SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION (SSA)
(LINK corto para enviar http://wp.me/p2jyCr-xl )
(Sent to SSA, Senator Harmon and to Senator Dick Durbin)
Julio 23, 2013
This is a very unusual case; It is difficult to explain from Argentina viewpoints, but even is more difficult to be understood from The US points of view; so there are no simple, plain answers as “yes” or “no” to simple questions; that is the need for this long written report!
Perhaps the easy approach to understand Argentina is to use a supposition; (just… a wild supposition!)
Suppose: Chicago’s gangster Al Capone was not incarcerated and defeated by The Law many years ago; and his family and followers by infiltrating complices in key positions control -to day-, all public States and Federal powers: administrative, police; armed forces, The Congress, the Executive included: Sates Supreme Courts and The United States Supreme Court of Justice.
Impossible!… – …Impossible! Do you say? / * First I said, “just suppose…” / * Second: please use you imagination! – They have huge amounts of stolen public money for bribery and corruption and with only a few (well infiltrated) corrupted Justices to rule “that is legally correct..” and an obedient Supreme Court of Justice to confirm all this is Constitutional correct… What can us do individually? – We know what is moral and ethically incorrect… but these “…Infamous Traitors to the Nation…” can say: “That is legal and Constitutional correct”… So you have to choose between a moral/ethical correct but illegal (criminal) position… OR: take a moral repugnant position that keeps you under the law.
Believe it or not That’s Is The Case in Argentina! – In Argentina: The life, honor and wealth of argentines was left to the mercy of an infamous government which have the sum of public power… (Please note: those are no my words but Art. 29 of Argentine Constitution – Details in part II at end of this report)
That was the reason I came back to The US, (as a political refugee) for the second time at 68 age; Well over our Argentine and The USA legal retirement 65 age – We came back using or right to work and to make a living, and to build up by completing a modest small retirement benefits to live with dignity when we won’t be able to work any longer. To work and make a living was our legal right, but we knew it wouldn’t be easy… as I was 68 and I needed about 7 – 8 years more to reach a minimum retirement benefit, we knew it won’t be easy, but we didn’t have other choice! – To get jobs it is illegal to discriminate by sex, age, race, origin, ESL language, religion, and over qualification, but everybody knows that illegal or not it is widely used. It was not easy, but we did it any way; however that benefits may be not enough to afford remain living in The US, specially without getting money from Argentina; but Argentina is ruled by a thief government; which not only steal most of my retirement there, they wont let me bring it here, either take my retirement dollars from here to Argentina.
This report has two parts. Part I concretely explains, give information and answer question for our SSA retirement application. – Part II: Knowing the information I am given, will hard to belief, specially coming from me, I am giving here quotes, reports, explanations, and practical proposition from unquestioned and well know authorities from The US and from the world; such as are former President of The US George Bush, French Economist Ferdinand Bastias, (Legal Plunder) – Juan Bautista Alberdi (Author of Argentine Constitution, and art 29) and CATO Institute Co- Director and John Hopkins University, applied economy Professor Steve Hanke and his (complete) Report “Legalized Theft” to The US Congress, about Argentine
For the first time in (about) last 80 years, Argentina had 10 years of economic stability without inflation; it was during the administration of former President Carlos S. Menem.
Hyperinflation = hyper corruption: The previous President, (Raul Alfonsin), was liable for the worst inflation Argentina had. Incompetent President Alfonsin was forced to resign 6 month previous to the end of his presidential mandate. As hyperinflation jumped up out of control (54% during the last month!)
Already Elected President Menem received a received a Country on flames, half of rear early. To control the hyperinflation President Menem called the best inflation management specialist in the world; Applied Economy Professor of John Hopkins University, and Co Director of CATO Institute, Professor Steve Hanke; who develop for Argentina the currency plan: “Peso Convertible” – Argentine Congress fixed the value of the peso convertible è 1 to 1 with The US Dollar (as; 1 peso convertible = 1 USA dollar)
The currency plan worked perfectly during more than 10 years, until by breaking The Rule Of Law, was illegally destroyed by a thief argentine government which pretended devalued the American dollar more than 300% (YES you read well it was no “30 % it was 300%)
We (my wife Emma and me) decided to run away from Argentina and come back to The US, when the “thefts rulers of Argentina” robed us every thing we had. We lost our savings funds (US dollars) my retirement benefits, and my medical radiology practice. I still have my Office’s building and some diagnostic instruments but my patients were excluded from any billing possibilities)
I know it is going to be difficult for the SSA, to understand and to accept my description of the facts that explain why we are here (for a second time in The US) and the difficulties we have to remain here or to go back to Argentina without the integrity of our retirement monthly amount of dollars.
If I say: a criminal band of “INFAMOUS TRAITORS TO THE COUNTRY” it is not an emotional outburst of mine, but are the words of Art. 29, Juan Bautista Alberdi (end note? ) included into the Argentine Constitution (Art. 29 is still current)
Coming from me, It would difficult to accept if I say:
- “Legal Plunder”,
- “Theft government”,
- “The mess in Buenos Aires is nothing short of criminal,
- “People are trying to sneak greenbacks out of the country..”
