Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Polo-Loving Banker Lives Really Large In Chávez Socialism

Venezuela's Mr. Vargas Has Yachts, and Good Timing;
'I've Been Rich All My Life'

January 29, 2008-WSJ

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Víctor Vargas is a polo-playing banker who zips between his six homes in a fleet of luxury jets. So you might expect him to be struggling in today's Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez has vowed to build a classless society.

But Mr. Vargas, 55 years old, hasn't missed a beat. His Banco Occidental de Descuento is expanding amid an oil-fueled economic surge. Like other bankers, he snares profits dealing in a flood of government-issued debt. And the Chávez years have done little to damp Mr. Vargas's exuberance for the trappings of wealth.

"People write stories about me saying I have a Ferrari, a plane, a yacht," he said during an interview at one of his homes, in the posh Country Club neighborhood of Caracas. "But it's not true. I've got three planes, two yachts, six houses. I've been rich all my life!"

Mr. Vargas, a dapper, meticulous man, is thriving without even a nod to Mr. Chávez's socialist nostrums. At the wedding party he threw for his daughter at his Dominican Republic mansion in 2004, more than 1,000 guests dined on platters prepared by New York's Le Cirque restaurant and grooved to a show by Grammy-winning Latin pop artist Juan Luis Guerra. The groom, Luis Alfonso de Borbón, is the great-grandson of the Spanish fascist Francisco Franco. Tracing his father's bloodlines, Mr. de Borbón claims he is the rightful King of France (Luis XX, to be exact), according to his biography, "A King Without a Throne."

The wedding's guest list illustrated Mr. Vargas's skill for nurturing contacts across Venezuela's polarized society. There were senior Chávez officials as well as opposition figures, such as Manuel Rosales, who ran against Mr. Chávez in 2006.

Mr. Vargas's success highlights the durability of the country's elites no matter who is in power. Despite his socialist rhetoric, Mr. Chávez has a lot in common with leaders past. In office since 1999, Mr. Chávez is the latest in a long line of Venezuelan presidents who have spent heavily to build populist support, and then needed to use economic tactics like price controls. Venezuelan elites have learned to profit amid repeated volatility.

Venezuelan government officials didn't respond to interview requests.

"Venezuela has developed a special business culture, where the game is played amid high inflation and other distortions," says Venezuela-born Latin America specialist Gilbert W. Merkx, who directs the Duke University Center for International Studies. "You can either get very rich or lose a lot of money playing the game, and it always gets more complicated as the distortions get worse."

Right now, the game is on. Venezuela's 22.5% inflation rate is the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Its currency has lost half its value in the past year on a thriving black market for dollars. To prevent capital flight, Mr. Chávez banned overseas money transfers and has barred Venezuela's media from mentioning the black market. Some now call it the "market that cannot be mentioned."

Victor Vargas playing in a league match of the U.S. Open Polo Championship last year.
Currency Trading

Bankers have made money playing the huge gap between the official and the black-market exchange rates. One common way, which is legally permitted: buying dollar-bonds from the government at the official rate of 2.15 "strong bolivars" per dollar, and reselling them to investors for a price close to the black-market rate of 5.50 per dollar. In an economic boom, net income at Mr. Vargas's bank has more than doubled to $150 million since 2002.

Of course, making money isn't always easy under Mr. Chávez, and it carries risk. The populist former army officer has expropriated majority stakes in oil concerns -- including one owned by Mr. Vargas -- and other assets, and routinely threatens to seize other industries.

Mr. Vargas says his survival strategy is remaining agnostic about politics. In 2002, he helped convince other bankers not to join strikes led by businesses that were aimed at ousting Mr. Chávez. As president of the banks' industry association, he helps negotiate banking regulations. "A businessman has to deal with his government, no matter how far to the right or left it is," he says.

Mr. Vargas's high-level government contacts have attracted critics who say he's suddenly become rich as "Mr. Chávez's banker." Mr. Vargas says he's only met Mr. Chávez twice, and besides, he's always been wealthy, having owned his Dominican Republic home and others for decades. "Juan Luis Guerra played at my first daughter's wedding [at the start of Mr. Chávez's presidency] too, and no one made a big deal about it," he says.

Mr. Vargas is the son of a doctor and Venezuela's first female Supreme Court justice. As a young man, he married into one of the country's most connected families, the Santaella clan. Fellow law students at Andrés Bello Catholic University remember him cruising campus in a 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra.

His passion for top-of-the line toys has hardly slowed in the Chávez years. An avid pilot since his 20s, Mr. Vargas flies his ultra-long-range Gulfstream 550 when shuttling between homes. His massive yacht, Allegro, attracts society magazines when it docks at the Spanish resort of Sotogrande, where the polo team he founded and plays for sometimes competes.

A reason for Mr. Vargas's wealth is his ability to time Venezuela's booms and busts. In 1992, he sold a small bank he helped form to Banco Latino, one of Venezuela's biggest banks. The sale came just weeks after a young Mr. Chávez launched a failed coup attempt that marked the beginning of a volatile year.

A year later, flush with some $50 million from the sale, Mr. Vargas bought a small regional bank, Banco Occidental de Descuento, known for its A-list of oil-services clients.

In 1994, Banco Latino collapsed as a run on deposits exposed questionable loans. Venezuela's currency crashed and the country fell into recession. But Mr. Vargas was fine. His new bank's chief regional competitor also collapsed, and he later snapped up its customers, bringing them to Banco Occidental de Descuento. "I am an intuitive guy," he says.

New York Venture

Mr. Vargas had less success with a banking venture in New York. In the 1980s, he bought at least 21% of New York-based CapitalBanc Corp. In the early 1990s, banking authorities seized the bank and jailed several executives after discovering fraud. Mr. Vargas wasn't accused of fraud. Authorities alleged, however, that he lied about when he discovered the misdeeds. He paid a $1.15 million fine and signed an order agreeing not to invest in U.S. banks again without written permission from U.S. authorities. He didn't admit or deny guilt.

Mr. Vargas described the episode as the "worst business" of his life, the product of being "naive." He has put it behind him. In October, he moderated a panel on corporate governance at a Miami conference of the Florida International Bankers Association and the Latin American Banks Federation, where he is vice president.

Despite his wealth, Mr. Vargas says he is a humble man who cares deeply about Venezuela. He operates three foundations to help the poor. He says he talks to his chauffeurs and bodyguards, who he has employed for decades, in the same tone he uses with business associates. Employees at his bank get raises every year -- except for those who should be fired, he says.

"I am a socialist in the real sense of the word," Mr. Vargas says.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cristina garantiza la paz financiera con superávit. Para algunos ya hay déficit

Cristina garantiza la paz financiera con superávit. Para algunos ya hay déficit

Frente a lo que denominó como «efecto jazz», Cristina de Kirchner insistió ayer con la idea de que la Argentina es lo suficientemente sólida para enfrentar la crisis en EE.UU.. Es la primera vez que habló del tema y dio a entender que el país está blindado. Lo mismo se pensaba de los mercados de Asia y Europa y en algunos casos esas Bolsas perdieron hasta 15% en sólo 48 horas. Se muestra como escudo protector a los superávits gemelos, uno de los cuales, el fiscal, sería ficticio la la luz de varios análisis.

Por: José Luis Espert
Ámbito Financiero

El martes 15 de enero, el ministro de Economía, Martín Lousteau, dio a conocer las cifras sobre el Ahorro Inversión de la Nación durante diciembre, con lo cual quedó cerrado el resultado fiscal de 2007. Lo que presentó fue poco más que un «teatro de pulgas». Hoy la Argentina no tiene superávit fiscal si se lo mide bien, o sea, sin manipulaciones ni mentiras.

Causó impresión verlo al ministro discursear sólo sobre el resultado anual y no decir una palabra sobre diciembre. La razón es simple. El último mes de 2007 marcó un récord de déficit en las cuentas fiscales y además no tuvo ninguna desaceleración del gasto, al revés de lo que cree tanto el público informado como el lego.

Lousteau concentró su atención en los $ 25.700 millones de superávit primario (antes del pago de intereses) anual. Como todos sus predecesores, prefirió hacer esto a enfocarse en el deterioro que sufrió una versión menos mentirosa de la situación fiscal como lo es el resultado global (después de intereses), el cual, incluso dentro de las «estadísticas» oficiales, tuvo una caída de 20% (al pasar de $ 11.600 millones en 2006 a $ 9.300 millones en 2007) a pesar de una recaudación que creció 35%.

El gasto público global representa el verdadero gasto del gobierno puesto que considera todos los pagos que se deben realizar, incluido los intereses de la deuda pública, ¿o acaso se tiene previsto defaultearlos como en 2001? En 2007 el superávit global oficial fue de sólo 1,1% del PBI, la observación más baja desde 2003 que incluso tiene como ingresos los mal contabilizados stocks de acciones, bonos y depósitos de las personas que se fueron ( obligadas o no) por la contrarreforma del sistema previsional de principios del año pasado, desde capitalización a reparto. Así, deberían restarse $ 7.800 millones, reduciéndose el superávit a la insignificancia de $ 1.500 millones o alternativamente 0,2% del PBI (con la Inflación verdadera de 20% y no la mentira oficial gerenciada por Guillermo Moreno).

Entonces, perdón Sr. ministro Lousteau: ¿dónde está el superávit? Y todavía falta el soberbio déficit de las provincias.

El deterioro fiscal del año fue innegable y fue liderado por la fiesta electoral, pero por supuesto, se decidió tomar como estrategia la desorientación general. El gobierno se enfocó no sólo en el resultado más conveniente (antes del pago de intereses), sino que realizó también las comparaciones que les resultaban más provechosas. Así se alcanzó a leer/ver en casi todo medio sobre la importante desaceleración que sufrió el gasto sobre el fin del año. Nada que ver. Todo muy lejos de la realidad. El crecimiento en diciembre tanto del gasto primario (44,1%) como el global (45,7%) se ubica en línea con el promedio del año, es decir, entre 44,2% y 44,3% respectivamente y el gasto corriente sin intereses ( salarios, jubilaciones, bienes y servicios y los subsidios estatales al transporte y la energía,) creció 46,7% similar al aumento promedio de todo 2007 de 47,0%.

