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Friday, April 01, 2005

alvaro alsogaray has passed on

argentine economist/politician "el ingeniero" (the engineer) alvaro alsogaray has died at the age of 91....he was the principal figure of the center-right (economic liberalism) in argentine politics during the second half of the past century..he served as argentine minister of economy in the late 1950s administration of democratically elected arturo frondizi.....he had a profound influence on me my interest in economics/public policy/development and was the first politician i actively supported in argentina's 1987 midterm elections and then in 1989 when he made a third-party run at the presidency.. when i was a teenager i believed that the problems of argentina could be solved by simply applying the correct or "right" economic policies... experience has taught me how naive i was.. but there remains something to be said for policy..its just not nearly enough..particularly in the case of argentina where culture repeatedly ends up trumping policy..

in fact during the 1989 campaign he published his plan for government "bases liberales para un programa de pais 1989-1995" (liberal guidelines for a national program) which I remember reading avidly (and which amazingly i see is still listed at's policies where very influenced by the austrian school and he always liked to link himself to these economists and to statesmen like the first post WWII german chancellor konrad adenauer who presided over the german reconstruction from a pile of rubble to a newly ascendant economic effect, i think he always aimed to try and accomplish the same for argentina but he was unable to inspire argentines to empower him...doubtlessly he was not nearly as good a politician as he was an economist......when menem took over power in 1989 he slowly co-opted alsogaray's program and in effect absorbed alsogaray's followers.. the only problem is that menem did not pay much heed to the need for limited non-instrusive government with effective political institutions...

alsogaray is associated by argentines with the ill results of the menem years... and let us not even talk about his daugther maria julia alsogaray who is widely viewed as some rasputin like evil witch.. he is unfairly maligned in argentina and has always been portrayed as a rather heartless fellow for sometimes saying things bluntly....he is perhaps most hated because when he was minister of economy in the late 50s he paid- i believe- retirees with government bonds owing to the fact the government had no money (and he did not want to do what every argentine govt has always done which is simply print more money leading to inflation which takes away from everyone).. some retirees sold their bonds quickly at a loss.. my understanding is that those that held on did allright but of course its quite contentious to give bonds to retirees... during this tenure as minister of economy he uttered the classic phrase about "we need to go through winter" (hay que pasar el invierno) meaning some tough choices had to be made.. basically, he earned the enmity of most argentines.

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