Jobs in the middle
While it is usually important to distinguish between the rhetoric and the underlying message in President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s discourse, this rule applies especially to Thursday’s high-octane speech wielding the anti-terrorist law against a business company. The gap between rhetoric and substance is already apparent in this choice of law — if the Donnelley printing multinational are suspected of fraudulent bankruptcy in closing down their local operations, there is plenty of legislation to sanction that white-collar crime without resorting to anything with such an inflammatory name as “anti-terrorist law.” Donnelley’s United States origins would already make most listeners place this move firmly within the context of the ongoing feud with hedge funds, even without CFK spelling out that aspect at length — both in identifying specific links between the magazine printers and vulture funds including Paul Singer’s NML and in denouncing a global corporate conspiracy against national interests in general. Nor should the rhetoric be seen as purely a smokescreen — the vulture funds are very much on the top of CFK’s mind and there are definite political dividends in anti-Americanism (even before such easily demonized figures as Singer became the archenemy, the Pew Research Center surveys have consistently shown Argentina to be the most anti-US country in Latin America). And yet that was not the real message.
Instead the message should be seen as the government giving top priority to job protection as an economic slowdown increases employment jitters — the fury against Donnelley should be understood as a signal to any company local or foreign that the government will come down very hard on anybody thinking of leaving people in the street (as the printing multinational did with its 400 employees at the start of this week). In this context the “anti-terrorist law” reference is not gratuitous, driving home the point much more effectively. For all her rhetorical excesses, CFK is not alien to the popular pulse and understands that the real terror for most people is not so much Singer as losing their jobs.
Yet CFK should tread carefully on at least two points. Firstly, while somebody quoting Paul Krugman cannot be accused of being wholly anti-American, she should not throw out the baby with the bathwater and confuse the likes of Singer with the country to which he pays no taxes. And secondly, while the priority given by Kirchnerism to protecting employment over more than a decade is perhaps its best feature, it should be remembered that attracting investors is an important part of job creation.