- “This one was far more than a typical devaluation. It was legalized theft.
- “Argentina’s rulers cannot resurrect an economy by ignoring the rule of law and plundering private property.
But none of that are my own words but the words of well known international specialists as:
- Juan Bautista Alberdi (art 29 of his Argentine Constitution)
- Frédéric Bastiat – French Economist (1801-50) “legal plunder”
- Former President of The US, George Bush’s (His first State of the Union address)
- Report to The US Congress (about Argentina economy default)
- Steve H. Hanke (professor of applied economics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; Co Director of CATO Institute; and Chairman of the Friedberg Mercantile Group, Inc. in New York.
Lets read some of those quotes about Argentina infamous rulers:
- Juan Bautista Alberdi is the most important Father of Latin American Liberties, he is the Author of The Argentine Constitution; as he knew what was going to happen he included into the Constitution, hard article 29 where he clearly point out what was forbidden to do under no circumstance:
Art.29. Argentina (current) National Constitution:
Congress can not grant to the National Executive, nor the Provincial Legislatures to Provincial Governors, extraordinary powers nor the sum of public power, neither prerogatives nor special privileges in order to put the life, honor or wealth of argentines to the mercy of government, neither any person whatsoever. Acts of this nature imply absolute nullity, are utterly useless, and condemn to those who formulate, consent or endorse it, the responsibility and punishment of infamous traitors to The Patria.
- French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-50) defined “legal plunder” as the passing of a law that takes someone’s belongings and gives them to another. – Before “De Fact, Illegal, Non Constitutional Argentina President Eduardo Duhalde, the central bank’s foreign reserves guaranteed a peso holder’s legal right to freely convert a peso into a dollar. This strong convertibility feature distinguished Argentina’s setup from the typical fiat money system. Its demise also is distinctive, perversely so. – As part of Duhalde’s Jan. 6 repeal of convertibility, he confiscated $17.8 billion of foreign reserves. Until his action, that was the property of peso holders. – https://usofwa.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/to-argentina-bastias-legalized-plunder-alberdis-art-29-infamous-traitors-to-the-patria-hankes-legalized-theft
- The biggest lie of all is that the peso devaluation will get the economy going again. è Economy John Hopkins Professor Steve Hanke:
- President of The US, George Bush’s first State of the Union address: “…We have no intention of imposing our culture,” Bush said. “…But America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance…”
- “…There is a legal basis for refusing a bailout. Title 22, Section 2370 of the U.S. Code provides for suspending U.S. assistance to any country that seizes property owned by U.S. citizens or corporations or nullifies contracts with them. Americans with property in Argentina have been victimized just as much as Argentineans…” è Professor Steve Hanke’s report to The US Congress (5 March 2002)
- “…The U.S. should not tolerate the plundering. It should pressure Argentina’s rulers to restore people’s property and the rule of law. è Professor Steve Hanke…
- Argentina: “…35 DUDAS, y ACUSACIONES SOBRE LA MUERTE DE KIRCHNER SIN QUE LA JUSTICIA RESPONDA – http://eudeta.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/33-o-35-dudas-sobre-la-muerte-del-ex-presidente-argentino-kirchner
- Tentativa de Homicidio a Oficiales de La Marina de Guerra Argentina, Encarcelados Ilegalmente por este Gobierno de “Traidores a La Patria” http://eudeta.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/tentativa-de-homicidio-a-oficiales-de-la-marina-de-guerra-argentina
- Argentina: Los Kirchner Y La Naturaleza De Los Ladrones – http://eudeta.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/argentina-los-kirchner-y-la-naturaleza-de-los-ladrones –
- Argentina: Los Jueces Argentinos También Son Ciudadanos Publicado en 23 de febrero de 2013 – http://eudeta.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/los-jueces-argentinos-tambien-son-cidadanos
By Steve H. Hanke (3/04/2002 @ 12:00AM)
Argentina’s rulers cannot resurrect an economy by ignoring the rule of law and plundering private property.
The mess in Buenos Aires is nothing short of criminal. Citizens are rioting. The government is blocking depositors from tapping their bank accounts. Commercial banks have been forced to turn over dollars to the central bank. People are trying to sneak greenbacks out of the country.
When President Eduardo Duhalde ended the decade-old currency system, in which the peso and dollar both legally circulated at a 1-to-1 exchange rate, the peso was devalued. Okay, devaluations are one of life’s risks. But this one was far more than a typical devaluation. It was legalized theft.
French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-50) defined “legal plunder” as the passing of a law that takes someone’s belongings and gives them to another. Before Duhalde, the central bank’s foreign reserves guaranteed a peso holder’s legal right to freely convert a peso into a dollar. This strong convertibility feature distinguished Argentina’s setup from the typical fiat money system. Its demise also is distinctive, perversely so.