# Interrogantes

¿Como logró el gobierno imponer en la mente de la sociedad que el gasto público se está desacelerando después del tsunami preelectoral? Durante noviembre, la postergación en la presentación de los certificados de obra pública en varios emprendimientos del Estado implicó una caída en la cuenta de Gasto de Capital de 2,6% anual. Esto hizo que el gasto global creciera «sólo» 38% contra el mismo mes de 2006. Sin embargo, el gasto corriente sin intereses que representa 80% de las erogaciones estatales subió 47% contra noviembre de 2006, casi igual a 44% del promedio de todo el año 2007 y sólo ligeramente por debajo del delirio del tercer trimestre de 54% cuando el gobierno de los Kirchner se jugaba la posibilidad de «la profundización del cambio» en las elecciones presidenciales de octubre. En cuanto se normalizó el papeleo de las obras que maneja De Vido en el mes de diciembre, el gasto público global volvió a crecer a 46% anual, por encima de 44% de todo 2007 y ahí nomás de 49% del tercer trimestre. Entonces, perdón Sr. ministro Lousteau: ¿dónde está la desaceleración del gasto público?

Es cierto que por un tema meramente estadístico, el gobierno,si se esfuerza mínimamente,puede mostrar en 2008 una desaceleración del gasto que todavía no existe, porque luego de la fiesta de 2007 es difícil sostener ( estadísticamente) tasas de 45% anual. Pero en los dos primeros meses posteriores a las elecciones de octubre, no hay ninguna desaceleración como dice el gobierno.

Supongamos ahora que en 2008 los ingresos fiscales crecen a igual tasa que en 2007 (33,2%), más los 2 o 3 puntos porcentuales que proveerán los nuevos ingresantes al sistema de seguridad social por la contrarreforma, la recaudación crecería 35% anual. Respecto del gasto público, podrían considerarse dos escenarios, uno donde se continúa con la loca política que se observó en 2007 de crecimiento de 44% y otro en el que hay una desaceleración de 10 puntos porcentuales para llegar a 34%. En este segundo caso tanto ingresos como gasto aumentarían lo mismo y recién ahí se cumpliría la promesa oficial.

# Vencimientos

El primer caso resulta en un déficit de $ 1.400 millones, es decir -0,1% PBI, con lo cual se estaría enfrentando el peor resultado desde 2002. En tanto el segundo, nos devuelve un superávit global de $ 14.000 millones, o 1,3% del PBI. Este resultado sería equivalente al aumento de recaudación proveniente del reciente aumento de las retenciones a las exportaciones (tanto agrícolas como sobre los hidrocarburos) y el flujo que recibirá el gobierno de los nuevos aportantes al sistemade reparto. Cabe destacarque el superávit global de u$s 4.400 millones de este escenario, es aproximadamente igual a los vencimientos de capital de la deuda performing que debe enfrentar la Nación durante 2008 (u$s 5.500 millones). Es desastrosa la situación fiscal de fondo que el gobierno kirchnerista ha perpetuado. A pesar del espectacular aumento de recaudación que ha habido en los impuestos tradicionales como IVA y Ganancias por el crecimiento económico, las recategorizaciones, el no ajuste por inflación de los balances de las empresas, el tardío ajuste en los mínimos no imponibles, el aumento en bienes personales. A pesar de la creación de impuestos nuevos como las retenciones a las exportaciones que no paran de aumentar porque el gobierno no para de subir sus alícuotas y porque Tampoco paran de aumentar los precios internacionales de la soja, el maíz, el trigo y el petróleo, el superávit fiscal de 2008 sería de un insignificante 1,3% del PBI, equivalente sólo a los aumentos de recaudación decididos en 2007, el quinto año de modelo productivo, como son la última suba de retenciones y los mayores ingresos que recolectará la Seguridad Social por derecha (no por izquierda como en 2007). No es nada holgada la situación fiscal y si se le agregara el déficit de las provincias sin dudas que el resultado, en el mejor de los casos, es poco deficitario.

Entonces, no hay superávit fiscal, no hay desaceleración del gasto público, no hay desendeudamiento, la deuda pública está siendo defaulteada cuando se dibuja la inflación y hemos dado de baja de la deuda a los que no aceptaron el canje de Lavagna. Los dibujos y la violación al derecho ciudadano de estar informado no es sólo un problema del INDEC sino de todo un gobierno que ha decidido que las estadísticas no son un bien público sino un instrumento para ganar poder. Lamentable.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Virtual bank's Second Life scheme raises real concerns

Virtual bank's Second Life scheme raises real concerns
Vanished deposits spur questions about the need for regulation.

By Alana Semuels
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 22, 2008

Stephanie Roberts knew Second Life was just a computer game, but she couldn't resist the virtual world's promise of a real-world interest rate of more than 40%.

The 33-year-old from Chicago, who played the game as a raven-haired vixen called Zania Turner, deposited $140 in Ginko Financial and waited for the money to grow. Instead, it vanished five months ago when Ginko, perhaps the first Ponzi scheme in history perpetrated by three-dimensional online avatars, left Second Life.

"I was foolish," Roberts said.

So were many others. Ginko took with it about $75,000 in real-money deposits, shaking faith in Second Life's venerated lawlessness -- no cops, no courts, no government -- and unnerving Linden Lab, the usually laid-back San Francisco company that created it.

Recently, Linden Lab banned all virtual banks from the online role-playing game, giving them until today to shut down, fearful that Ginko wasn't the only one paying crazy rates of return to some with the deposits of others.

Within moments, there was a meltdown. ATMs didn't work when players rushed to withdraw their Linden dollars, which can be exchanged for U.S. currency at a rate that hovers around 270 to 1. Stocks plunged and so did real estate prices.

Avatars, the players' digital doppelgangers, marched with signs saying "Give us our banks back NOW!!" and sent melancholy messages: "We're doomed."

It was nearly a 3-D insurgency.

"People are panicking," said Margaret, a British mother of two who in Second Life is Ragged Delec, an exotic dancer.

Margaret, who asked that her last name not be printed, hasn't been able to retrieve $400 that she had squirreled away. "This has done some serious damage to the Second Life financial industry," she said.

The Ginko debacle and Linden Lab's response to it is raising fresh questions about the need for regulation over -- not to mention the wisdom of -- financial transactions in a place that doesn't exist.

"The whole Second Life adventure encourages user freedom, but it's got so many users, and so much money is flowing in, that you have to face that the community needs some degree of control," said Stephan Martinussen, executive director of the global solutions department at Denmark's Saxo Bank, which had toyed with the idea of opening a virtual branch.

Ginko was able to skip town and leave virtually no trail for authorities to follow, if there had been any authorities. Even Linden Lab might not know the identity of the avatar who ran the bank. Company executives declined to be interviewed for this article, but lawyers in contact with unhappy Ginko depositors said they weren't aware of any investigative action taken by the company.

No individual seems to have lost enough money to make filing a lawsuit worthwhile, said Robert Bloomfield, a Cornell University professor who has been following the Ginko case. Anyway, because Second Life members live in different countries, "it's not at all clear what jurisdiction you would file suit in," he said.

Multiplayer computer-based gaming environments such as Second Life aren't monitored by real-world regulators.

And before the recent announcement, Linden Lab had handed down only two other official bans against anything: It prohibited gambling and simulations of sexual activity involving minors.

"It's been this wild, Wild West kind of atmosphere," said Benjamin Duranske, a lawyer in Boise, Idaho, who runs Second Life Bar Assn. and blogs on the virtual world.

That's the allure. In Second Life players can be anyone (among the pro-bank demonstrators one day last week were a disco dancer, a tentacled human and a mermaid; on another day there was a storm trooper and a very large rabbit) and do nearly anything.

Most activity is tame, with avatars experimenting with interior design or sunning themselves on virtual beaches, although players do buy avatar genitals and use them.

"Usually, we don't step in the middle of Resident-to-Resident conduct," Linden Lab said in a Jan. 8 statement, which was posted on its blog. "But these 'banks' have brought unique and substantial risks to Second Life, and we feel it's our duty to step in."

Money and banks aren't necessary to play Second Life. All players need is a computer and access to the Internet so they can download the software and generate their role-playing avatars

Without money, though, life in Second Life can be dull, and most of the game's 50,000 or so active players keep some cash on hand. They use credit cards or online payment systems such as PayPal to get Lindens and use them to buy things, including property. (There is an endless supply; Linden Lab makes money selling land and can put as much of it on the market as it likes, because in a virtual world there are no physical boundaries.)

The troubles began when banks started popping up.

"There were a few small, thieving institutions," said Sheffie Cochran, who ran a Second Life bank called LLB&T.

Cochran, a 26-year-old enrollment counselor at the University of Phoenix, spent about $10,000 to create LLB&T; the island on which it was located set her back $1,700 and the Internet-based system she needed to convert Lindens to U.S. dollars cost many thousands more.

To be able to pay interest -- the weekly rate was 0.1% -- Cochran converted her customers' Lindens and invested the dollars in money market accounts and stocks, including Electronic Arts Inc. and Vonage Holdings Corp. Her real-world profit turned into her virtual bank's interest outlays.

Cochran said she never failed her customers, but that others did. "It's the nature of anonymity," she said.

The most infamous was Ginko, whose brief history was detailed in an article two weeks ago in MIT's Technology Review titled "The Fleecing of the Avatars." It called the Ginko con "ominous for those who see such environments as future centers of e-commerce."

