For decades, Argentina has been going through a period that we could call “the great disconnect”. The disconnect manifests itself in all aspects of our institutional and economic life: between citizens and politiciansbetween the factual and the story, between what we spend and what we generate, between reality and expectations, between common sense and our actions, between where the world is going and where our country is going, between what they say the elites and what they do.
The great disconnection is accompanied by a very high dose of anachronism: we live stubbornly out of time. When even the communist countries worry about the productivity, here is a bad word; when the world uses the single electoral ballot, we insist on multiple ballots; when countries look to the future, we continue to discuss the 1970s; when the world ended with inflation, here it is higher and higher.
Argentina is like Neverland from the movie “Peter Pan”, where children do not grow up, live without any responsibility and disconnected from the factual and real. When Argentina lived in the present, based on the thinking of the time and connected with its reality and the rest of the world, we were a power. When we decided to enter Neverland, we went from being one of the richest countries in the world to one of the poorest in Latin America. All countries have a certain dose of anachronism and inertia from the past, but the levels in Argentina are crazy.
What is the source of the disconnection? I link it to the birth of the state “clientelistic” during the first government of Juan Domingo Perón. The solution to social demands was increasingly based on the State, intervention in the economy and the search for short-term shortcuts. Voluntaryism prevailed over economic logic, at the same time that the individual was weakened in favor of an abstract “collective”. That view became deeply ingrained in much of society. Simultaneously, the state became increasingly dysfunctional, and society weaker.
In their book The Narrow Corridor, James A. Robinson and Daron Acemoglu argue that there is a narrow corridor to freedom. In that corridor, the State and society balance each other.
a strong state it is necessary to enforce laws, control violence and provide crucial public services so that people have a life in which they can choose and fight for their decisions. At the same time, a strong and mobilized society is necessary to control and chain the State. Robinson and Acemoglu use the figure of Hobbes’s leviathan to represent the power of the state.
The Chinese state is an example of a strong and despotic leviathan because it is not controlled by or accountable to society. The United States or England are examples of chained leviathan, which allows these countries to stay in the narrow corridor of freedom.
According to the authors, like other Latin American countries, Argentina does not fall into any of these categories, but into what is called “paper leviathan”. The State is not subject to accountability towards society, at the same time that it is incapable of resolving conflicts, enforcing the law and providing quality public services.
How do we go about recovering the power of the State and of society? To locate us in the narrow corridor of freedom? To overcome the disconnection? (…) The first thing we need to overcome the disconnection is to take the reins of our government and understand where we stand.
Little do we know and little do we decide
Do we know who the commissioner of our neighborhood is? or the prosecutor from District? With what criteria was the director of the school chosen? our children? Just as we do not know these issues that affect our day to day, we also ignore how many employees has our municipality, our province, the level of absenteeism, salary levels, as well as countless indicators of government.
We barely recognize a minimal part of the total number of deputies on the lists we vote for (25 in the city of Buenos Aires, 70 in the province). The ignorance does not end there: we also do not know what percentage or how much we pay in taxes for the products we buy, how much is withheld from our salaries or where it goes, or the level of subsidies for our water and electricity consumption. Not only do we know little about our government and what it manages, we don’t have the information to know if our officials are qualified and do their jobs well. Not only do we “sustain” a crisis of representation, we also actually “endorse” a very important disconnection between the government and us, its constituents. Little of what we citizens want and expect happens. We citizens tend to accommodate ourselves to the results and resign ourselves.
Wouldn’t citizens support reducing public employment and state waste if they could thereby increase their wages through a reduction in labor and consumption taxes? And what would they say if they were proposed to transform the social plans into a work scheme guaranteed by “civil bodies”? Wouldn’t citizens want to eliminate privilege pensions? Tougher penalties against insecurity? That judges pay, like everyone else, income tax? End the party of advisers and drivers? Wouldn’t citizens accept charter schools? What do you think of the single ballot? Limit the re-elections of mayors and governors? It would seem like a good citizen not to meddle in these matters.
Since the return to democracy in 1983, Argentina has a solid democracy: neither the military uprisings during the government of Raúl Alfonsín nor populism in the last two decades have altered the democratic order itself. In any case, although we have elections every two years, democracy and government management remain disconnected from the citizens, and there are no plans that seek to reverse this situation. Along with this disconnection, institutions have been seriously degraded in recent decades.
From this separation arises the lack of basic agreements. Decisions are made based on the interest of the political caste and the sectors with coercive power over the caste. Not for the good of the citizens who vote for them. The preamble of the Constitution of the United States begins: “We, the people of the United States”, and that of ours proclaims: “We, the representatives of the people of the Argentine Nation”. It seems like a subtle difference, but it is not. The first empowers the citizen, the second the legislator. In his January 1989 address to the nation, Ronald Reagan said: “Ours was the first revolution in human history that really changed the course of government. And with three little words ‘We the People’. We the People tell the government what to do, and not the other way around. We the People are the driver, the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route and at what speed. Almost all the constitutions of the world are documents in which the governments tell the People what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which We the People tell the government what it is allowed to do. We, the People, are free.”
In our case, “We the people” is kidnapped by its leadership. (…)
Argentines of different ideologies, political parties and socioeconomic realities have much more in common than we think: we want to work without being hindered, we think that labor taxes are very high, we want to put an end to inflation, we are tired of unions and the blockades of streets, we repudiate the pointers and the politicization of social assistance, we ask for a change in our ruling class, we demand a State at the service of the citizen, end insecurity and that our children can go to good schools.
What would we Argentines vote if we could decide on a labor reform that would raise wages? Who could vote against raising their salary? Would we object if the majority worked in the informal economy without the benefits of social security? And what if with what was saved in public waste, a strong reduction in taxes was made? Municipalize the police or create a national social work that covers all citizens? Could a legislator go against what the citizens decide in a popular consultation?
Our democracy has mechanisms that seem to have been forgotten, but through which, as a people, we can express our voice and modify deep structural issues that affect our economy and democracy. Communicating properly, generating broad consensus and taking advantage of a favorable political and economic context, these aligned interests could translate into a series of structural reforms to get liberal Argentina back on track. Why not at least consider its advantages?
Federico Domínguez is a writer and financial advisor. Author of “The Rebellion of the Pandemials: The Human Cycles and the Decade of Turbulence” (Argentine Publishers). His latest book is “Argentina hyperaccelerated. We are not the best country in the world, but we can be again” (Planeta).
by Federico Dominguez