As part of Duhalde’s Jan. 6 repeal of convertibility, he confiscated $17.8 billion of foreign reserves. Until his action, that was the property of peso holders.
Convertibility’s detractors have a way of blaming Argentina’s problems not on the breakdown of the rule of law but on the strong dollar, which supposedly led to an overvalued peso. This is said to have rendered Argentina uncompetitive, causing the economy to slump and forcing Argentina to default on its debt.
Argentina uncompetitive? Nonsense. If an overvalued currency causes uncompetitiveness, you see declining exports. But Argentina’s exports rose every year in the past decade except 1999, when Brazil, its largest trading partner and a nation without dollar convertibility, suffered its own currency crisis. (Note: The crisis was not that the Brazilian real was too strong.)
Argentinean exports during the first 11 months of 2001 were 3.2% ahead of the same period in 2000. Considering that the real growth in world trade was only an estimated 0.9% last year, Argentina’s export performance was rather strong. Indeed, the export sector has been one of the few bright spots in the Argentinean economy. If the rest of the economy had been growing as fast as the exports during the last two years, Argentina would not be in a recession and the government would not be bankrupt.
Hell-bent on proving that the peso has been overvalued, convertibility’s critics also point to purportedly high prices in Buenos Aires. More nonsense. A recent Union Bank of Switzerland survey of prices in 58 of the world’s largest cities found that, for a basket of 111 goods and services, Buenos Aires ranked 22nd. That’s about midway between the most expensive city, Tokyo, and the least, Bombay.
The biggest lie of all is that the peso devaluation will get the economy going again. Let’s go through the arithmetic. To stimulate Argentina’s exports by 1%, the real value of the peso (adjusted for inflation) would have to depreciate by 10%. Argentinean exports only accounted for one-tenth of gross domestic product last year. This implies that if the current devaluation of 50% doesn’t pass through to any domestic inflation–in short, if the nominal devaluation is a real devaluation–exports will increase by around 5%. Even under these unrealistic assumptions, a 50% devaluation would only add a paltry 0.5% to a collapsed post-devaluation GDP.
Any way you cut this, there was no moral or factual justification for Argentina’s devaluation and nullification of contracts. The Bush Administration should refuse to offer any direct aid and should veto any proposal for the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank to lend money to Argentina. There is a legal basis for refusing a bailout. Title 22, Section 2370 of the U.S. Code provides for suspending U.S. assistance to any country that seizes property owned by U.S. citizens or corporations or nullifies contracts with them. Americans with property in Argentina have been victimized just as much as Argentineans.
If that isn’t enough, listen to President George Bush’s first State of the Union address. “We have no intention of imposing our culture,” Bush said. “But America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance.”
The U.S. should not tolerate the plundering. It should pressure Argentina’s rulers to restore people’s property and the rule of law.
Steve H. Hanke is a professor of applied economics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and chairman of the Friedberg Mercantile Group, Inc. in New York. Visit his home page at www.forbes.com/hanke.
Report to The US Congress
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Financial Services
Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade
5 March 2002
Steve H. Hanke – Professor of Applied Economics
The Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland 21218 and
President – Toronto Trust Argentina
Buenos Aires, Argentina (410) 516-7183
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to express my views on the causes of and cures for Argentina’s current political-economic crisis. I first became seriously interested in economic reform in Argentina shortly after meeting Argentina’s newly-elected President, Carlos Menem, in 1989. At that time, I concluded that, while stability might not be everything, everything was nothing without stability. To achieve stability, a cure for Argentina’s endemic inflation and unstable money was required. In consultation with some members of Argentina’s Congress, I developed a blueprint for monetary stability during 1990 with a fellow economist, Kurt Schuler. In 1991, our proposal for an orthodox currency board (Banco Central o Caja de Conversión? Buenos Aires: Fundación República) was published. In 1994, I became President of Toronto Trust Argentina (TTA), a balanced mutual fund which can invest in stocks and bonds. TTA has had a good record. Indeed, in 1996, Micropal ranked TTA as the best-performing emerging market mutual fund in the world. In 2000, S&P/Micropal ranked TTA third out of the 169 funds monitored in Latin America for the 1997-2000 period. During 1995-96, I was an advisor to the Minister of Economy, Domingo Cavallo. In 1999, shortly after president Carlos Menem suggested dollarization for Argentina, Kurt Schuler and I wrote a paper explaining how to achieve that goal, step by step. I presented the paper to president Menem in February (“A Dollarization Blueprint for Argentina, ”Friedberg’s Commodity and Currency Comments Experts’ Report, Toronto: Friedberg Commodity Management, Inc., February 1, 1999, available at http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/dollar.pdf). In December 2001, I updated the case for dollarization in two papers, gave talks about dollarization in Argentina and presented my new proposal to Carlos Menem on December 6, 2001 (“Argentine Endgame: Couple Dollarization with Free Banking,” Foreign Policy Briefing No. 67, Washington D.C.: Cato Institute, December 4, 2001http://www.cato.org/pubs/fpbriefs/fpb-067es.html and “How to Dollarize in Argentina Now,” with Kurt Schuler, December 20, 2001, updated January 2, 2002, http://www.cato.org/pubs/papers/schuler-hanke011231.pdf).
