A century ago Argentina was one of the most richest countries in the world and was part of an ‘elite club’ of prosperous nations and as we have seen in recent years countries such as neighbouring Brazil overtook Britain in terms of total GDP. However, this was expected, as World Finance’s Tom Bailey points out in a recent article, European nations comprise a small corner of the earth, and as larger nations turn their subsistence farmers into industrial workers (and then service sector employees), overtaking the old powers of Europe is inevitable. It is less of a fall and more of an expected correction and relative decline.
Sadly, those prosperous years of being part of an ‘elite club’ are well and truly over. Cast your minds back to 2001/2002 the Argentinian Peso lost three-quarters of its value (linked to various external shocks such as low prices for agricultural commodities and the devaluation of the Real in Brazil) and registered unemployment exceeded 25% which resulted in numerous public protests and violent scenes on the streets of Buenos Aires.
The Kirchner dynasty maybe over in Argentina, but newly elected Mauricio Macri (former Buenos Aires mayor and pictured above) has got a mammoth task of steering his country to economic safety. The centre-right leader intends to attract investment flows that will make Argentina globally competitive again.
As mentioned in Foreign Policy Magazine, Macri’s macroeconomic challenges are vast, however, and success will depend on his administration’s ability to curb a 5.4 percent GDP budget deficit (the biggest since 1982), temper soaring inflation (current annual levels are about 36 percent), and stimulate economic growth.
The question that remains in the Latin American country is whether Macri has enough time and support to put his agenda in place. Unfortunately unlike when Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was in power she had a full congress to back her, for Macri, he has less back-up when things take a nose dive. If that happens, you’ll bet your bottom Peso that Peronists will be ready to pounce.
Could Bitcoin Be An Alternative?
Moving away from the politics slightly, with a volatile currency and a string of dysfunctional banks in the country, could cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin be an alternative for Argentina?
It seems that quite a few in Argentina are pondering this very question and have already adopted the digital currency. Argentina has had the most bitcoin enthusiasts per capita, troubled economies in Latin America have also looked at the idea, with neighbouring Brazil and Venezuela playing catch up.
Bitcoin has proven to be a solution for many of the problems caused by inflation and subsequent capital controls. (Tech Crunch, March, 2016) As a result merchants and workers alike have started to look for an alternative and have started to use the cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin start-up BitPagos, is currently helping more than 200 hotels, both cheap and boutique, take credit-card payments from foreign tourists according to the NY Times. The money brought to Argentina using Bitcoin payments bypasses the high level of bureaucracy which is usually involved with receiving conventional payments from overseas.
A popular online retailer in the country, Avalancha, has been accepting bitcoin since last summer and has seen a large amount of bitcoin transactions grow steadily since using the cryptocurrency on the site. Avalancha offers their customers a 10 percent discount when they use Bitcoin. The reason behind this is because credit card payments cost Avalancha more than 10 percent as a result of the troubled Argentine financial system.
Looking for alternative methods such as bitcoin has led to like-minded people joining in unison and creating a bitcoin embassy in Buenos Aires; a four-story building that’s home to eight start-ups whose businesses depend on Bitcoin transactions.
From start-ups to even local politicians have shown an interest in the cryptocurrency, Argentina’s youngest mayor Martín Yeza tweeted back in January about having a bitcoin agenda in place as well as regulatory approval for the popular ridesharing platform Uber.
Adopting bitcoin as an alternative for Macri aka “President Facebook” because of his big social presence would be a massive step in countering its current economic crisis. Argentina and the rest of Latin America has a lot of opportunities to push the cryptocurrency and make it more mainstream.