Earlier this month, Acton and Instituto Acton Argentina hosted a daylong conference exploring the relationship between religious and economic freedom. Scholars from around the world, including Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg, traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to discuss the ways in which Christianity has contributed to building the foundations of freedom. In a new article for the American Spectator, Gregg discusses some issues he observed while visiting the country:
The first thing I noticed while recently lecturing in Argentina was just how much conditions had deteriorated since my last visit in 2010. The center of Buenos Aires is an impressive mixture of Art Deco, Baroque, nineteenth-century Parisian, and colonial styles alongside often surprisingly tasteful modern architecture. Amidst those same streets, however, it’s hard not to observe the increased number of beggars, the people befuddled by drink and drugs, the prostitutes, and the numerous homeless sleeping in doorways and the many elegant parks. Moreover, once you drive a few miles away from Buenos Aires’s center, you quickly encounter shanty towns that are no-go areas for the police.
Such contrasts are a common backdrop to contemporary Argentina. Another disparity is between the rampant inflation and general decline in living standards on the one hand, and the interminable “equality-and-social-justice” rhetoric that rules public discourse on the other. The brutal reality is that twelve years of the combined presidencies of the late Néstor Kirchner and his wife Cristina Kirchner and their leftist-populist economic policies have—in the name of promoting greater economic equality and social justice—helped drive Argentina even further into economic decrepitude.
In 2013, Uruguay’s then-President José Mujica—a former leftist guerrilla who’s no conservative—disapprovingly labeled the Argentine government’s approach to the economy as “autarchist.” Such policies have included nationalizing large industries, increasing protectionism, import-substitution measures, on-going expansions of regulation, and the establishment of currency controls. Depending on who you talk to in Argentina, there are at least five official and unofficial exchange rates for the Argentine peso. Unsurprisingly, no one’s anxious to use the government-mandated rates. Most people opt for what’s called the “blue market.” When I queried why the word “blue” was used, I was informed: “Well, it’s a more elegant word than ‘black.’”