All this is simply intended to inform you that I have been interested and involved in Argentine affairs for over a decade, and also to indicate what the nature of that involvement has been.
What Went Wrong in Argentina?
Anyone attempting to make sense out of Argentina’s fall from grace to economic and political chaos faces a real challenge. Most of the commentary has been, at best, confused and confusing.
The road to good health began on April 1, 1991, when Carlos Menem’s government installed what was known locally as a “convertibility system” to rid Argentina of hyperinflation and give the country a confidence shock. Under the Convertibility Law, the peso and the U.S. dollar both circulated legally at a 1-to-1 exchange rate. The owner of a peso had a property right in a dollar and could freely exercise that right by converting a peso into a dollar. That redemption pledge was credible because the central bank was required by law to hold foreign reserves to fully cover its peso liabilities.
With the passage of the Law of Public Emergency and Reform of the Exchange Rate Regime on January 6, 2002, near-dictatorial powers were conferred upon President Eduardo Duhalde and the convertibility system was swept into the dustbin. The peso was floated and is currently worth less than half of its former value.
The confusing commentary about Argentina centers on its rather unusual monetary regime, which although popular with the Argentine public, was not well understood by most economists, many currency speculators, or the International Monetary Fund.
Because the convertibility system was not well understood, it has been blamed for a number of Argentina’s ills that either had little to do with convertibility or simply did not exist. The convertibility system was the linchpin for a decade of stable prices and a solid export and economic growth performance. The price level at the end of 2001 was about where it was in 1994. Exports grew each full year of the convertibility system, with the exception of 1999. And the real GDP growth rate during the decade of convertibility was greater than any other decade since World War II.
Argentina’s monetary system from April 1, 1991 to January 6, 2002 was known locally as convertibility. It was an unusual name for an unusual system. The convertibility system was not an orthodox currency board. Rather, it was a currency board-like system: a mixture of currency board and central banking features. In writings dating back to 1991, I proposed that Argentina establish an orthodox currency board and criticized convertibility as an unstable, mixed system.
Was Argentina’s monetary system an orthodox currency board?
The three defining features of an orthodox currency board are:
a fixed exchange rate with its anchor currency,
unrestricted convertibility into and out of the anchor currency at the fixed rate, and
net reserves of 100 percent or slightly more of the board’s monetary liabilities, held in foreign assets only.
Together, these three features imply that an orthodox currency board is a narrowly focused, rule-bound institution. In particular, an orthodox currency board lacks the power to conduct sterilized intervention, does not lend to the government, does not regulate commercial banks, and does not act as an official or unofficial lender of last resort.
The convertibility system lacked one or more of the defining features of an orthodox currency board throughout its lifetime. Last year, when the convertibility system began encountering severe problems, the government fiddled with the exchange rate and restricted convertibility. Throughout the lifetime of the convertibility system, the Banco Central de la República Argentina (BCRA)—note that it was never officially renamed a currency board—held extensive domestic assets in addition to its foreign assets. The BCRA was initially allowed to hold true foreign reserves of as little as 66-2/3 percent of its monetary liabilities. It was allowed to hold the difference between its true foreign reserves and 100 percent in the form of Argentine government bonds denominated in foreign currency, valued at market prices. Later, the minimum ratio was raised to 90 percent, although the BCRA was allowed to breach that floor temporarily, which it did on a number of occasions, most recently from July 25 to September 7, 2001 and from December 12, 2001 until the convertibility system ended on January 6, 2002.
The BCRA was never subject to any maximum ratio of foreign reserves. In contrast, if an orthodox currency board holds reserves beyond 100 percent of its monetary liabilities, the purpose is to merely provide a small cushion to prevent reserves from falling below 100 percent. Many currency boards have held supplementary reserves of 5 or 10 percent to guard against losses, but they have not used their supplementary reserves to conduct discretionary monetary policy and have remitted to their owners all surpluses beyond what was necessary to maintain the core and supplementary reserves. Over the course of 2001, the BCRA had a ratio of true foreign reserves to monetary liabilities that varied from a high of 193 percent on February 23 to a low of 82 percent at year-end. The BCRA gained foreign reserves through the IMF loan of September 7. It lost foreign reserves by lending to commercial banks and indirectly supporting the market for government bonds, since government bonds were used as collateral for many loans.
The holding of domestic assets and the varying of the ratio of foreign reserves to monetary liabilities meant that the BCRA engaged extensively in a discretionary policy of sterilized intervention, which an orthodox currency board does not do. The problem with sterilized intervention is that it forces a monetary authority to attempt to hit simultaneously two possibly incompatible targets—an exchange-rate target and a money-supply target. The convertibility system thus eventually encountered the problem common to all pegged exchange rates: which target to hit when the two came into conflict. Argentina chose the money-supply target, which involved giving up the exchange-rate target.
