June 19, 2013
Follow the money?
If on Thursday the Senate voted by a margin of 44-20 votes to expropriate the Ciccone money-printing company (eight other senators, including ex-president Carlos Menem, remained on the sidelines), all 64 senators could be said to have sound reasons in favour of their stance. Who could argue against the principle of monetary sovereignty underlying this bill (since not even the world’s most free-market economies would think of privatizing the coinage)? Whatever the irregularities within Ciccone preceding this move and however justified the suspicions that this nationalization is one vast cover-up, all the shady details of the case are not the concern of Congress, strictly speaking, but of the court investigating the scandal — if any parliamentarian ends up doubting the integrity of justice at the conclusion of the trial, then would be the moment to pursue the issue but only then.
Yet the 20 senators objecting to the bill also had a point although not necessarily for the rather obvious reasons implied above or even because of the continuing mystery shrouding the Ciccone ownership. Such aspects seem to have distracted opposition senators from the crucial issue of compensation, which for the second nationalization running (after YPF oil) was conspicuous by its absence. The bill’s third article airily brushes aside the problem of compensation on the grounds that Ciccone owes AFIP tax bureau some 250 million pesos. But who says that the value of Ciccone is neither more nor less than a quarter billion pesos? What happens to the shortfall or the surplus if this is not the case? And is it fair on other tax-payers to wave aside these arrears in order to ease an expropriation? Two wrongs do not make a right — surely Ciccone should be made to meet its arrears and the compensation legally stipulated for all nationalizations should be paid out.
But beyond this blow to accountability, there is a wider issue at stake here — whatever the self-evident merits of placing the printing of currency in state hands, this Ciccone expropriation supplies a precedent favouring a general trend from the crony capitalism of the first two Kirchnerite terms to outright nationalization in Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s second term. Moreover this shift to Gosplan-style state planning is being made ahead of having a state truly worthy of the name for its implementation — perhaps because electioneering politics is presumed to reign supreme over both the public and private sectors alike. Even given the huge advances in state protagonism worldwide, a trend to watch with concern.