption, passing through the discussion about whether which is more important in order to revert poverty, a tax reform or adequate social policies capable for instance of combating patronage systems, drugs and insecurity. There is, however, a crucial issue that goes by unnoticed: the relation between the productive model and poverty.

In modern economies, the participation in wealth takes place through production activities, as employer, employee or independent worker: the first instance of the distribution of goods is access to a worthy job. But which are the jobs that are well remunerated? In economy, and to a large extent, prices determine profitable activities, at least in principle. However, not all the economies generate work in the same measure, which is determined by technique and technology. The possibilities of generating employment in a given “productive profile” come across obvious technical limitations, it isn’t just a question of popular imagination, voluntarism or ideology.

Also available in Spanish.

Tim Reidy


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7 years 11 months ago
I just spent 5 days in Argentina and it is my 4th time there in the last 10 years.  I like Buenos Aires a lot and find it a fun city to poke around and watch tango shows.  There are lots of museums and there seems to be a park every other block in the center city.  It is bustling with zillions of taxis but you can see the effects of economic strain as nearly every side walk is in serious need of repair.  But I want to pass on an anecdote not from Buenos Aires, the state around the city makes up half of the country, but from Mendoza which is in the foothills of the Andes.

Mendoza is the wine growing region of Argentina and Argentina is becoming a force in this industry as it now ranks fifth in the world, mainly from the wineries around Mendoza.  When we were there, we asked when the grapes would be harvested and they said it depends but the main time is in March.  We asked who picked the grapes since machines are used by few of the wineries.  They said they have a migrant labor population from Bolivia that come down to do the picking and there are several areas just for them to live in the Mendoza area.  So poverty has not extended to other Argentinians to the extent that they will pick grapes or harvest fruit so that the country does not need to import migrant help.

Mendoza now has about 1000 wineries and only 20 years ago had as few as 40 mainly for table wine for dinner.  These new wineries are for fine wine and Mendoza produces some very good wines.  One of the people we talked to said that the climate for investing changed just as they found that Mendoza was an excellent place to grow wine grapes.  He said that there was a time not too long ago that if there was foreign investment, one could not tell if you were successful if the government would step in and find a reason some reason why they should take your business away.  Consequently this attitude led to a lack of investment, which meant fewer businesses, which means fewer jobs of any type let alone good ones.

So the lesson I learned is a good investment climate leads to good jobs for people.  And just over the Andes is Santiago which is booming and one of the more modern cities in the world.  Chile depends heavily on the price of copper and right now it is high and while there are shanties there are also mile after mile of high rises, modern buildings and side walk cafe's where people were going to dinner.  And in the last 20 years a new section of the city has rose up which houses all this Chilean and foreign investment.

So set up policies that encourage investment not impediments to starting a business or onerous employment laws that restrict it. 
ed gleason
7 years 11 months ago
How is it that countries with great natural resources like Argentina and Chile [ as Cosgrove mentions] also have such poverty. Scandinavian countries , do not have these huge pockets of poverty and have no great disparities in wealth and there  ostentatious lifestyles are considered in poor taste.. Is it possible that countries with Catholic culture/theology are plagued with inequality and that somehow Lutheran theology/culture brings with it a more egalitarian stance. Maybe some theologians here can tell us why inequality flourishes in Catholic cultures and not in Lutheran countries. Maybe it's not economic policy differences that plague the commonweals.. it's theology in action.   I just found out that Scandinavian countries give foreign aid to poor countries at many times per capita of Catholic countries also including the USA. Why?? 
David Cruz-Uribe
7 years 11 months ago
It is good to see that Max Weber and "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" are not dead.  A cultural analysis is an important component of any comparison of countries, but it cannot be the only facet.  It is worth noting that Southern Germany is heavily Catholic, yet the home of many financial and industrial concerns, making it a vibrant part of the German economy.   In the same way, the legacies of economic imperialism in Latin America need to be considered in any analysis:  we cannot simply reduce it to some flaw in Catholic theology. 
Juan Lino
7 years 11 months ago
Thank you Tim for highlighting something we generally ignore - the relation between the productive model and poverty.  I am going to look into this a bit more.
7 years 11 months ago
I just mentioned that Chile and Santiago in particular is booming.  Now three days and some isolated experiences do not make a world view but I came across more than one person who was out making it on their own in three different places in Chile and no one looked desperate.  Only Santiago was really modern, as modern as any US city I know of.  The other parts of Chile looked like the US from movies of the 1950's and 60's.  It was less than a year ago that Chile suffered the 4th largest earthquake in recorded history and no where did I see anything that was the result of it.  I did not visit anywhere near the epi center in Concepcion but from what I heard this area is also back to work. 
Mendoza in Argentina is not a city of nice suburban neighborhoods as in the US but neither is it one with people laying around on the sidewalk doing nothing.  We tend to look at our own current culture and judge anyone behind as impoverished when what we see in other areas is what we looked like 40-50 years ago.  It was only a few years ago that I took the train into New York City to work and when it passed Harlem, it often looked like a bombed out area with abandoned buildings, broken windows etc.  And we do have Detroit so the US has its problems with poverty.
People will use the resources if they are allowed to and human ingenuity will find ways to make things happen.  It is when they are stifled that we see poverty.  In the early 1900's Argentina was one of the most prosperous areas of the world (ranked 4th or 5th globally on a per person basis.) and Buenos Aires one of the world's truly great cities.  But Argentina went a different way and stagnated.  Still Buenos Aires is still one of the more interesting cities of the world and what little we saw of Argentina, they are moving in the right direction.  Hopefully, politics will not stifle it again.
Scandinavia is a collection of small homogeneous peoples and we should not use them as examples of anything that is transferable to other areas.  Socialistic policies work when the horizon is short and the people are very homogeneous, not the situation anywhere in Latin America and certainly not in the US.  Also Lutherans are not exemplars of the Protestant ethic which is attributed to Calvinist offshoots.


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