March 11, 2014
Sometimes in the best of places (and perhaps especially in the best of places), the left hand does not know that the right hand is doing — this would seem to apply to the world’s superpower with United States President Barack Obama’s jab about Argentine inequality coming precisely at a time when Washington is responding more positively to Argentina’s foreign debt stance, perhaps in the perception that new winds are blowing after the recent Cabinet changes here. The validity of Obama’s Argentina reference was debatable, to say the least, but its timing was definitely wrong — just when Argentina was showing signs of breaking out of years of isolationism and economic nationalism with members of Obama’s own administration apparently anxious to encourage the shift. Last week Washington requested US Supreme Court intervention over a hedge fund’s bid for information on Argentine assets outside the US — virtually its first step in favour of the Argentine quest for a Supreme Court review of New York foreign debt litigation.
Hopefully, the US government’s deeds will speak louder than its president’s words and the budding clash will be forgotten — indeed, perhaps luckily for Obama, the death of Nelson Mandela a few hours after Obama’s outburst was aired wiped it off international and even local radar screens altogether. Perhaps Obama thought that the self-critical tone of his comment sufficed to cover it in warning that US income inequality was sinking into the same league as Argentina and Jamaica. The twinning of Argentina and Jamaica is already puzzling — two countries which have probably not been named in the same context since sharing a 1998 World Cup group. We can only speak for Argentina. Perhaps Obama was irked by official statistics showing the US having more than treble the percentage of population below the poverty line as Argentina (15.1 versus 4.7 percent) — this is the combination of a high threshold for the poverty line in the US (an annual US$23,000 per household) and of the INDEC statistics bureau’s overt manipulation of inflation data to show the family shopping-basket within reach of a fictitiously high percentage of the population.
But whatever the statistical quirks, both supporters and critics of the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration would agree on progress towards social equality in the “won decade” — the supporters pointing to ambitious social legislation helping the poor while critics would assert that the almighty middle class is being beggared by a voracious state.