Tuesday, February 4, 2014

And The Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)

It is hard to believe that a few decades ago, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world. At present, it would appear as though the country has little hope of getting back there. Crisis after crisis, caused not by Mother Nature but rather by Man himself, now seems to ravage this country every few years. A particularly noteworthy depression occurred from 1998 to 2002. In And The Money Kept Rolling In, Paul Blustein describes the environment and the events that led to the major crisis.

Many of the occurrences described in the book will be recognizable, and not just as they pertain to Argentina in previous crises, but also to countless other countries both right now and throughout history. Hot money rolls into an "emerging market", rosy growth expectations cloud judgment resulting in the accumulation of debt, eventually the perception changes, the debt burden then becomes too high, panicked investors flee, and a full-blown panic is in flight, complete with IMF assurances and international bail-outs.

Blustein does a good job telling the story concisely and without overloading the reader with a cast of characters a mile long, which I find to usually be a weakness of this type of book. He also offers some reasonable solutions on how such crises may be avoided in the future. (Hint: As human nature is rather immutable, the key is to avoid letting the hot money dictate behaviour by preventing hot money from entering in the first place. Investments in plant and equipment e.g. Nike manufacturing = Good. Investments that enter (and exit) the country at the speed of a key stroke e.g. government bond purchases = Bad)

Of course, the danger when the direction of causes and effects becomes murky is that the reader (and writer) will see what he wants to see no matter what happens. For example, some will see free capital flows as the problem while other see government control as the problem. Each side can point to instances that provide evidence for his case, so how can one tell who is correct? The author acknowledges this problem but with the help of the historical record he has provided, identifies some viewpoints that are just plain wrong.


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