Second Life is popular with corporate America -- IBM Corp. holds meetings in an outdoor amphitheater on its sprawling virtual campus, members of Best Buy Co.'s Geek Squad hang out in a virtual store and visitors to Dell Inc.'s virtual island can build their own computers.

But none of the corporations that have set up shop in Second Life conduct any financial transactions there.

That may be because they have jitters about the unregulated nature of the space. In July, IBM, one of the earliest companies to establish a presence in Second Life, introduced official guidelines to govern how its 5,000 employees interact in the virtual world.

Linden Lab seems to see itself as no more responsible for what goes on in Second Life than an Internet provider like AOL is for illegal activities discussed over e-mail, said David Naylor, an attorney with British law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, and that attitude crimps Second Life's potential.

"It's only when people have a reasonable level of confidence that the transactions they enter into are not fraudulent that you'll see transaction volumes really going up," he said.

There have been some calls for the government to step in, but Washington is pretty much scratching its head right now.

"Most members of Congress don't understand what this is all about," said Dan Miller, a senior economist with the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.

"Is a Linden real money? Is it an asset? Is this just a form of barter? Is this a form of capital gains? We just don't know. The courts haven't ruled on this, and the regulatory bodies haven't stepped forward to stake their claim," Miller said.

More than a few Second Lifers think Linden Lab should have kept its nose out of its world's money matters. Cochran, the banker, said the company destabilized the virtual economy by giving banks just two weeks to close.

"It's like asking Bank of America to cash out in 10 days," she said. "They should have just stayed out of it."

Cochran said she would have to liquidate $7,000 in real-world assets to pay her 900 customers, many of whom are demanding their money back. Other banks sold off real estate holdings or stocks at fire-sale prices to raise cash fast.

Margaret, the British mother, said she wouldn't be surprised if she never saw her $400 again. And she figures she has only herself to blame.

"This has lost a lot of people a lot of money," Margaret said. "But I think anyone who ignored the warnings of 'nothing is guaranteed' deserves all they got."


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Del ajuste al pánico

Del ajuste al pánico

Por: Enrique Szewach

Ámbito Financiero

Todos los analistas alegaban que la economía norteamericana necesitaba un ajuste.

Desde hace unos años venía viviendo excesivamente del crédito del resto del mundo, consumiendo más allá de su producción y generando un formidable déficit de cuenta corriente. El ajuste de cualquier economía implica un menor crecimiento del crédito y un encarecimiento de las importaciones, mientras se alientan las exportaciones. Ello se logra subiendo la tasa de interés y devaluando la moneda. Precisamente eso es lo que vino haciendo la Reserva Federal en los últimos años.

La tasa de interés de las operaciones de mercado abierto de la Fed pasó de su piso de 1% a casi 6% anual, y el dólar se devaluó fuertemente contra el euro, dando lugar a su contrapartida, una explosión en el precio de los commodities valuados en dólares (además de las razones estructurales, de mercado y especulativas). La Fed fue exitosa y la economía norteamericana empezó a mostrar signos de ajuste. Su déficit de cuenta corriente está pasando? Permítanme insistir con el ejemplo argentino que ya utilicé desde estas mismas páginas hace unos 10 días. La Argentina de 2001 necesitaba también un ajuste. Estaba gastando por encima de sus posibilidades y el Estado estaba fuertemente endeudado. La «solución», devaluación, para licuar salarios y gasto, bajar poder de compra, incrementar las exportaciones y reducir las importaciones. Y renegociación de la deuda, para adecuar su perfil a la capacidad de pago del Estado argentino. El «pequeño» detalle fue que los acreedores de la deuda no eran sólo los jubilados italianos o japoneses, ni los futuros jubilados argentinos. Una parte importante de la deuda pública estaba en los activos de los bancos argentinos, es decir, era de los depositantes. En ese contexto, el anuncio del «canje de deuda» era, simultáneamente, el anuncio del «canje de depósitos». De allí a la corrida bancaria, al corralito, al corralón, un solo paso. Como, además, hacía falta cambiar precios relativos con la devaluación, o con la caída de los salarios nominales, la situación de los «otros» activos de los bancos iba a empeorar, no a mejorar. Dado que los bancos habían prestado en función de los «viejos» precios relativos, y no de los nuevos.

En síntesis, la crisis del Estado y el ajuste argentino terminaron generando la crisis financiera de 2001-2002.

# Sorpresa

Vuelvo, ahora, a los Estados Unidos. El ajuste de la economía norteamericana iba, necesariamente, a empeorar la calidad de los activos del sistema financiero. El supuesto implícito era que los grandes bancos le habían «pasado el riesgo» a los grandes fondos de inversión, y fondos de cobertura, con más margen de maniobra para ajustar por precio. (Un tenedor de un bono tiene un activo de precio variable, y cuando la calidad esperada del bono se deteriora, baja el precio. Un tenedor de un depósito bancario tiene un activo de «precio fijo», por lo que cuando el precio de los activos que respaldan ese depósito se desploma, el depósito sigue valiendo lo mismo.) Pero la gran «sorpresa» fue que los bancos habían empaquetado el riesgo y lo habían pasado a los fondos de inversión. Lo habían sacado por la puerta del banco, pero lo habían vuelto a meter por la ventana en sus tesoros por la noche quedándose con los «pedazos» más rentables del negocio hipotecario, pero más riesgosos. Entonces, al igual que en el caso argentino, aunque por otras razones, el ajuste de la economía norteamericana terminó pegando directamente en los activos de los bancos, cuyas carteras se deterioran y bajan de precio, pero cuyos depósitos ( pasivos) mantienen el mismo valor.

En otras palabras, así como en la Argentina de 2001 todos pedían «el ajuste» sin evaluar que ello significaba una crisis financiera por la participación de la deuda pública en la cartera de los bancos, en Estados Unidos todos reclamaban el ajuste sin evaluar el efecto de éste en la cartera del sistema financiero, porque suponían que el grueso del problema lo tendrían los inversores de los fondos.

¿Cómo se supera, entonces, una crisis financiera en el centro del sistema financiero mundial? O «salvando» a los deudores del sistema, mejorando el valor de los activos e inflando la economía (es decir, desandar absurdamente el ajuste de los últimos años) o reflejando en el balance de los bancos la nueva situación de sus activos (el valor postajuste) y obligando a capitalizar, realizar pérdidas, cambios de accionistas, previsionamientos, etcétera. O una combinación de ambas alternativas.

# Programa modesto

Por ahora se ha elegido un camino intermedio. Un modesto programa fiscal para «desandar el ajuste» y una lenta explicitación de pérdidas y capitalización «de mercado» para corregir el problema en el sistema financiero. La solución, de momento, y así lo reflejan los mercados mundiales, parece «mala». Primero, porque si la economía norteamericana necesitaba efectivamente un aterrizaje suave -y los datos indicaban más una desaceleración que una recesión-, tratar de evitar la desaceleración puede generar un cambio de expectativas tan fuerte que lleve efectivamente a un aterrizaje fuerte, generando un nuevo problema más que una solución. Segundo, porque si ahora lo que reina es una gran desconfianza en el sistema financiero, lo necesario es digerir la crisis y no seguir disfrazándola. Y hasta que el sistema financiero global no supere esa desconfianza, con capitalizaciones, previsiones adecuadas y, eventualmente, nuevos accionistas o «soluciones a la Argentina», la volatilidad de los mercados persistirá.

¿Y entonces? Entonces el mundo tiene que acomodarse a los precios relativos de los activos «postajuste» norteamericano. Los norteamericanos vivieron más allá de sus posibilidades en los últimos años y «contagiaron», por su peso, al resto del mundo, todos apalancados, en el boom de crédito y de liquidez global (incluyendo a los chinos). Ahora hay que adaptarse a la nueva situación. Todos seremos algo menos ricos, o algo más pobres, y eso tendrá efectos en el ciclo global, aunque nos ayude fuertemente el precio de los commodities en el ciclo local. Pero lo cierto es que así como la crisis financiera argentina de 2001-2002 fue la lógica consecuencia del «ajuste argentino», así la crisis financiera norteamericana es la lógica consecuencia del «ajuste norteamericano». Obviamente, hasta la próxima burbuja.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bobby Fischer, 64; reclusive genius of the chess board

Bobby Fischer, 64; reclusive genius of the chess board

By Elaine Woo
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 19, 2008

Bobby Fischer, the enigmatic American chess genius who became a Cold War hero with his 1972 defeat of Soviet champion Boris Spassky but fell from grace in later decades when he became a recluse and fugitive known for his hate-filled rants, has died. He was 64.

The legendary chess champion died Thursday in Reykjavik, Iceland, after a long illness, according to his spokesman, Gardar Sverrisson.

Fischer had lived in Iceland since 2005, when that country, which had hosted his legendary match against Spassky, offered him citizenship. He had been on the run from U.S. authorities since a 1992 rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia that violated economic sanctions against Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian government. When Fischer made anti-American statements after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, the U.S. revoked his passport and unsuccessfully sought his return.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation, called Fischer "a phenomenon and an epoch in chess history, and an intellectual giant I would rank next to Newton and Einstein."

Once described by biographer Frank Brady as "the pride and sorrow of American chess," Fischer enjoyed mythical status in the chess world despite turning his back on it for two decades after becoming the world champion at 29. Fischer spent the 1970s and '80s living in isolation in Pasadena and Los Angeles, turning down lucrative offers to display his formidable talents against competitors eager to face him across a checkered board.

Even in his strange exile from the chess scene, however, Fischer continued to haunt it. He became the Howard Hughes of chess, with fans eager for his return reporting sightings at tournaments and continuing to analyze his games years after other champions had taken his place.

He had transformed the humble game, his encounter with Spassky making front-page news and causing sales of chess sets and memberships in chess clubs to skyrocket.

