Friday, January 16, 2015

Life after an Economic Collapse: The same… only Worse Part II

(Folks, in case you haven’t read it, here’s the link to part I)
It is sad to see many of the problems Argentina has been experiencing after its economic collapse becoming more common in developed countries around the world. The world isn’t about to end, we’re not donning our leather jackets and holstering a sawed-off shotgun as we head to the Australian wasteland, but the world has changed, hasn’t it? When people ask me when did Argentina change from what it used to be to what it is now, I tell them that other than certain specific incidents, such as rioting, corruption scandals, resignations and defaults, there really wasn’t a specific date. You just wake up one day or contemplate the reality around you one day and you go “Damn, what the hell happened to us?” You see dollar-tree stores where you used to have bookstores, you see take-away joints of dubious quality where you once had fine restaurants. Malls close down or are left half deserted, with few patrons walking about. You see more people begging, the colors of the clothes worn fading as they get older and aren’t replaced with new ones, you see the stern faces, and then it hits you. You’re no longer living in the same place.
The purpose of this series of posts is to help you understand what may already be happening in your city and what is likely to happen in the future. Argentina’s economy collapsed in 2001. Today, experts mostly agree that the global economic crisis started in 2008, so Argentina has a seven year head start. Granted, hopefully your country won’t fall as hard as Argentina did, but you’ll see the similarities on almost all categories to a greater or lesser degree.

As the economy suffers, so does the infrastructure. Everything from roads, power lines, sewers, flood prevention, traffic signaling, buildings, parks, bridges, it all requires constant maintenance. This is of course very expensive, and one of the more obvious signs of bad economic times is bad infrastructure all around. Anyone that ever traveled to the 3rd world has probably seen it: There’s not much urban coherence, everything seems to be just thrown together without consultation and a total lack of planning. Power, TV and phone cables hang over your head in all directions. Just like power fails each summer, communications aren’t very reliable either. Public buildings are in particularly poor shape. Ironically enough, this is the University of Buenos Aires, where I studied Architecture.

There’s no central heating or air conditioners, the elevator is famously dangerous when it works and the toilets are in pitiful condition. You have to get there on time to find a bench to sit on and you better keep an eye on your belongings because they will get stolen right in front of you.

Floods and other Disasters
The problem is again, lack of investment and infrastructure. There’s no money to train and keep enough rescue personnel. There’s practically nothing done in terms of prevention and education. Everything from widespread rioting to wildfires and pandemics, it’s all handled poorly to say the last.
Regarding floods, there’s enormous amounts of litter on the streets which clog storm drains. Storm drains are also made of pretty heavy metal so… remember the inflation problems, along with crime and unemployment mentioned in Part I? Storm drain grated inlets are usually made of heavy iron. That iron fetches a nice price when sold, so these are constantly being stolen all over the country. Everything from statues, historic plaques in monuments and even doorknobs have been stolen because of the price of metals.
If flood prevention investment is a problem in developed nations, you can imagine how bad it gets in a place like Argentina. Without hurricanes or even serious storms, just heavy rain is enough to end in tragedy.

In April 2013 a flood in the capital city La Plata claimed over 100 lives. As years go by and the infrastructure is not only not upgraded but keeps deteriorating, floods are yet another problem people in Buenos Aires have to deal with.
This problem is already occurring in USA.

Terrorism Threat
Less money also means less security on the borders. In the case of Argentina the problem was twofold. On one hand there not even an attempt to secure the borders, so anyone walks into the country. On the other hand there’s no political intention to do so either. People from Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay, the poorest northern neighbors, just walk into the country, get a local ID and sign up to collect benefits. They of course vote with this in mind, so the current Kirchner government knows that each immigrant vote is a vote for them. My wife for example, she had to renew her national ID. She waited in line for several hours and was handed a number, told to come back the following day. At the same time and right next to her line was another one for immigrants. Their line moved quicker and they got their ID the same day. Why does it take longer to renew an existing ID for a citizen while an immigrants with nothing to his name gets and entire citizenship registration and ID documents issued immediately? Because it was elections time and they wanted to make sure all the immigrants from Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay had their papers ready to vote. Maybe the Americans reading this can find some similarities here too.
Argentina is no stranger to terrorist attacks.
In 1994 the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association was attacked with a car bomb, 85 people were killed. The Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires had already been bombed in 1992, leaving 29 people dead. These attacks have never been solved, and there’s an ongoing scandal involving the Kirchner government and the Iranian government who apparently plotted together to protect those responsible. Corruption, lack of funding and negligence provide greater opportunities for terrorists. For countries with an interventionist foreign policy, the risk is even greater and this should be considered as a potential risk in years to come, especially in emblematic cities and locations.

