Thursday, 6 August 2009

False Economy

I read this in a Guardian review of a recently published book, False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World by Alan Beattie: "'Just as good policies can make the poor rich, repeated wrong turns can plunge a first world nation into the ranks of the third world. At the beginning of the 20th century, Argentina was among the world's richest countries; the creation of a landed oligarchy and then Peron's myopic populism meant that, 100 years later, it was a serial bankrupt.' The book ends with a warning: 'If it does not address the flaws that brought its financial system into crisis, the US could end up like Argentina.'" Which is a breathtaking warning, not to mention a breathtaking summary of 20th century Argentine history.

I grew up with the notion of Argentina as an impoverished distant land of vicious generals in ridiculous hats, but we've got to remember that they (including Galtieri, and Noriega from Panama) were trained, indoctrinated, in the infamous School of the Americas, based in Georgia, USA, where they were taught to be paranoid and to use a wide range of counter-insurgency measures. There was a terrible distortion of Latin American politics as a result of the cold war, and the people have suffered greatly. All it takes is a couple of wrong turns, and then the global situation made it a lot worse. The country is getting back onto its feet; it takes time, but there's optimism and creativity, and a huge respect for creativity too.

Through tango, we're all implicated in Argentine history, in the economy that supported the production of up to 100,000 tango recordings, and also in the poverty and suffering of the second half of the 20th century. You can visit ESMA, the naval centre in Buenos Aires where until 1983 detainees were held and routinely tortured, and from which they disappeared, if only to get an idea of the background against which most of the older teachers, of their children who teach now, and of the partners you dance with in the milongas, grew up. Everyone wants to put it behind them, but it shouldn't be forgotten. If you lose your past, said musician Branford Marsalis, you lose your future. He was talking about music, but it's another warning.

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