"It was Bobby Fischer who had, single-handedly, made the world recognize that chess on its highest level was as competitive as football, as thrilling as a duel to the death, as aesthetically satisfying as a fine work of art, as intellectually demanding as any form of human activity," Harold C. Schonberg wrote in "Grandmasters of Chess," published in 1973. "If for no other reason, Bobby Fischer was and would be the greatest chess champion who ever lived."

Born in Chicago on March 9, 1943, he barely knew his father, a German physicist who divorced his mother when he was 2. His mother raised him and an older sister, Joan, on her own. A schoolteacher and nurse who later became a physician, Regina Wender Fischer spent long hours at work and saw little of her children when they were growing up.

In 1949, she moved her family to New York, where Bobby attended a progressive private school on a scholarship. About this time, when he was 6, Bobby's sister gave him a chess set and he began to learn the game.

When, within a short while, it became an obsession, he said, "All I want to do, ever, is play chess."

By the time he was 8, he was playing matches at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village under the tutelage of Carmine Nigro, president of the Brooklyn Chess Club. He soon moved on to higher-level playing at the Manhattan Chess Club. In 1956, when he was 13, he became the youngest winner of the U.S. Junior Championship. In 1958, he stunned the American chess world by winning the U.S. championship, which qualified him to play in the Interzonal Tournament in Portoroz, Yugoslavia. He became the youngest international grandmaster in the history of the game.

In 1959, he captured the U.S. title again and dropped out of Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School. Living alone in Brooklyn after his mother remarried and moved to England and his sister left New York, Fischer devoted himself to chess and continued to rack up impressive wins. Between 1958 and 1967, he won eight of the 10 U.S. championships.

He also moved up in international play, finishing second at the International Tournament in Bled, Yugoslavia, in 1961, and taking the title at the Interzonal Tournament in Stockholm in 1962.

He stumbled badly at the next international event, the Candidates Tournament on the Caribbean island of Curacao in 1962. He finished fourth behind three Soviet competitors. Although observers said Fischer had not played well, the young American alleged that the Soviets had conspired against him. He aired his charges against them in a Sports Illustrated article. He then withdrew from international competition for five years. When the rules governing international chess competitions were later revised along the lines that Fischer had proposed, many experts credited him with instigating the changes.

Although absent from the international circuit, Fischer was a major figure domestically, playing in exhibition matches, such as one in Hollywood in 1964 when he took on 50 players simultaneously. He also continued to amass U.S. victories, including his triumph in the 1964 U.S. Championship in which he racked up 11 wins with no losses or draws. One of those games, against Robert Byrne, is often cited as among his most brilliant. It was certainly one of his most dramatic: He appeared to be losing until he unleashed a final combination of moves in a sudden attack that made Byrne's position hopeless. Such imagination and verve caused experts to describe him as an artist on a par with world greats such as Brahms, Rembrandt and Shakespeare.

When Fischer returned to international competition in 1970, he did it with flair, winning three major tournaments and the right to face Spassky, the reigning champion, in Reykjavik.

By then, his reputation -- as demanding, unpredictable and surly -- was firmly established. He drove the Reykjavik officials batty, demanding a Mercedes-Benz with an automatic transmission, a swimming pool reserved for his exclusive use and a certain kind of chess table. He even prescribed the distance of the audience from the players.

At one point, while still in New York, he threatened to withdraw, complaining that the prize money was insufficient. Henry Kissinger, then President Nixon's national security director, called Fischer, urging him to go. James Slater, a London millionaire, doubled the purse to an unprecedented $250,000.

Fischer went to Reykjavik but continued to rile nearly everyone. He walked out of a game when he said the noise from the cameras was distracting. He arrived late at games and kept threatening to pull out.

The match transfixed television audiences around the world whose interest had been fanned by coverage that framed it in political terms. The Soviets had monopolized the world championships since World War II and regarded their domination of the game as evidence of the superiority of the socialist system. Fischer himself portrayed the historic contest as "the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians. . . . They always suggest that the world's leaders should fight it out hand to hand. And that is the kind of thing we are doing . . . over the board."

There was no lack of drama in the contest. Both players blundered in the beginning, then fought furiously for the upper hand. At one point there were seven draws in a row.

Compared to that thrilling run of draws, the end, on Sept. 1, 1972, after two months of play, was anticlimactic. The players adjourned after five hours of play with Fischer clearly ahead. When it was time to resume play, Fischer sat alone at the table. Spassky, after studying the positions, phoned in his resignation, making Fischer the world champion.

Three years later, Fischer set another record: He became the first world champion to give up his title without losing. After failing to win a change in the rules by which the challenger must win, Fischer refused a challenge from Soviet grandmaster Anatoly Karpov, forcing the International Chess Federation to strip Fischer of his crown.

He avoided competition for two decades. By the time of his forfeiture, he was living in Pasadena, apparently with little means of support. He had joined the Pasadena-based Worldwide Church of God and reportedly gave it $61,000 of his Reykjavik prize money. Disillusioned, he left the church after Jesus Christ failed to return in 1975 as church founder Herbert W. Armstrong had promised.

Odd incidents popped up in the news, such as when Fischer was mistaken for a robber and jailed for two days. He accused Pasadena police of mistreating him and voiced his complaints in a 14-page pamphlet titled, "I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse."

The Los Angeles Times reported in 1983 that he had cut himself off from most of his friends and had spent the previous decade living in cheap apartments, rundown hotels and the basement of a Pasadena home owned by a woman who appeared to be his last remaining friend.

He was lured from seclusion in 1992 by the offer of a $5-million rematch against Spassky in Yugoslavia. He proceeded to play despite a warning from the U.S. government that his participation would violate the economic sanctions imposed on the Milosevic regime. Asked about the possibility of a 10-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine if he played, Fischer stunned reporters at a news conference when he took out the cease-and-desist order from the U.S. Treasury and spat on it.

He won the match, collecting $3.3 million, but spent the next decade as an international vagrant, living in Germany, Hungary, the Philippines and Japan.

He made the news sporadically, often because of offensive remarks he made about Jews. He repeatedly claimed that he was the victim of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, even though his mother was Jewish.

After the 9/11 attacks, he gave an interview to a Manila radio station in which he pronounced the destruction "wonderful" and said he wanted "to see the U.S. wiped out."

The U.S. revoked his passport, which led in 2004 to his arrest by Japanese authorities at Tokyo-Narita Airport. He spent eight months in a Japanese jail until Iceland offered him refuge. While he was a fugitive, his mother and sister died, and he was unable to attend their funerals. He has no known survivors.

Over the years, many theories were offered to explain his bizarre behavior. Garry Kasparov, the Russian grandmaster, speculated in the Washington Times in 1990 that Fischer had become "a prisoner of chess who got lost in its depths and could not find his bearings in the real world outside." Gudmundur Thorarinsson, who organized the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match, told the London Guardian in 2005 that Fischer occupied "a gray area between a genius and someone who is insane," adding that he did not think Fischer was mad "but he is not like most people."

What few commentators dispute is the impact he had on chess.

"Suddenly people . . . could turn professional. Prize monies went up. There was talk of founding a professional league. . . . Everybody was playing chess," David Edmonds, co-author of the book "Bobby Fischer Goes to War," told National Public Radio a few years ago. "And the very sad fact for chess, not just in America but in Britain and the West and actually all around the world, was that when Bobby Fischer failed to defend his title . . . in 1975, and became an almost complete recluse, his disappearance sucked out much of that boom in chess interest."


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Corrupción no será eterna en la Argentina

Corrupción no será eterna en la Argentina

Por: Rosendo Fraga
Ámbito Financiero

El dinamismo mediático internacional de Sarkozy ha proyectado a las FARC al plano mundial.

Se trata de un fenómeno singular: la sobrevivencia de una guerrilla marxista a comienzos del siglo XXI, en el tercer país en población de América latina.

Ello, en mi opinión, puede explicarse por dos fenómenos. Uno es la combinación con el narcotráfico, que le ha dado a esta organización el sustento que otras perdieron con el final de la Guerra Fría.

Pero el segundo -y ésta es la gran diferencia con el éxito que tuvieron los procesos de paz en América Central en los casos de las guerrillas nicaragüense y salvadoreña- es que las FARC, si se vuelcan a la política, no tienen ninguna posibilidad de tener éxito electoral, dada su total impopularidad en Colombia. Según el último Latinbarómetro -la encuesta que se realiza anualmente en América latina desde hace una década y media-, Alvaro Uribe es el presidente de la región con más popularidad en su propio país y ello, en gran medida, se debe a su política dura contra las FARC.

La imposibilidad de tener éxito en el plano político democrático y la pérdida del rédito económico que deja el narcotráfico son, en última instancia,las dos causas centrales por las cuales las FARC rechazarán desarmarse.

En los últimos días de diciembre, el tema de la violencia en Colombia fue discutido en Buenos Aires por un grupo de historiadores y académicos, a partir de la exposición realizada por el historiador colombiano Eduardo Posada Carbó, quien ha publicado hace tres meses el libro «La nación soñada. Violencia, democracia y liberalismo en Colombia».

Su tesis central es que una de las causas de la persistencia de la violencia en su país es la interpretación -predominante en la historia y la cultura- de que la violencia es una suerte de fenómeno congénito en la sociedad colombiana, que se origina en la conformación social y cultural del país.

# Destacado

Según su punto de vista, los historiadores suelen destacar las guerras civiles y sus crueldades en el siglo XIX, las dictaduras en la primera mitad del siglo XX, episodios de fuerte violencia político-social como el Bogotazo y en las ultimas décadas las guerrillas, que junto con el narcotráfico y los paramilitareshan caracterizado la situación colombiana, como manifestaciones de un mismo proceso que se torna inevitable.

