The 4th annual Economics Conference (Exposición Argentina de Economía) was held in Buenos-Aires on March 8th and 9th 2017.
The list of delegates included many industrial giants, such Renault, Toyota, Hyundai, Volkswagen; financial institutions, such as Banco Supervielle, Banco Nacional; oil companies, such as Shell, Total, ExxonMobil. Also present were the representatives of the agrarian sector, like Sociedad Rural Argentina and Monsanto), transport, investment companies, hi-tech companies, innovation and marketing researchers and more.
The first Expo EFI was held during Kirchner’s regime. Now Kirchnerism is on its way out, and herself and her cronies are being tried for corruption. The political and economic climate changed dramatically when Mauricio Macri came to power, and this was reflected in this year’s Expo EFI. The only attendees in the previous conferences were the regime supporters and those liberal theoreticians who were considered “not dangerous”. While their work in the universities earned them respect from their colleagues and allowed them to publish books, they were not, to put it bluntly, an important force on the political arena.
Last year was the turning point. Among the attendees were such famous liberals as Ricardo López Murphy, Javier Milei and even Elisa Carrió, and the audience was riveted to what they had to say.
While this year’s conference also saw its share of the liberal theoreticians, they were eclipsed by those of the more practical persuasion: businessmen, technocrats, agrarians and investors. This shift in the attendance caused the conference to be, perhaps unexpectedly, somewhat downplayed in the media exposure. In general, Expo EFI is becoming less of a glamorous event, loquacious and theoretical, and more of a communication tool for various groups of technocrats, pragmatists, politicians and investors. This, in my opinion, is actually a good thing. Argentinian problems would hardly be solved by any number of liberal theories, whereas a coalition of practical, down-to-earth people could be actually helpful.
A significant part of the conference was dedicated to the unions situation in Argentina, which is, frankly, bordering on critical: a strike follows a strike, demands including raising the wages and outlawing dismissals. The business owners are not yet, unfortunately, strong enough politically speaking to make their position heard, but the very fact that they are demanding this situation be addressed speaks volumes by itself. They also criticized the government’s lack of success in managing the inflation and the high level of taxation. Another point of discussion was the government’s policy on energy production; Macri’s administration is, regrettably, fixated on the “green” energy; oil and gas representatives criticized this and claimed Argentina can not only become self-supporting but can even export energy to its neighbors if it begins exploiting its oil and shale gas deposits. I found myself agreeing with them: developing oil and shale gas seem to be of more immediate importance to Argentina than wasting time and resources on the costly green-energy projects.
Some of the problems of the infrastructure and logistics were also addressed, and there were some very interesting speeches by the agrarians. The president of Sociedad Rural Argentina was quite direct in his claims. In his opinion it should be quite possible for the Argentinian farmers to do quite well by their country if only they will be allowed a healthy level of competition, spared the unnecessary regulations and a sickly high level of taxation. This coincides quite well with the program I myself have been promoted for a long time now. I have suggested to either privatize or close down those unprofitable industrial facilities fully dependent on the government’s support that are kept open for the sake of creating the illusion of job abundance; develop the traditional, conservative energy sources; encourage the growth of the most competitive industries, such as the agrarian sector. After these pull the country out of the current crisis back onto the normal level of economy, other, more innovative and science-oriented businesses can and will be developed.
The problem with the political discourse in Argentina is its lack of pragmatism and efficiency; it’s not tangible enough, not real enough. With the 21st century Socialism (of which Kirchnerism was a fine example) out the door, the absence of a concrete politico-economic strategy became very noticeable. The liberals had nothing to offer; the reforms of the former finance minister Prat-Gay, who was, at first, viewed very favorably, proved to be half-hearted and inept. While the life in general became easier, the prices skyrocketed and the inflation grew to barely manageable levels. This came as no surprise: it takes effective if unpopular decisions to fight inflation, and the current government, afraid to upset the delicate political balance, prefers to react rather than act. The right-wing Peronists, opposing both the Kirchnerists and Macri with his lenient, liberal program, are gaining support in Argentina.
Last year there were lots of protests outside the Hilton hotel housing Expo EFI. This year, there were none. This, of course, can be partly attributed to the fact that, the conference coinciding with the Women’s Day, the leftists were too busy celebrating by throwing garbage and torches at the cathedrals and the Congress.
This year’s conference left a very favorable impression in me. It was not yet too efficient, but it was much more promising than the previous ones. The boisterous windbag theoreticians have been replaced by the people interested in taking pragmatic measures and organizing the people who can be of actual use to this country. I liked the feeling enough to stay for both days.
Both my books (Brotes Pisoteados: organizaciones juveniles progubernamentales and Prolegómenos al libro Carne) were on sale at the bookstand at the conference.
Kitty Sanders, 2017