The economic meltdown in many parts of Latin America is not receiving much attention in the mainstream media, except as the scapegoat for the influx of kids at the U.S. southern border. While gang and drug activity are big problems in some countries and have contributed to the crisis, it’s only part of the story in Latin America. Countries like Venezuela and Argentina have shifted to the political hard left. Their economies are wilting and should serve as sober warnings for the U.S.
Perhaps you think that economic problems in countries like Venezuela and Argentina can be attributed to a shortage of natural resources. Think again. Argentina has a rich agricultural base, outgrew Australia and Canada in GDP and per capita income in the early 1900s, and was actually ranked #10 in per capita income 100 years ago. Venezuela is blessed with massive oil reserves, currently ranked first in the world by some estimates. These nations should be strong economically today, but they are struggling. Both are currently ruled by hard socialists, Maduro in Venezuela and Kirchner in Argentina.
Life is not easy in Venezuela. Food and power are rationed in Caracas. There are even water shortages because the government lacks needed capital to fund a water-distribution network. Government regulations are so burdensome that many investors have left the country. The central planners have implemented a tiered foreign-exchange system that subsidizes dollars to some sectors of the economy at the expense of others. The exchange rate can range from 6.3 to 50 bolivares per U.S. dollar. In a word, it’s chaos.
Some industries are in total disarray. For example, the Venezuelan government has delayed $4 billion in payments to international airlines that serve the country. The government wants airlines to take their funds in bolivares, a currency inflating at 60-80% annually and virtually useless outside of the country. Some airlines like Air Canada have left altogether, while others like American and Lufthansa have cut back flights. The government is currently “negotiating” with a host of airlines for payment of past debts.
Of course, the U.S. has had for some time what is desperately needed in South America. Capitalism thrives where there is a stable monetary system, courts to enforce contracts, and respect for the rule of law. This foundation is eroding, however. Our monetary system continues to weaken with Fed meddling and a $17 trillion debt. The GM bailout demonstrated that courts are not always objective arbiters of private contracts. The ongoing illegal immigration fiasco undermines the rule of law. All of this breeds crony socialism, which is commonplace in Latin America. The U.S. is moving down the same path.
Perhaps you are one of those who thinks that what is happening in the emerging economies of South America can’t happen here. It’s already underway to some extent.