Agrega que en el arte y la cultura se fundamenta la misma percepción. Tanto en la literatura, con las obras de García Márquez como su clásico «Cien años de soledad», como también la mayoría de los pintores y escultores suelen mostrar una identidad violenta de Colombia y los colombianos.

En su opinión, el país también tiene una tradición civil, liberal y democrática, que comienza con los fundadores y promotores de la independencia nacional a comienzos del siglo XIX, que abrevan en las ideas de las revoluciones francesa y americana, y en las distintas iniciativas de ordenamientos constitucional a lo largo de ese siglo, de las cuales se nutren los pactos y acuerdos políticos del siglo XX. Esto permite al país tener la democracia más estable de América del Sur, pese a la violencia. Si se asume que ella ha estado siempre en el ser colombiano y es algo inevitable, no hay posibilidad de intentar un cambio. Si, por el contrario, se parte de la base de que el país tiene otra tradición de tipo institucionalista, es posible utilizarla para intentar modificar el presente y de ahí la importancia de la tesis de Posada Carbó.

En mi opinión, la interpretación de la historia siempre es una clave central de la acción política y respecto de la Argentina se puede hacer un análisis análogo al que realiza sobre su país este historiador colombiano.

# Quimera

La historia desmitificadora nos dice que muchos de los próceres fueron corruptos, que el país exitoso del Centenario en realidad era una quimera inventada por las clases dirigentes para justificar sus privilegios, que nuestra obra literaria nacional, el «Martín Fierro», nos muestra ya entonces la realidad de la injusticia social, los consejos del Viejo Vizcacha -como hacete amigo del juez- evidencian que en realidad no hay nada nuevo en el tema de la falta de calidad institucional y el tango Cambalache de Discépolo, ya acercándose la mitad del siglo XX, nos confirma que la corrupción y la injusticia son algo inevitable en la Argentina.

Pero frente a ello, también se puede presentar una interpretación de acuerdo con la cual la Argentina fue uno de los fenómenos de cambio más relevantes del mundo entre fines del siglo XIX y comienzos del XX. El país en un siglo pasa de ser aproximadamente el 2% de la economía de América latina al 50%; en un cuarto de siglo de vigencia de la Ley 1.420 de educación laica gratuita y obligatoria entre 1885 y 2010, el país logra ser el más educado de la región y es el país del mundo que recibe más inmigración europea de acuerdo con su población, superando incluso a EE.UU., porque las perspectivas de progreso eran internacionalmente reconocidas.

La primera línea de interpretación lleva a una aceptación del actual funcionamiento de la Argentina como el único posible; en cambio, la segunda plantea que los procesos de cambio y progreso son viables.

En el caso de Colombia, la violencia aparece como el mal endémico, mientras que en la Argentina la corrupción y el cortoplacismo parecieran serlo. En ambos casos, una interpretación de la historia puede servir para justificar el statu quo, pero también otra, para mostrar que un país distinto es posible y se lo puede intentar.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Why Capitalism is Good for the Soul

Why Capitalism is Good for the Soul
Peter Saunders

Capitalism provides the conditions for creating worthwhile lives,
argues Peter Saunders

There is probably nobody in Australia more committed to the proposition that capitalism is bad for the soul than Clive Hamilton. The executive director of the Australia Institute, a green socialist think tank, he is the author of books such as Growth Fetish and Affluenza, which have achieved some influence in Australia and notched up quite respectable sales. His message, aimed mainly at a disaffected intellectual middle class, is that we have become preoccupied with the pursuit of wealth and are increasingly unhappy and unfulfilled as a result of our materialistic lifestyles. Clive believes we have broken our ‘magical relationship with the natural environment,’ and that the pursuit of money is getting in the way of our ability to reconnect with our ‘true selves.’(1)

On 9 September 2007, at Macquarie University, I debated Clive Hamilton on the proposition that ‘capitalism is bad for the soul.’ Our debate attracted around five hundred people. When the Vice-Chancellor put the motion to a show of hands, the tellers judged that the ayes had it, though not by much. This suggests that substantial numbers of people don’t just buy Clive’s books; they also buy his arguments.

Soulless capitalism

The problem for those of us who believe that capitalism offers the best chance we have for leading meaningful and worthwhile lives is that in this debate, the devil has always had the best tunes to play. Capitalism lacks romantic appeal. It does not set the pulse racing in the way that opposing ideologies like socialism, fascism, or environmentalism can. It does not stir the blood, for it identifies no dragons to slay. It offers no grand vision for the future, for in an open market system the future is shaped not by the imposition of utopian blueprints, but by billions of individuals pursuing their own preferences. Capitalism can justifiably boast that it is excellent at delivering the goods, but this fails to impress in countries like Australia that have come to take affluence for granted.

It is quite the opposite with socialism. Where capitalism delivers but cannot inspire, socialism inspires despite never having delivered. Socialism’s history is littered with repeated failures and with human misery on a massive scale, yet it still attracts smiles rather than curses from people who never had to live under it.(2) Affluent young Australians who would never dream of patronising an Adolf Hitler bierkeller decked out in swastikas are nevertheless happy to hang out in the Lenin Bar at Sydney’s Circular Quay, sipping chilled vodka cocktails under hammer and sickle flags, indifferent to the twenty million victims of the Soviet regime. Chic westerners are still sporting Che Guevara t-shirts, forty years after the man’s death, and flocking to the cinema to see him on a motor bike, apparently oblivious to their handsome hero’s legacy of firing squads and labour camps.(3)

Environmentalism, too, has the happy knack of inspiring the young and firing the imagination of idealists. This is because the radical green movement shares many features with old-style revolutionary socialism. Both are oppositional, defining themselves as alternatives to the existing capitalist system. Both are moralistic, seeking to purify humanity of its tawdry materialism and selfishness, and appealing to our ‘higher instincts.’ Both are apocalyptic, claiming to be able to read the future and warning, like Old Testament prophets, of looming catastrophe if we do not change our ways. And both are utopian, holding out the promise of redemption through a new social order based on a more enlightened humanity. All of this is irresistibly appealing to romantics.

Both socialism and environmentalism also share an unshakeable belief in their own infallibility, which further ramps up their attractiveness. Both dismiss their opponents as either ignorant (‘falsely conscious’) or in bad faith, and they are both reluctant to allow counter-arguments, evidence, or logic to deflect them from the urgent pursuit of their proffered solutions. Although they both ground their claims in ‘science,’ their appeal is as much emotional as rational, and both take themselves so seriously that they lose any sense of irony. Rockstars fly around the world in private jets to perform at sellout stadium concerts demanding action on global warming, and indignant youths coordinate anti-globalisation protests using global communication networks.

Boring capitalism cannot hope to compete with all this moral certainty, self-righteous anger, and sheer bloody excitement. Where is the adrenalin in getting up every day, earning a living, raising a family, creating a home, and saving for the future? Where is the moral crusade in buying and selling, borrowing and lending, producing and consuming? The Encyclopædia Britannica describes ‘soul music’ as ‘characterised by intensity of feeling and earthiness.’ It is in this sense that capitalism is soulless, for although it fills people’s bellies, it struggles to engage their emotions.

Capitalism, theology, and the soul
Is there any sense in which capitalism might be said to be good for the soul?
The Judeo-Christian tradition doesn’t offer much help in building such an argument. The Christian idea of the ‘soul’ refers to the spiritual essence of a human being created in the image of God, and there has been no shortage of theologians claiming that capitalism is incompatible with the full development and expression of this spiritual essence. For some church leaders, the basic principles of capitalism (private property rights, competition, and the pursuit of profit through free market exchange) seem incompatible with Christian ethics.(4) Their arguments are familiar—inequality is immoral, the pursuit of wealth is ignoble, private property is selfish—and these claims are commonly backed up with the authority of scripture. Didn’t Jesus preach that it is ‘easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’? Doesn’t the first epistle to Timothy warn that ‘love of money is a root of all sorts of evil’?(5)

However, not all theologians interpret the scriptures in this way. Some suggest that it is not profit, private property, or free markets that the Bible condemns so much as individual greed and covetousness. Paul taught that ‘greed … amounts to idolatry,’(6) but his message was not that riches themselves are bad. He simply warned rich people against allowing the pursuit of money to eclipse what is really important in life.(7) Much in the Christian tradition emphasises God’s desire that we should be innovative in developing and improving the world. In the parable of the three talents, for example, the master rebukes the servant who buried his money, but praises those servants who invested and created more wealth—which is precisely what modern capitalism is about.(8)

It is not difficult from within the Judeo-Christian tradition to argue that capitalism is ‘a highly moral system, nourishing the best that is in us and checking the worst.’(9) But as Michael Novak reminds us, the revelations of God recorded by Jews, Christians, and Muslims centuries ago were intended to be universal, and were not tied to any one system of organising human affairs.(10) Therefore, it is probably a mistake to trawl through the scriptures searching for nuggets that might support this or that system of political economy, for the word of God was never intended to be used as a blueprint for designing socioeconomic systems.

Capitalism nurtures the human spirit
If we want to know if capitalism is bad (or good) for the ‘soul,’ it probably makes more sense to approach the question metaphorically rather than theologically. Approached in this way, saying something is ‘good for the soul’ implies simply that it enhances our capacity to live a good life. On this less literal and more secular interpretation of the ‘soul,’ capitalism fares rather well.

We have known since the time of Adam Smith that capitalism harnesses self-interest to generate outcomes that benefit others. This is obvious in the relationship between producers and consumers, for profits generally flow to those who anticipate what other people want and then deliver it at the least cost. But it also holds in the relationship between employers and employees. One of Karl Marx’s most mischievous legacies was to suggest that this relationship is inherently antagonistic: that for employers to make profit, they must drive wages down. In reality, workers in the advanced capitalist countries thrive when their companies increase profits. The pursuit of profit thus results in higher living standards for workers, as well as cheaper and more plentiful goods and services for consumers.