Under the convertibility system the BCRA also retained the power to regulate banks, such as by setting reserve ratios. It was unofficially a lender of last resort, though it retained a constructive ambiguity about its role that reduced moral hazard risk.
As evidence of the BCRA’s hyperactivity, one has to only look at the Bulletin of Monetary and Fiscal Affairs published quarterly by the BCRA. Each issue since April 1991 contained a long list of measures taken by the BCRA. If the BCRA had been operating as an orthodox currency board, these pages would have been blank.
In a 1993 book, Russian Currency and Finance, which I co-authored with Lars Jonung and Kurt Schuler, we predicted that Argentina’s monetary system would eventually behave more like a typical central bank than an orthodox currency board. After a longer delay than we ever expected, we were proved correct. Moral: An unorthodox, currency board-like system is an internally contradictory mixture of currency board and central banking elements. An orthodox currency board system is internally consistent and therefore does not encounter the same problems.
The original convertibility system began to crack in April 2001, when Domingo Cavallo, who had been recently appointed minister of the economy, sent a bill to Argentina’s Congress to change the peso’s anchor from the dollar to a 50-50 basket of the dollar and the euro. As economy minister in 1991, when the convertibility system was established, Cavallo had considered but rejected a similar idea. Also in April, Pedro Pou, the independent-minded president of the central bank who preferred dollarization to devaluation, was ousted on a pretext in favor of the more pliable Roque Maccarone.
Was the original convertibility system in effect until January 6?
By June the original convertibility system was definitively finished. Congress approved changing the exchange rate link if and when the euro ever appreciated to one per dollar. More importantly, Cavallo announced a preferential exchange rate for exports—a dual exchange rate. This was contrary both to the intent of the original convertibility system and of an orthodox currency board. Cavallo’s measures showed that the government was quite willing to tamper with the convertibility system. In previous episodes when confidence in the peso declined, the government had responded, sometimes after an agonizing delay, by reaffirming the link to the dollar and the commitment to a single exchange rate. By removing the cornerstones of the convertibility system, Cavallo left the edifice shaky.
By meddling with the convertibility system, Cavallo tightened monetary conditions. Indeed, peso interest rates shot up and remained at punishingly high levels until peso interest rate caps were imposed in December 2001.
In December 2001 the government imposed a freeze on bank deposits. It was the last straw. Angry Argentines remembered how high inflation during similar freezes in 1982 (engineered by Cavallo) and 1989 had robbed them of the real value of their savings. Cavallo and president Fernando de la Rúa resigned in the face of widespread protests.
There was another way out: official dollarization, which would have eliminated questions about confidence in the peso by eliminating the peso itself. Unfortunately, a lack of resolve by the Argentine government and a lack of support from the U.S. government prevented this economically beneficial, but politically somewhat difficult, option from being implemented either when president Menem first proposed it in 1999 or subsequently. Instead, Argentina temporized and eventually suffered both a currency crisis and a political crisis.
Many people assert that the crux of the Argentine crisis was an overvalued peso. Supposedly, the peso’s link to the strong US dollar made the peso overvalued, rendering Argentina uncompetitive, causing the economy to slump, and forcing the government to default.
Moral: When a currency board-like system faces a crisis caused by lack of confidence in the currency, a “hard” exit, for example via dollarization, is preferable to the “soft” exits of devaluation or floating.
Was the peso overvalued?
Does the story withstand examination? A classic sign of uncompetitiveness caused by an overvalued currency is declining exports. But Argentina’s exports increased every full year of the convertibility system except 1999, when Brazil, its largest trading partner, suffered a currency crisis. Exports during the first 11 months of 2001 were 3.2% ahead of the same period in 2000. Considering that estimated real growth in world trade was only 0.9% last year, Argentina’s export performance was relatively strong. Indeed, the export sector has been one of the few bright spots in the Argentine economy. If the rest of the economy had been growing as fast as the export sector during the last two years, Argentina would not be in a recession.
In an attempt to bolster claims that the peso was highly overvalued under the convertibility system, some observers asserted, on the basis of taxi rides from the airport or other casual impressions, that prices were high in Buenos Aires, and that high prices were evidence the peso was significantly overvalued against the dollar. A recent Union Bank of Switzerland survey of prices in 58 of the world’s largest cities found that for a basket of 111 goods and services, weighted by typical consumer habits—including three categories of house rent—Buenos Aires ranked 22nd, about midway between the most expensive city, Tokyo, and the least expensive, Bombay. The survey also found those taxi rides that were allegedly so expensive cost about 8% less than in Rio de Janeiro.
