July 12, 2011

Third-world country?

Before and since I have arrived in Argentina, no fewer than four locals have stated matter of factly that Argentina is a third-world country. At first it made me panic I made a mistake in choosing Argentina over arguably safer Spanish-speaking countries like Spain, but in recent weeks I've just come to see it as an acceptance of reality - it is what is is!

Today I witnessed a robbery (unarmed) in broad daylight near Retiro, the main train station of Buenos Aires, where a poor bloke was running after three thugs that snatched his backpack. The commotion was certainly hard to miss, but no one made even a small deal of it. From countless incidents I've heard so far, these petty thieves tend to be short, agile, and work in teams - their modest statures work to their advantage by giving standers-by a false sense of security.

It's been eight years since I last picked up an economics textbook, so I'm rusty on the difference between "third-world countries" and "developing countries", but I'm going to venture to say "third-world country" is less politically correct nowadays, whereas "developing country" - with the emphasis it places on an upward trajectory of growth - has a sunnier disposition.

In my earlier post on my disastrous experience with a the world's local bank, I mentioned two peculiar things I want to elaborate on.

First, I pay my rent in U.S. dollars because inflation in the past six months has kicked into high gear, eroding my landlord's side income. This adds to my transaction cost, but my landlord explained he couldn't simply exchange pesos into U.S. dollars because he already maxed out his forex "quota", above which he would receive a visit from Argentine tax authorities. I haven't looked at historical inflation figures, but this would imply a stark uptick from previous levels of 10%-20% a year (CPI, with core inflation being higher), according to a friend's account.

Second, I was surprised to learn that the security guards outside the Chinese restaurants I frequent in China Town aren't private security guards but rather police officers making a buck on the side. Ditto for the dozen or so police officers at HSBC, I assume, but I could be wrong, because HSBC is a conservative financial institution after all?

According to economic theory, income disparity is a reliable indicator of a country's level of development, so by that measure, I'd have to agree with my Argentine friends that bemoaned their country's state of affairs. But where else in the world would you find a country whose national anthem sounds like a tango song in all its glory, broadcast every midnight on the dot and throughout the day, with cab drivers singing along with admirable vigor? How do you measure a country's level of cultural sophistication ?

Cabbies and footballers alike sing the national anthem with flair

1 comment:

  1. The Argentinian National Anthem is one of the longest I have heard. But I thought is sounded like a late Haydn symphony or an early Rossini Opera ...