The way this has enhanced people’s capacity to lead a good life can be seen in the spectacular reduction in levels of global poverty, brought about by the spread of capitalism on a world scale. In 1820, 85% of the world’s population lived on today’s equivalent of less than a dollar per day. By 1950, this proportion had fallen to 50%. Today it is down to 20%. World poverty has fallen more in the last fifty years than it did in the previous five hundred.(11) This dramatic reduction in human misery and despair owes nothing to aging rockstars demanding that we ‘make poverty history.’ It is due to the spread of global capitalism.

Capitalism has also made it possible for many more people to live on Earth and to survive for longer than ever before. In 1900, the average life expectancy in the ‘less developed countries’ was just thirty years. By 1960, this had risen to forty-six years. By 1998, it was sixty-five years. To put this extraordinary achievement into perspective, the average life expectancy in the poorest countries at the end of the twentieth century was fifteen years longer than the average life expectancy in the richest country in the world—Britain—at the start of that century.

By perpetually raising productivity, capitalism has not only driven down poverty rates and raised life expectancy, it has also released much of humanity from the crushing burden of physical labour, freeing us to pursue ‘higher’ objectives instead. What Clive Hamilton airily dismisses as a ‘growth fetish’ has resulted in one hour of work today delivering twenty-five times more value than it did in 1850. This has freed huge chunks of our time for leisure, art, sport, learning, and other ‘soul-enriching’ pursuits. Despite all the exaggerated talk of an ‘imbalance’ between work and family life, the average Australian today spends a much greater proportion of his or her lifetime free of work than they would had they belonged to any previous generation in history.

There is another sense, too, in which capitalism has freed individuals so they can pursue worthwhile lives, and that lies in its record of undermining tyrannies and dictatorships. As examples like Pinochet’s Chile and Putin’s Russia vividly demonstrate, a free economy does not guarantee a democratic polity or a society governed by the rule of law. But as Milton Friedman once pointed out, these latter conditions are never found in the absence of a free economy.(12) Historically, it was capitalism that delivered humanity from the ‘soul-destroying’ weight of feudalism. Later, it freed millions from the dead hand of totalitarian socialism. While capitalism may not be a sufficient condition of human freedom, it is almost certainly a necessary one.

Has capitalism outlived its usefulness?
Interestingly, Hamilton does not deny any of this. In a recent article he admits: ‘It was not socialism that broke down the barriers of poverty and class, it was capitalism.’ He even accepts that ‘the arrival of widespread material abundance in the West for the first time provided the opportunity for the mass of ordinary people to pursue self-realisation.’(13) Like Marx before him, Hamilton is happy to acknowledge capitalism’s historical accomplishments. But, again like Marx, his argument is that capitalism has now outlived its usefulness: what once promoted human progress now restrains it.(14)

Hamilton’s complaint is that the opportunity for a full and meaningful life that capitalism opened up has not been grasped. This is because a growing preoccupation with consumption, economic growth, and the pursuit of wealth has subverted our search for authenticity and self-realisation. The charge against capitalism is that it has gone too far; it has made us too materialistic, and our preoccupation with money has invaded every corner of our lives, driving out much more important concerns. As a result, we are increasingly unhappy and dissatisfied, and only by turning against capitalism will we be able to move on.

When should capitalism have been halted?
When I was a university teacher, I frequently encountered students who argued just as Clive does. We are too materialistic, they told me, we don’t need all these possessions, we should stop the capitalist machine and devote our energies to better and higher pursuits. But whenever I asked them at what point in history they thought the machine should have been turned off, they would invariably reply, ‘now!’

These students wanted everything that industrial capitalism had delivered to their generation up to that point—the comfortable housing, the audio systems, the cheap flights to foreign countries, the medical advances, and the increased education and leisure time—but they thought future generations should go without the additional benefits that would be generated in the years of capitalism to come. I used to wonder what they would think if their parents and grandparents had reasoned along similar lines, and switched off economic growth twenty, or fifty, or one hundred years ago.
Clive says the problem of excess materialism has come about ‘over the last two or three decades.’(15) So what would we have lost if he had been able to impose his anti-growth ideology in, say, 1980?

The web is not the only innovation we would have gone without if Clive had been given his head. There would be no PCs. No satellite navigation (an extraordinary feat of human ingenuity destined to make street maps redundant for pedestrians and drivers alike). No mobile phones or cheap intercontinental telephone calls. No digital music on CDs or iTunes, and no digital images on cameras, televisions and DVDs. No hybrid cars and very little solar or wind powered electricity generation. No International Space Station or space shuttle missions to continue exploring the heavens. No genetically modified crops so farmers can guard against insect attack without using insecticides. No human genome map with its potential cures for Alzheimer’s and heart disease. No AIDS treatments or MRI scans. And (although Clive detests them) no plasma TVs!

True, most of us could live without all these things. But on what possible grounds could it be argued this would benefit our souls?

The pursuit of happiness
Surveys indicate that most Australians are happy with their lives, but that wealthy people are not much happier than poorer ones, and that happiness levels have been fairly static in recent decades despite economic growth. Clive says this supports his argument that we should halt economic progress and concentrate on other things. But is this really what the evidence suggests?

It is true that average happiness levels have not risen with recent economic growth, but this means it is also true that happiness levels have not risen with any other recent changes, including increases in leisure time, reduced infant mortality, lower unemployment rates, higher levels of health expenditure, and increased life expectancy. This suggests either that we are indifferent to how affluent we are, how long we are going to live, how hard we have to work, and how healthy we are likely to remain; or that the happiness surveys are failing to pick up changes in our subjective well-being over time. The latter interpretation seems much more plausible than the former.

What seems to be happening is that we are adjusting our expectations as circumstances change. We factor in improvements over time, so happiness scores today show little change from those twenty or thirty years ago. But this does not mean we would be happy to return to the circumstances of the past. If Clive could drag us all back to 1980, average happiness scores would plummet because we now take for granted the improved lives we have secured for ourselves. By the same token, our children in thirty years’ time will not wish to sacrifice the improvements they have secured, even though their recorded happiness scores will doubtless be no higher than ours are now.(16)

None of this means that Clive’s complaints about contemporary consumerism are entirely without substance. He is right that many of the products we consume nowadays are unsatisfying (although we should remember that one person’s dross is another’s desire). Some of the things we buy clearly do not produce the gratification we hope to get from them (Clive singles out luxury barbecues), and anticipation of a purchase may well bring more pleasure than its eventual consummation.(17)

But recognising that consumption does not always bring contentment does not mean we have to give up on capitalism. Because capitalism constantly encourages innovation, it is inevitable that many of the items brought to market will be trivial or even trashy, but some will make a genuine contribution to human well-being. We cannot know in advance which will be life-enhancing and which will not, but pointing to discarded piles of trashy commodities does not make a compelling case for turning off the growth machine.

Moreover, just because a luxury barbecue won’t satisfy the soul doesn’t mean we would be better off without it. Clive assumes consumption prevents the pursuit of genuine happiness, but commercial relationships do not rule out other, more enduring, forms of association, like friendships, family ties, voluntary activity, or religious worship.(18) Of course buying and selling cannot give us everything we need in life, but most people are well aware of this. Hamilton claims that 75% of us think spending time with friends and family will enhance our lives, while fewer than 40% think more money will do the same. It is difficult to see how capitalism can have turned us into consuming automatons when so many of us still assert the importance of non-materialistic values.(19)

Heads, I win; tails, you lose
No socioeconomic system can guarantee people a good life. All we can reasonably ask of any society is the conditions that will enable us to construct happy and worthwhile lives for ourselves. On this test, capitalism passes with flying colours.

A modern capitalist country like Australia guarantees necessities like food and shelter. By enforcing a clear system of private property rights, it offers individuals security. It allows people to interact freely, forming family ties, friendship groups, and communities of common interest; and it maximises opportunities for people to realise their potential through hard work and innovation. These are the conditions that Abraham Maslow identified as essential for humans to satisfy their core needs. If these conditions are in place, as they are in modern, capitalist countries, no individual can reasonably claim that external conditions have prevented them from pursuing happiness.(20)

Traditional critics of capitalism, like Marx, argued that these preconditions of human happiness could not be satisfied in a capitalist society. Marx’s theory of the ‘immiseration of the proletariat’ held that capitalism couldn’t even guarantee provision of food and shelter, for mass poverty, misery, ignorance, and squalor were the inevitable consequence of the accumulation of wealth by a tiny capitalist class.(21)

We now know that Marx was spectacularly wrong. Working people today do not just earn a good wage; they own comfortable homes, have shares in the companies that employ them, go to university, win entry to the professions, set up businesses, and run for high office. The western ‘working class’ (to the extent that such a thing still exists) has been so busy expanding its horizons that it has quite forgotten about its historic mission of overthrowing capitalism.

For a while, this triumph of mass capitalism left western Marxists badly wrong-footed, but in the 1960s, they regrouped around a different kind of critique advanced by that darling of the Parisian soixante-huitards, Herbert Marcuse.(22) Marcuse accepted that modern capitalism provides the masses with all the material things they desire, but he said this starves them of any meaning and purpose in their lives. Returning to Marx’s youthful writings, and splicing these together with some fashionable Freud, Marcuse suggested that the advertising industry engineers ‘false needs’ for consumer goods that capitalism then provides, while deeper, more authentic desires remain ‘sublimated’ and unfulfilled. The working class is ‘alienated’ because all relationships and experiences are mediated through this empty consumption
of commodities.

Marcuse turned Marx’s critique of capitalism on its head. Where Marx complained that capitalism cannot supply the masses with the goods they need, Marcuse complained that it supplies them with too many. Clive Hamilton is arguing much the same thing today. It is no more convincing now than it was then.