There are other indicators that contradict the overvaluation story. For example, the Economist magazine’s Big Mac Index, which compares the price of McDonald’s hamburgers around the world, indicates that the peso, before its devaluation, was 2% undervalued. In 1999 the index had indicated that the peso was 3% overvalued and in 2000 it had indicated no overvaluation. Even so, from May 15, 1999 through February 2, 2002, the Economist contained twenty-six articles claiming that the economy was being dragged down by an overvalued peso. And although the Big Mac index, as well as more sophisticated estimates of equilibrium exchange rates, should be treated with great skepticism, a recent careful study of the matter using data from 1993 to 1999 indicates that the peso was always within 6% of its so-called fundamental equilibrium real exchange rate (Kalin Hristov, “FEER and Currency Boards: Evidence from the 90’s,” unpublished manuscript, Bulgarian National Bank, presented at the Centre for Central Banking Studies (Bank of England) Conference on Exchange Rates, November 26, 2001, p. 25).
Moral: Look carefully at the evidence before claiming that a currency is overvalued. For better or worse, devaluation is now a fact. The big question going forward is: Will it revive the economy? Let’s go through the arithmetic. The short-run price elasticity for Argentine exports is about -0.1. So, to stimulate exports by 1%, the real value of the peso (adjusted for inflation) would have to depreciate by 10%. Exports in Argentina only accounted for 9% of GDP last year. Consequently, if the current devaluation of 50% (the floating peso is trading at about two to the dollar) doesn’t pass through to any domestic inflation—in short, if the nominal devaluation is a real devaluation—exports will increase by about 5%. Under this optimistic scenario, the current level of devaluation would add less than a half percent to GDP—a GDP that, thanks to the new exchange-rate regime, has collapsed. And even though estimates of price elasticity cannot be treated with very high confidence, the short-run price elasticity for exports would have to be about ten times as great as its estimated value to offset the 5% officially-projected contraction in GDP this year. If you use private-sector forecasts of the Argentina’s contraction in GDP for 2002 (which are much more pessimistic and realistic than the official estimate), the elasticity would have to be even greater.
Will the devaluation restart the economy?
Moral: When considering a regime shift, use the back of an envelope and make a few calculations. The Convertibility Law gave a peso holder the right to convert a peso into a US dollar. That redemption pledge was made credible because the central bank was required by law to hold foreign reserves to fully cover its peso liabilities. It was this redemption pledge that made the convertibility set up unique and distinguished it from the typical fiat money system.
Why was Argentina’s devaluation unique?
With the repeal of the Convertibility Law, the redemption pledge was thrown to the wind and the peso holders’ claims on foreign reserves held at the central bank were revoked. Argentina’s devaluation, then, represented more—much more—than a garden-variety devaluation. It was a great bank robbery. Foreign reserves equal to 17.8 billion dollarsthat were the property of peso holders were confiscated by the government.
That was just the beginning. In addition to taking the foreign reserves from people who held pesos, the government of Eduardo Duhalde has passed other laws and issued regulations to pesofy the economy. These have annulled property rights and ignored the rule of law. The Congress acquiesced in the government’s actions by approving the Law of Public Emergency and Reform of the Exchange Rate Regime on January 6, 2002. The law transfers extraordinary powers to the President and allows him to, in effect, rule by decree for two years (when his term is scheduled to end).
Argentina’s economy went into recession in September 1998 in the aftermath of the Asian and Russian currency crises, which resulted in a general decline in flows of investment to emerging market economies. The Brazilian currency crisis of 1999 dealt the economy another blow. Signs of recovery appeared in late 1999 and early 2000, but the incoming de la Rúa government choked the recovery by enacting large tax increases that took effect at the start of 2000. The government (and the IMF, which lent support to the government’s program) thought the tax increases were necessary to reduce the budget deficit. Instead, tax collections fell. When Domingo Cavallo became minister of the economy in March 2001, he pushed through a financial transaction tax, which was increased in August to its current rate of 0.6 percent on bank debits and credits. Although the tax rate may appear low, it is not.
Moral: In a country that fails to adhere to the rule of law, the domestic currency should be replaced with a foreign currency produced in a country that embraces the rule of law.
So, then, what caused Argentina’s crisis?
The tax increases added to the already heavy tax burden Argentines bear if they are part of the legal economy. Tax evasion is high in Argentina because the tax savings from going into the underground economy are huge. The value-added tax is 21 percent; social security and medical care taxes are 31.9 percent; and the top income tax rate of 35 percent starts at 102,300 pesos—currently less than 50,000 dollars. Compare these with US state sales taxes of 0-9 percent (there is no federal tax); Social Security and Medicare taxes of 15.3 percent; and a top federal tax rate of 38.6 percent starting at about 300,000 dollars (plus state taxes of 0-11 percent). Unlike Argentina, the United States does not tax bank credits and debits at all.
The distortions created by Argentina’s sky-high tax rates show up in the labor markets. For example, the tax wedge between gross labor costs and net wages is 42%, comparable to the largest wedges in Europe and almost double that of the U.S. It is not surprising, therefore, that the unemployment rate is relatively high and the underground economy is so vibrant.
