On Greece and Argentina

We’ve been reading commentary online (most notably by Paul Krugman) comparing Greece’s possible default to Argentina’s default in 2001. For anyone interested in a debt crisis and its possible aftermath, Benjamin Kunkel’s article on post-crisis Argentina is worth revisiting. An excerpt follows. Read the article in Issue 11.

Argentina entered the new century in straits similar to those of a disquieting number of European counties today. With the peso shackled to the dollar, it had (as Greece, Spain, and the other so-called PIIGS on the periphery of the Eurozone do today) what appeared to be an irremediably overvalued currency sapping the competitiveness of its exports, along with mounting difficulties servicing its debt as tax receipts dwindled in the face of recession. The counsel of the IMF was naturally for austerity. The Argentines should maintain dollar convertibility—that is, a pricey currency—and trim public expenditure in order to cover interest payments. . . . [Yet] austerity in the face of gigantic indebtedness . . . yielded precisely the devaluation and default it was supposed to prevent. If the Argentine experience is truly as exemplary as the IMF once maintained, the story can’t be a heartening one in light of the turn toward austerity today being undertaken in Europe and threatened in the US.

Image: Argentina riots on 9 de Julio during the financial and governmental meltdown of 2001. From argentinaindependent.com.

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