Are we all suffering from collective brain damage?
Wherever populations have a chance to move, the flow is always towards capitalism, not away from it. The authorities never had a problem keeping West Germans out of East Germany, South Koreans out of North Korea, or Taiwanese out of Communist China.
The attraction of living in a capitalist society is not just that the economy works. It is also that if your version of the good life leads you to turn your back on capitalism, you don’t have to pick up sticks and move away. If you don’t like capitalism, there is no need to bribe people-smugglers to get you out of the country. You simply buy a plot of land, build your mud-brick house, and drop out (or, like Clive, you set up your own think tank and sell books urging others to drop out).

And people do drop out, or at least scale down. A survey conducted by Hamilton’s Australia Institute claims that 23% of Australians between the ages of thirty and sixty have taken a cut in their income to get more control over their lives, spend more time with friends and families, or achieve greater personal fulfilment. Clive calls them ‘downshifters.’(23)

However, 23% isn’t good enough for Clive, for it means more than 75% of us are still accumulating and consuming. Too many of us are still making the ‘wrong’ choice. Like Marcuse, Hamilton thinks this is because we are beguiled by advertisers who promote false needs. We are all suffering from what Engels famously called ‘false consciousness’ (or what Frank Parkin mischievously described as ‘collective brain damage’).(24) We need to have our consciousness raised by those who know better.

In a passage reminiscent of Engels and Lenin, Hamilton writes: ‘The downshifters are the standard bearers in the revolt against consumerism, but the social revolution required to make the transition to a post-growth society will not come about solely through the personal decisions of determined individuals … Making [this] transition demands a politics of downshifting.’(25) The phrase is ominous. Just as Lenin couldn’t trust the proletariat to make the transition to socialism, so too Hamilton cannot trust us to make the transition to the ‘post-growth’ society he thinks we should have. Left to ourselves, we’ll never get there. We need a leader to give us a shove. As to who this leader will be, Clive is far too modest to say.

The intellectuals and capitalism
Andrew Norton notes that disaffected intellectuals since Rousseau have been attacking capitalism for its failure to meet ‘true human needs.’(26) The claim is unfounded, so what is it about capitalism that so upsets them?

Joseph Schumpeter offered part of the answer. He observed that capitalism has brought into being an educated class that has no responsibility for practical affairs, and that this class can only make a mark by criticising the system that feeds them.(27) Intellectuals attack capitalism because that is how they sell books and build careers.

More recently, Robert Nozick has noted that intellectuals spend their childhoods excelling at school, where they occupy the top positions in the hierarchy, only to find later in life that their market value is much lower than they believe they are worth. Seeing ‘mere traders’ enjoying higher pay than them is unbearable, and it generates irreconcilable disaffection with the market system.(28)

But the best explanation for the intellectuals’ distaste for capitalism was offered by Friedrich Hayek in The Fatal Conceit.(29) Hayek understood that capitalism offends intellectual pride, while socialism flatters it. Humans like to believe they can design better systems than those that tradition or evolution have bequeathed. We distrust evolved systems, like markets, which seem to work without intelligent direction according to laws and dynamics that no one fully understands.

Nobody planned the global capitalist system, nobody runs it, and nobody really comprehends it. This particularly offends intellectuals, for capitalism renders them redundant. It gets on perfectly well without them. It does not need them to make it run, to coordinate it, or to redesign it. The intellectual critics of capitalism believe they know what is good for us, but millions of people interacting in the marketplace keep rebuffing them. This, ultimately, is why they believe capitalism is ‘bad for the soul’: it fulfils human needs without first seeking their moral approval.

"Sólo Zimbabwe hizo una intervención peor que INDEC"

Lo dice Jacob Ryten, ex subdirector de estadísticas en Canadá. Y ahora, en un programa de Naciones Unidas

"Sólo Zimbabwe hizo una intervención peor que INDEC"

Ámbito Financiero

Difícil es medir y comparar la intervención y el maquillaje del gobierno en el INDEC. Un especialista en estadística de Canadá, ahora en Naciones Unidas, se atrevió a hacerlo. El resultado fue contundente: sólo Zimbabwe, que tuvo hiperinflación, efectuó una alteración mayor a la de la Argentina. Es comprensible que haya pocos casos de dibujo de estadísticas en el mundo. Siempre, por más negativos que sean los datos, conviene conocer la gravedad de una situación. Pero no pareciera ser la elección del gobierno, más interesado en seguir viviendo en su propio mundo de maravillas estadísticas.

Jacob Ryten
A poco de cumplirse un año del inicio de la intervenciónen el INDEC, Jacob Ryten tiene pocas esperanzas de que un nuevo índice para medir los precios (imitado del de Estados Unidos) pueda ser puesto en práctica. Es por el alto presupuesto que conllevaría, costo que el INDEC no podría afrontar.

Este economista portugués que estudió en la London School of Economics y se especializó en estadísticas fue quien asesoró al INDEC sobre el IPC desde el inicio de su implementación, tarea que todavía desarrolla como coordinador del programa de Naciones Unidas para el Seguimiento de los Indices de Precios a nivel iberoamericano.

Anteriormente había ocupado el cargo de subdirector de Estadísticas de Canadá.

En diálogo con Ambito Financiero desde Israel, Ryten recordó en un castellano claro y preciso que sólo en la oficina de estadísticas de Zimbabwe había ocurrido una intervención peor que en el INDEC. «Cuando la inflación llegó a 10.000% anual, su presidente decidió cerrar la oficina porque consideró que ya no tenía sentido seguir midiendo. Creo que la Argentina no quiere tener a ese país africano como ejemplo», aseguró. Periodista: ¿Pensó que podría durar tanto tiempo la intervención en el INDEC? Jacob Ryten: En realidad no. Me pareció que podría durar hasta las elecciones presidenciales y que iba a terminar. Supongo que ahora ya no hay quién sepa cómo implementar un nuevo índice. Y además es imposible saber la inflación acumulada pero no publicada.

P.: ¿Existe algún país en el que haya ocurrido una situación similar?

J.R.: No. Y eso que tengo una colección de historias parecidas, pero nunca presencié una intervención de esta magnitud, sobre todo en un país donde la inflación está aumentando.

P.: Lo ocurrido en la Argentina sería único...

J.R.: Recuerdo un caso peor: en Zimbawe, cuando la inflación llegó a 10.000% anual, el presidente decidió cerrar la oficina porque consideró que ya no tenía sentido seguir midiendo. Creo que la Argentina no quiere tener a ese país africano como ejemplo.

P.: ¿Servirá de algo copiar el IPC de Estados Unidos, como quieren implementar acá?

J.R.: El INDEC no tiene los recursos ni económicos, ni técnicos,ni humanos para copiar ese índice. Ese IPC es sumamente caro, en primer lugar, porque está basado en una muestra aleatoria de productos por lo que es necesario montar todo un operativo. Además, debe tener una cobertura geográfica que se traduce en miles de encuestadores con una distribución casi uniforme a lo largo del territorio nacional. Por último, en Estados Unidos se ajusta el índice con la evolución de la calidad de los productos. Es decir, no se interpreta el alza de precio como una simple suba sino como un cambio de calidad. El índice norteamericano es el Rolls Royce de los IPC.

P.: ¿Es utilizado en algún otro lado este IPC?

J.R.: No. Hubo varios momentos de la historia de la oficina de estadísticas de Canadá en los que se analizó ponerlo en práctica, pero es muy costoso. La evaluación que habíamos hecho era que la mejora que se podía lograr en la exactitud no se condecía con el incremento de su costo. El IPC de Canadá, hace 15 años, tenía un presupuesto de u$s 25 millones y con el incremento se pasaba a alrededor de u$s 38 millones.

P.: ¿Tiene noción de cuántocuesta elaborar el IPC acá?

J.R.: El costo del IPC en la Argentina no equivale ni a la décima parte de lo que vale un índice de Canadá. Allá se tiene alrededor de 90 técnicos como personal de planta, cuando acá son muchos menos. Y eso sin contar a las personas que trabajan para relevar en las provincias.

# Cambio profundo

P.: Cuando salga el nuevo IPC, ¿será posible empalmar esta serie del índice con la anterior?

J.R.: Todo depende de la relación entre ambos índices, es un cambio muy profundo. Habría que hacer un empalme durante un año, es decir, tendrían que existir las dos versiones. Si el cambio no es profundo, es posible hacerlo, pero en verdad como no se sabe bien en qué consiste la nueva medición, no es posible anticiparlo.

P.: Luego de casi un año, ¿es todavía posible que el IPC se torne creíble?

J.R.: Francamente después de todos estos meses de intervención es muy difícil aconsejar qué hacer. Y no tiene tanto que ver con problemas técnicos sino más con los inconvenientes sobre la percepción. No sé si hay alguien en la Argentina que cree en la exactitud del índice. Es muy complicado saber el grado de confianza que hoy tiene el IPC.

P.: Y, prácticamente nula...

J.R.: Entonces cómo poder empalmar no tiene respuesta. Ese es el grave problema de las intervenciones: no es sólo el daño que hacen a los números sino a la percepción. Una de las primeras cosas que habría que implementar sería el reemplazo de las personas que trabajan ahora con el índice contaminado por técnicos que no estén involucrados con lo que está pasando. Es una lástima cuando se piensa que el INDEC era el instituto más capacitado de la región y que el IPC era el más profesional. En un año se destruyeron ambas cosas y no tengo la mínima idea de con qué ventajas, porque no es una forma de frenar la inflación ni por supuesto de medirla.

P.: Cuando se publique el nuevo índice seguramente será consultado nuevamente para que evalúe su efectividad...

J.R.: Más importante que consultarme a mí sería que pregunten a los usuarios y al público en general, si es que tienen confianza en el índice. Si la respuesta colectiva es no, entonces poco importa si el IPC es una maravilla.

Entrevista de María Iglesia

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

¿Otro movimiento nacional y popular?

