This is a valid question to ask ourselves, as the Kirchners’ administration has consistently pursued populist economic policies that usually end in a hyperinflation episode. This becomes more relevant if we review the economic history of the country. Once and again we have seen a sequence of events, many of which we have been observing during the past years, that ended badly. A short list follows.
– Wage increases not only increase in frequency, but also in magnitude: during the last agreement (late July) minimum wage increase was in order of 27%—after having been raised closed to 20% in H1.
– Tax revenue is mainly driven by the inflation tax (e.g. VAT) and the external boom (export taxes); the latter not being permanent.
– Government expenditures increase at very high rates (in the 40% area). The government so far has been unable or unwilling to rein it in.
– Given the already high inflation that has been partially and regressively repressed by subsidies, the government is now starting to let some of the “freezed” prices to partially accommodate. This is welcome; but too late. Notice that so far it only intends not to increase subsidies, but not reduce them.
– The so-called fiscal surplus is under big dispute. Its present stance is probably worse than officially argued (as many private sector reports show). The future balance looks much worse.
– Consumption-driven economy—as opposed to investment-driven. This is not trivial. Increases in present aggregate demand derived from investment create the ability to increase future aggregate supply in line with higher aggregate demand. Consumption-driven impulses do not necessarily create an investment stimulus; especially under weak property right—where every profit looks like “extraordinary profits” and thus “taxable to redistribute income”. Of course this ignores the regressive income distribution—present and future—that high inflation causes.
– Tardy (i.e. now that the current stance and especially the future outlook start to look gloomy) increases in retirement benefits. The main motive for this being increase aggregate demand while gaining some political support after the failure in the (export-tax) confrontation with the agricultural sector—as retired people tend to have a relatively high marginal propensity to spend. It is worth mentioning that the conflict with the agricultural sector is far from over, as the government still has plans to re-instate this export taxes, albeit in a different way—the administration needs the cash.
– Price controls to (supposedly and ineffectively) control the inflation rate. This distorts relative prices and potentially triggers repressed inflation. If the latter holds, the relative price correction is rarely swift… And I can’t call this an anti-inflationary plan.
– Annual inflation expectations close to 35%. This seems to be in line with the private sector inflation estimates for the moths to come. The more so if with the price realignment mentioned above is considered.
– Families are highly indebted and the delinquency rate is increasing.
– The real exchange rate has been continuously appreciating as the inflation rate is on the rise while the central bank, in a way, targets the nominal exchange rate.
– Political unrest: not only the President-Vice President recent controversy, but the social unrest in the interior (e.g. Cordoba, Santa Fe, etc.), and, consequently, a politically weakened government—its own alliances melting down due to the policies applied by the presidential couple during the last years.
– History tell us that too frequently in the past Argentina raised wages, utilities, etc., and let some of the relative prices to re-accommodate as a pre-stage to a devaluation (with lots creativity such as splitting the foreign exchange market, fixing the exchange rate, interest rate caps, etc., and an infinite list).
– Luckily the economy has not demonetized (yet?) and the central bank has not depreciated the domestic currency (yet?); as this will probably make the system to explode. But, as a signal, the “founding fathers (both ideologists and implementers)” of this so-called “productive model” are already fleeing away, trying to decouple themselves from it
So, hyperinflation is not a problem in Argentina for the moment. However, I could change this to may be not yet, since unfortunately we cannot disregard it in the future. Unless I assume that the government is intentionally stimulating inflation to reduce (i.e. inflate away) its real expenditures instead of reducing its expenses. If so, somebody would need to remind the authorities of the Olivera-Tanzi effect—and that this basically does not work. This would be totally erroneous since—although worsening as a consequence of its own external tax policy—the surplus in the trade balance is still positive. Things can get really nasty is this surplus disappears…
There is still (little) time to correct this. But among the features that should be included is a strong fiscal correction, freer markets (including relative prices!), better property rights, an independent central bank, a long-term growth strategy (that includes investment incentives along with lower inflation—the latter resulting from a serious anti-inflationary program). However, and against my wishful thinking, next year is an election year. The government has already lost a lot political support, so it could easily be tempted into reinforce the (already failed) populist policies. The more so since the policies that would help recover long-term and stable growth usually take time so enact—probably not enough time until the next election.