It is also not surprising that tax revenue fell as higher tax rates aggravated the recession. Falling tax revenue made the government’s debt more precarious. Particularly after Domingo Cavallo’s changes to the convertibility system, concern about the consequences of a debt default spilled over into the currency market. Forward rates reflected an expected devaluation of the peso, and interest rates in pesos shot up to 40-60 percent. Concern about the consequences of a default also spilled over into the banking system, reflected by withdrawals of deposits and interest rates in dollars of 20-30 percent. (Most bank deposits and loans were, in fact, in dollars rather than pesos.) People feared that the government would not let the default remain compartmentalized as a problem of government finance, but would make it spill over into the rest of the economy.
Again, dollarization would have helped contain the problem, by depriving the government of a national currency as a tool for devaluation and inflation. Dollarization would not have guaranteed success—no monetary system can—but it would have improved the chances for success. It still would help today. Moral: During a recession, avoid raising tax rates and don’t “tighten” monetary conditions by meddling with monetary institutions.
The IMF’s Role in Argentina’s Crisis
During the boom years, 1990-94, when Argentina’s per capita GDP measured in dollars grew by 72.8%, the IMF played a minor role in Argentina’s economic affairs. Argentina implemented the convertibility system without the IMF’s aid or advice. Following the Mexican devaluation of December 1994, Argentina suffered a crisis of investor confidence, which it overcame by enacting policies that included a reaffirmation of its commitment to an exchange rate of 1 peso per dollar. The IMF lent Argentina funds to support these policies, and ever since has been heavily involved in Argentina. Unfortunately, the IMF threw cold water on President Menem’s dollarization proposal in early 1999. As a result, Argentina was forced to forego a much-needed positive confidence shock. When Fernando de la Rúa became president in December 1999, things went from bad to worse. His administration’s new economic plan, approved by the IMF, was supposed to lower interest rates and produce a boom by raising taxes, which was meant to reduce the government’s deficit. Its timing was awful. World interest rates in December 1999 were on the rise, so Argentina’s rates also roseand the economy slumped further into recession. Argentina was headed for a crisis of confidence, one that would plunge the economy into a deeper recession and cause debt-servicing problems. The rest is history, almost.
From there the de la Rúa administration would commit a steady stream of policy errors that would undermine the successful reforms of the early 1990s: stable money and sound banking. And during this period, the IMF stood by silently and at the same time extended more credit to Argentina.
Then, during the early days of the Duhalde government, the IMF again threw cold water on the dollarization idea. When asked about dollarization for Argentina during a press briefing on January 11, Anne Krueger, first deputy managing director of the IMF, said: “Well, my understanding at the moment is that [dollarization] is technically unfeasible. So I don’t think the authorities are thinking about it; I don’t think we are thinking about it.”
Dr. Krueger’s statement implies that the BCRA did not have enough foreign reserves to liquidate its peso monetary liabilities and dollarize the economy. According to the BCRA’s balance sheet of January 10, this was not the case, however. The BCRA’s peso monetary liabilities were 17.92 billion pesos and “pure” foreign reserves in US dollars were $14.75 billion. In addition, the BCRA had 14.96 billion pesos of domestic assets valued at market prices that could be sold to acquire U.S. dollars. Consequently, at the time Dr. Krueger made her statement, it would have been feasible for Argentina to dollarize at an exchange rate of 1 peso to 1 U.S. dollar, the rate in force under the Convertibility Law.
This, of course, leads to a number of questions. Was Dr. Krueger misinformed? Or does the IMF know something that the rest of us don’t know? In short, does the BCRA have an “Enron problem”? Either way, the IMF does not look good.
The IMF didn’t look good in Indonesia, either. When I was operating as President Suharto’s advisor in early 1998, I had recommended a currency board for Indonesia, something Suharto agreed to. The IMF went very public with an anti-currency board campaign. Part of the IMF’s attack centered on the claim that I had supposedly recommended a rupiah-dollar exchange rate of 5,000, and at that rate, the IMF concluded that the Bank of Indonesia didn’t have adequate reserves to set up a currency board.
The problem with this IMF story is that it was entirely fabricated. I did not specify a rupiah-dollar exchange rate of 5,000. Indeed, I made that clear at the time (“Voice of Suharto’s Guru,” International Herald Tribune, March 20, 1998) and have done so in many articles since.
That hasn’t stopped the IMF from rewriting monetary history in an attempt to cover up its blunders. For example, the IMF issued a 139-page working paper about Indonesia in May 2001. It was authored by Charles Enoch, Barbara Baldwin, Oliver Frécaut and Arto Kovanen, and titled, “Indonesia: Anatomy of a Banking Crisis: Two Years of Living Dangerously, 1997-99.” The authors include a largely fictive three-page account of the currency board episode. The authors assert, among other things, that I counseled President Suharto to set the rupiah-dollar exchange rate at 5,000. Not surprisingly, this account, which includes 115 footnotes, fails to document that assertion. Lies are impossible to document.
What Should the U.S. Role Be In Argentina?