¿Otro movimiento nacional y popular?

Por: Luis García Martínez (*)
Ámbito Financiero

Kirchner, en la cena de despedida que ofreció a los diputados oficialistas que cesaban su mandato, afirmó que iba a ser «un militante para recorrer el país y tener el instrumento que nos permita construir un movimiento nacional y popular». Debemos a Scalabrini Ortiz y a Jauretche, principalmente, haber articulado una interpretación de la historia nacional, según la cual el país estaba en condiciones de avanzar en la industrialización, en las décadas finales del siglo XIX.

Impidió el logro de este objetivo, la imposición por parte de Inglaterra, de un modelo de división internacional del trabajo (modelo agroexportador), que asignó al país el rol de productor de alimentos y materias de zona templada. ¿Por qué la clase dirigente de ese entonces aceptó este rol « secundario»? ¿Por qué esta dirigencia está conformada por los grandes terratenientes de la pampa húmeda (la « oligarquía vacuna»), directos beneficiarios del citado modelo.

Perón dio cauce popular a la mencionada interpretación histórica, dividiendo el mundo político en dos campos bien diferenciados: por un lado, el movimiento «nacional y popular», y por el otro, las minorías, ligadas a intereses foráneos, que representaban lo «antinacional y antipopular» (en lo esencial, seguían siendo los terratenientes, y su entidad representativa, la Sociedad Rural Argentina).

Esta concepción maniquea de la historia nacional, sigue hoy conservando un atractivo político, como lo confirma el citado proyecto de Kirchner.

Pero dos décadas antes, Alfonsín ambicionaba igual objetivo, en un famoso discurso que pronunció en Parque Norte, y que luego la inflación hizo trizas.

El modelo productivo de la generación del 80, fue el de la economía abierta, integrada al mundo. El modelo de Perón, fue la autarquía, la sustitución de importaciones, con la menor vinculación posible al mundo. El primer modelo se conoce como «desarrollo hacia fuera», y el segundo como «desarrollo hacia dentro». El primero obtiene su dinamismo, su fuerza de expansión, en el crecimiento de la demanda externa; el segundo, confía en el aumento de la demanda interna, pero no sustentado en el incremento de la productividad, sino vía políticas monetarias expansivas, las que siempre terminaron en crisis de la balanza de pagos. Ambos modelos generan su propia estructura de mercado interno, pero la experiencia internacional pone de relieve que el volumen del consumo e inversión, el PBI, crece a tasas más elevadas en las economías abiertas, que en aquellas más cerradas.

# Antigualla

Hoy, volvemos a dar vida a una vieja antigualla: la de un pacto social, centrado seguramente en un «acuerdo» de precios y salarios, que esperemos no reedite el de Gelbard, en 1973, denominado de « inflación cero», que terminó en el famoso «rodrigazo», que dinamitó el gobierno de Isabel y de López Rega, al llevar la inflación de dos dígitos a cuatro dígitos anuales. No puede haber mayor ataque al empleo, al salario y al crecimiento, que una inflación de esta magnitud.

¿Discutirá el futuro pacto social un nuevo camino de crecimiento, haciendo énfasis en el estímulo a la productividad, a la mejora en la eficiencia del gasto público, a la transparencia de las estadísticas oficiales,o se seguirá insistiendo en el dólar alto, junto con un intento trasnochado de revivir la planificación estatal de la economía (¿no aprendimos de la implosión del comunismo?) como panaceas para disimular el hecho central que una buena parte de los recursos humanos y de capital, están hoy asignados a actividades de baja (o nula) productividad, financiadas por aquellas otras actividades que sí aportan un ingreso genuino (en el caso de los granos, un dólar a 2 pesos para las ventas, y a 3,50 pesos para los insumos, como bien lo acaba de decir el empresario agropecuario, Gustavo Grobocopatel).

¿Por qué no hay apoyo político para ir saliendo de la sustitución de importaciones? Una respuesta podría encontrarse en la referida interpretación maniquea de nuestra historia, la que da origen a reiterados intentos de formar nuevos movimientos de carácter «nacional y popular», que es seguir la misma orientación que, con algunos altibajos, venimos llevando a cabo desde hace seis décadas. Si nos hiciéramos la pregunta clave, acerca de si la opción que tenía el país, hacia fines del siglo XIX, era la de ser un país agroexportador o un país industrial, o si la elección era entre tener una economía agroexportadora (cuyo dinamismo se diseminaba en toda la sociedad) o una economía de subsistencia. Creemos que la verdad es esta última.

Si aceptamos esto, se derrumba el mito (encubridor de nuestras debilidades), de que nuestras frustraciones obedecen a una conjura de intereses foráneos, en complicidad con minorías «antinacionales y antipopulares». La teoría de la dependencia (de la que fueron adelantados los mencionado líderes de FORJA), tuvo la influencia que tuvo en los movimientos de «liberación» de la decada del 70, porque ofreció a estos una explicación simple del subdesarrollo de América latina, y de su solución: bastaba aniquilar el modelo agroexportador, para que el desarrollo adviniera rápidamente. El tiempo mostró que las cosas no eran tan fáciles (Fernando Henrique Cardoso es un testimonio invalorable al respecto, ya que luego de ser uno de los más destacados intelectuales de la referida teoría, antes de convertirse en presidente de Brasil, advirtió la simpleza de aquella explicación del subdesarrollo). El núcleo ideológico que hoy impera en los círculos oficiales, está nutrido en la citada teoría.

Si al país le resulta difícil comprender que las prohibiciones para exportar, las fuertes retenciones, y otras medidas discriminatorias contra las exportaciones, atentan seriamente contra su futuro, es porque sigue aferrado a la creencia en el «desarrollo hacia dentro». Desde hace décadas, venimos pregonando en los foros internacionales contra el proteccionismo agrícola de los países desarrollados, al que acusamos de ser la fuente de nuestras dificultades; sin embargo, cuando se nos presenta la oportunidad de exportar, en nombre de la defensa del mercado interno, establecemos todas aquellas restricciones, lo que quita toda credibilidad a nuestros reclamos.

El estigma del modelo «agroexportador» sigue pesando sobre nosotros; ésta es la verdadera discusión que debemos encarar, y no refugiarnos en mitos anacrónicos, que no son otra cosa que escapismos.

(*) Miembro de la Academia Nacional de Ciencias Económicas

Monday, January 07, 2008

Universidad, naftas y salud: de nuevo el ataque de Hood Robin

Universidad, naftas y salud: de nuevo el ataque de Hood Robin

Por: Enrique Szewach

Ámbito Financiero

La polémica en torno a la prioridad para los ciudadanos porteños en los turnos de los hospitales de la Ciudad devolvió al lenguaje público una palabra muy cara a los argentinos en general y a los políticos en particular: solidaridad. Obviamente, a los argentinos nos reconforta ser solidarios, especialmente, con la plata de otros y, sobre todo, cuando esa supuesta solidaridad esconde una medida regresiva o a favor de los que más tienen financiada por los pobres.

Nuestro país está lleno de ejemplos al respecto. Desde la Universidad pública para jóvenes de clase media alta que vienen de pagar cuotas de más de 1.000 pesos en secundarios de moda, financiada con los impuestos que pagan pobres que nunca asistirán a la Universidad, hasta subsidios a la nafta premium o a la electricidad que también financian, a través de esos impuestos al consumo, pobres que nunca tendrán automóvil y que, muchas veces, ni siquiera tienen servicio eléctrico en sus hogares. Pero somos solidarios.

# Falencias

Con el sistema de salud ocurre algo similar. Se supone que el hospital público debería ser destinado, en general, a cubrir los problemas de salud de aquéllos que, por carecer de un trabajo en blanco, no están afiliados a una obra social. O que, siendo autónomos o trabajadores en negro, carecen de los ingresos suficientes para pagar un seguro de salud privado. Sin embargo, aun superada con creces la crisis de 2001-2002, el hospital público sigue cubriendo las necesidades, no sólo de los que tienen bajos ingresos, sino también disfrazando las falencias que caracterizan al sistema de salud de obras sociales, la «columna vertebral» del gremialismo argentino.

Es cierto que varias obras sociales sindicales ofrecen un servicio de excelencia en materia de salud. Pero no es menos cierto que, muchas de ellas, no sólo no brindan ningún servicio, sino que sus administradores se han quedado con los fondos de sus afiliados, no han pagado impuestos, ni cargas, y, sobre todo, no han prestado los servicios básicos que debían prestar. Y han destruido y vaciado sus propios sanatorios. Es más, si de solidaridad se trata, en aquellas obras sociales en donde rige el sistema de copagos, es decir, en las que el afiliado debe pagar un complemento de su bolsillo para acceder a ciertos servicios médicos, la solidaridad, como corresponde a argentinos que se precien, está invertida.

En efecto, como los afiliados de ingresos más bajos -los «cadetes» de las empresas- no tienen recursos para hacer esos pagos adicionales, terminan atendiéndose en el hospital público. Pero sucede que les descuentan de sus haberes dinero para las obras sociales. Es decir, pagan por servicios que no reciben, mientras que sus recursos van a engrosar los fondos disponibles de esas obras sociales, para financiarles la salud a los «jefes» de las empresas que sí pueden pagar esos adicionales. Es decir, la «solidaridad» funciona al revés. Por supuesto, nadie en la discusión actual se atrevió a meterse con sindicatos y obras sociales. Es más, cada tanto surgen las prebendas para permitirles «blanquear» impuestos impagos y otras deudas. Tampoco se replanteó la necesidad de establecer esquemas mucho más integrales en el sistema de salud y en la relación sistema público y privado, y su esquema de financiamiento. Lo único que se ha discutido, para variar, es el extraño concepto de solidaridad que caracteriza a nuestra sociedad. Hood Robin atacó de nuevo.