September 1, 2014
The long farewell II
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s state-of-the-nation speech last weekend was widely seen by critics as an improvement on previous years, if only because it was slightly shorter and considerably less confrontational, and yet it lacked the essential ingredient for such messages — “the vision thing” in the words of the elder George Bush. There is a case for saying that CFK did not do full justice to the past, present or future. Neglecting the future (aside from highlighting the energy prospects in a longer term) is hardly surprising in a speech almost entirely bereft of any specific announcements for the year ahead and if such current problems as inflation and crime (not to mention corruption) were denied the importance they occupy in the public mind, that is nothing new. But the claim that CFK also betrayed the past seems more contentious after a speech in which 80 percent was dedicated to glorifying the previous decade. Even if the President used the World Bank and other international statistics to point out significant social progress from recent years, she often made the 2001-2 meltdown her basis for comparative reference, which is long overdue for an overhaul. CFK herself is contradictory as to the validity of such comparisons — while hailing some advances (sometimes confusing real and nominal figures) since then, she argued with some point that it was false to speak of Argentine energy self-sufficiency in 2003 because a crippled industry and a poverty-stricken population meant that nothing was being imported rather than the real needs being met.
Perhaps one line along which she could usefully re-invent Kirchnerism would be to show more concern for the quality of public spending (with the accompanying self-criticism) as against sheer state expansion. Right at the start of the speech she said that 2003 had introduced a new paradigm whereby the state and the people defined policy, not the economy. But the state’s growth as a percentage of the economy with a sharply rising tax burden and fiscal deficit has far outstripped the improvement of public services to a degree that the state is no longer seen as a guarantee of equality and progress. As for the people, CFK did something to close the vast distance between herself and the everyday public pulse (echoing widespread anxieties about the start of classes and irritation with pickets) but she still has a long way to go — not least on the crucial price front.
Today is Carnival but afterwards the party must come to an end.