The Duhalde government’s measures, especially those connected with the exchange rate and the banking system, have drawn praise from many observers as steps in the right direction. The observers are wrong. They neglect that the government’s program amounts to destruction of the rule of law, to the imperfect extent that it existed in Argentina. The government has changed the terms of some contracts between private parties, suspended the validity of other contracts, and seized wealth from some members of the public to redistribute to other members or to itself.
The Duhalde government has so disrupted rights to private property that they hardly exist any more. The government’s measures are disastrous for Argentina’s future. Without a reversal of most of the measures, Argentina will remain for years to come what it has been for more than half a century: a once-rich country that has stagnated while other countries, once poorer, surged ahead of it. If private property has no stability, there will be no reason for Argentines or foreigners to invest much in Argentina.
Observers who have praised the government’s measures have also somehow failed to notice that a depreciating peso, which is the only kind Argentina is likely to get, is massively unpopular. Since central banking was established in Argentina in 1935, the peso has depreciated against the dollar by a factor of approximately 6,000,000,000,000. In the Argentine context, a floating exchange rate has always meant a depreciating rate. The convertibility system, though imperfect, was the cornerstone of Argentina’s economic growth in the 1990s. Now that the cornerstone has been removed, much of the structure has already crumbled.
At a hearing of this subcommittee on February 6, 2002, John Taylor, the Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, remarked that he thought Argentina should have dollarized rather than frozen bank deposits on December 1. To me, it is astonishing that he did not communicate this view to Argentina’s government, since it would have carried considerable weight. Although the United States is not responsible for Argentina’s economic problems, it is in our national interest for the Treasury Department to offer advice that would promote economic growth and political stability in Argentina. The result of the Treasury’s hesitant attitude about recommending dollarization has been that Argentina is now asking the IMF and other international financial institutions for billions of dollars in new loans. Since the United States is the largest provider of funds to those organizations, if they lend to Argentina at their customary below-market rates, U.S. taxpayers will in effect be paying for the Treasury’s hesitation. This leads me to my two recommendations for U.S. policy towards Argentina.
First, recommend dollarization. As a purely technical matter,dollarization is always feasible at some exchange rate, and as Ecuador’s experience of dollarization in 2000 indicates, it is feasible even when established in the midst of political and economic chaos. The question in Argentina’s case is what exchange rate is appropriate now and, if dollarization is not adopted soon, how to determine the exchange rate that would be appropriate should a future government decide to dollarize. Dollarization remains desirable because the prospects are poor for making the peso into a stable currency that people will want to use without coercion. People trust the dollar; they do not trust the peso.
It may no longer be possible to return to an exchange rate of 1 peso per dollar, but Argentina can do what Ecuador did when it dollarized in 2000: establish a uniform exchange rate for converting local currency into dollars and apply it to all assets and liabilities denominated in local currency. This rate should not be determined mechanically, by simply looking at what exchange rate would be necessary to make the central bank’s dollar assets cover its peso monetary liabilities. The confidence that dollarization would inspire might enable dollarization to occur at an exchange rate considerably more favorable for the Argentine public than a mechanical calculation indicates.
Interest rates in pesos are far above rates in dollars because of expectations of substantial inflation. They can be adjusted as they were in Ecuador by establishing procedures for reducing nominal interest rates downward to reflect lower expectations of inflation.
My second recommendation is that the Treasury respect laws that Congress has passed, which establish the wise principle that Americans as taxpayers should not support a government that robs Americans as investors. A number of provisions of Title 22 of the U.S. Code state that the President shall deny foreign aid to governments that seize the property of or nullify contracts with U.S. citizens or corporations. These provisions also state that the President shall instruct U.S. executive directors at international financial institutions to vote against loans (except humanitarian aid loans) for such governments unless the governments have, within a specified period, provided compensation for the property taken or submitted claims for compensation to arbitration in accord with international law. The relevant provisions of Title 22 include sections 283r; section 284j; section 2370, subsection (e); and section 2370a, subsections (a) and (b).
In my view, the actions Argentina has taken should clearly trigger U.S. opposition to loans by international financial institutions to which the United States belongs. In testimony to the Joint Economic Committee on February 14, 2002, Dr. Taylor indicated that Argentina’s actions have not triggered the provisions of Title 22 because Argentina has treated all foreign investors equally. That is not the standard the provisions refer to, however; rather, the provisions are supposed to be triggered by specified violations of property rights that affect Americans whether or not other foreign investors have suffered similar violations. Mr. Chairman and members of this committee, whether the administration will enforce the laws Congress has passed depends mainly on you and your fellow legislators. If American as taxpayers end up supporting a government that has robbed them as investors in Argentina, it will send a terrible signal. Secure private property rights are an essential ingredient of our prosperity and that of every other wealthy country. To turn a blind eye to the massive violations of property rights in Argentina would not only harm U.S. investors, it would reinforce longstanding tendencies that have made Argentina a problem-prone country for most of its history. Therefore I urge you to ensure that the laws are upheld and that the United States vote against aid for Argentina from the IMF and other institutions until Argentina reverses its seizures of property or provides compensation for them.