Culture and Society

Just like the infrastructure falls apart, so does culture. The changes here aren’t immediate, but they are visible. You notice people being more rude in general, but also less educated and more primitive than they used to be, which is quite sad. With the increased poverty you see a clear deterioration of culture in general. While there are honorable attempts in the field of arts, the lack of funds means artistic education and investment suffers greatly in spite of the good intentions of many. You can see some buzz regarding street arts, informal dance and improvisation, but in general a financial crisis will impact culture greatly. The need to earn a living becomes a top priority for most.
People that used to travel abroad find it harder to do so. Fashion, ideas regarding arts and design, it’s all less available than it used to be. Books for example, they become harder and harder or get. Five years ago when I traveled abroad I ended up bringing back two suitcases to Argentina. One of them was full of books. Thanks to the import restrictions, books have become very expensive in Argentina and the offer available is pretty limited. If you try ordering online you’ll find yourself having to travel to the international airport to pick it up from customs. You’ll also have to pay a 50% extra fee for importation and you’ll have to waste most of your day waiting in line to get it.
Little by little, you see people becoming more ignorant and it shows.
It takes a bit longer, but after 14 years you can see an entire generation that basically grew up knowing only the post collapse Argentina, barely recognizing the shadows of what was once the most sophisticated and culturally rich country in Latin America. Most 20 year old can barely read and write, if lucky, and those that consider themselves intellectuals simply regurgitate the Marxist nonsense they’ve been indoctrinated with thanks to the public education programs.

In many ways the media reflected what was happening to society and culture. Sensationalism became more common in news reports. It didn’t help that the level of violence was already bad. With people getting killed and kidnaped on daily basis it kept getting harder and harder to shock the viewer. Eventually you didn’t pay much attention to the news because it repeated itself so much. The state managed TV channel became completely worthless, just a channel for propaganda that never actually reported anything. As time went by we saw the government adopt a new strategy: Buy or nationalize channels and various media that wasn’t in tune with the government. Eventually they regulated this strategy of theirs with a new media and telecommunications law passed in 2009. Only two media companies of relevance are left in the country that aren’t directly or indirectly controlled by the government. Censorship has drastically increased in Argentina in the last decade. Not only does the government control most printed media, radio and tv channels, those they don’t control are constantly harassed and journalists are threatened or attacked. The fear of speaking against the government is one of the worst tragedies and should be considered an important red flag to look for.

Nestor Kirchner reached the presidency of Argentina in 2003 exclusively thanks to the endorsement of Eduardo Duhalde, a Peronist politician with great power in Buenos Aires who had stepped up after Fernando de la Rua resigned and four other politicians resigned after taking the job. Just a few months after Kirchner was elected, it was soon clear that a very corrupt and authoritarian person had been placed in power, a typical Peronist populist leader.
The Kirchner government was particularly bad for the country for several reasons, but most of all because of its extreme, in your face corruption. Nestor Kirchner wasn’t the first corrupt president the country had ever seen, but he sure was the worst, the least shameful about it and the one that has robbed the most. Contracts would be handed over to the president’s own business associates. Public money would be shamelessly sent abroad to privately owned accounts “for safe keeping”. Family and friends would be placed in key, high ranking government positions in spite of having no qualifications at all for the job, the most extreme case of this being his own wife Cristina Kirchner taking office after his first period ended.
During hard economic times, during troubled sociopolitical events, extra caution should be taken so as to not place populist politicians in strategic positions, especially the presidency. This type of politician is the opposite of the honest , professional one actually qualified for the job.
If you have any comments of questions, leave them below. Part III will be posted later this week.
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”.

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