Spanish – An economical, financial, and political tsunami has once again devastated Argentina. It is like an “eternal return.” They repeat over and over again, the mistakes that have always resulted in enormous suffering for the people, especially for the poorest.
On this occasion, the debacle is not due to ignorance about best governance practices but to a character flaw in President Mauricio Macri.
The ancient Greeks had a word for how Macri has been behaving since he became president: “hubris.” Hubris is a flaw. It refers to overindulgence, pride, arrogance, or a very exaggerated self-confidence, especially when one wields power. It is vanity or lack of wisdom that leads to catastrophe.
The antithesis of hubris is sophrosyne. It means restraining passion and spontaneous impulses. It is the quest for balance in our behavior: no excesses, everything in fair measures. In modern language, the words for it would be prudence and good sense, possibly the most important values a judge must cultivate.
Socrates said that the best wait to avoid hubris was to acquire the higher wisdom of being self-aware. He recommended practicing introspection to recognize our limits, faults, and place in the universe. In other words, he recommended continual self-criticism by becoming the most severe judges of our own character.
Macri resembles those tragic heroes who are driven by their hubris and plunge into misfortune dragging their nation along. The spectators warn that things will end badly if he continues along this path. However, the tragic hero does not realize it until it is too late because his arrogance has blinded him. It is what the Greeks called ‘aite’ or tragic blindness that prevents them from seeing reality or being aware of their mistakes or their fatal destiny.
The description fits in perfectly with what has happened to Macri and, through him, to the whole of Argentina.
Macri committed his first hubris when he won the election in 2015. He did not explain to Argentines the terrible conditions in which his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez, left the country, nor the disastrous situation of public finances.
He was probably euphoric about his unexpected victory and preferred to say nothing about the situation. Maybe it was out of naivety because he was eager to start putting “the house in order.”
Macri indulged in hubris because he acted without moderation when he thought that he alone was going to be able to save the ship called Argentina that was about to sink. He did not understand that it was a joint task, which required the contribution of all citizens.
Macri knew what he had to do and that the fiscal deficit was a time bomb. He should have explained it clearly because the first step in solving the pressing problems he faced was to inform the stakeholders (the inhabitants) of the situation so that they would understand the reasons for the sacrifices they would have to make and support government efforts.
At that time, Macri missed a golden opportunity because he represented sanity, republicanism, and ethical conduct, especially in the handling of public money. It was the hope of leaving behind an extremely turbid period of Argentine history. That is why he inspired confidence in both internal and external agents.
Macri’s second hubris, which we can still classify as “naive,” was to believe that his persona alone was enough to convince foreign investors to return to the country. He thought that there would be an “avalanche” of investments that would make it possible to solve the severe fiscal problems.
Meanwhile, he lost sight of his place in the universe. In other words, Argentina’s history did not begin with Macri. The series of officials who had preceded him had a terrible reputation. For example, it is difficult to erase from memory the abject image of legislators standing and applauding when, in 2001, then-President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa declared the foreign debt default.
Consequently, restoring the confidence of foreign actors required a great deal of work and good governance for a long time, providing certainties. Macri committed hubris by considering that none of the above was necessary, that his mere persona was a sufficient guarantee.
However, from then on, Macri’s hubris became egomaniacal. He thought that he would still be able to solve the crisis without doing anything he should have done. When things got ugly, he insisted on remaining the driver and threw himself into re-election.
You can’t say Macri did everything wrong. As soon as he assumed the presidency, he took some measures to normalize the economy after the disaster that Cristina handed him. For example, Macri put an end to the exchange rate trap and eliminated part of the retentions to agricultural production. But that’s as far as it went: he did not take the necessary measures to lay the foundations for robust long-term growth.
The main problem he had to face was the huge fiscal imbalance, and he didn’t do anything about it promptly. He left it practically untouched at a time when the international economy was deteriorating. He only reacted when it was too late, and everything was getting out of hand.
Macri is supposedly “liberal,” and speaks as one but acted contrary to the doctrine. Despite the fiscal crater, he increased public spending. Consequently, taxes, public debt, and inflation all intensified with a corollary of recession, job loss, and bankruptcy of businesses, all of which resulted in an enormous increase in poverty.
He did not implement the reforms that promote generalized social welfare: economic openness and ease of doing business.
The combination of these factors led to distrust in the market, the devaluation of the national currency, and difficulties in obtaining financing. Likewise, Macri was discredited both inside and outside Argentina.
In that context, Alberto Benegas Lynch suggested to Macri the line of conduct that could straighten out the situation when there was still time. Of course, it demanded a show of greatness and detachment on the part of the Argentine president. If he had followed the advice Benegas Lynch gave him in September 2018, Macri would have shown that he puts the interests of the country and its people above his own.
Benegas Lynch recommended the following: “[…] I propose that you immediately declare that you refrain from standing for re-election and run a candidate of your choice, announce spectacular measures that have been suggested to reverse the situation to regain the confidence of your compatriots who believe in the virtues of open society, and rejuvenate your cabinet.
Make it clear that you are not willing to consume a lot of time and energy in election campaigns. In this way, you will be judged as a statesman who cares and deals with solving the problems that we face, and you will be able to present yourself with great success in a future presidential race.”
But Macri’s egomania outweighed wisdom. Driven by tragic blindness, he disregarded the prudent voice of Benegas Lynch and began to pursue re-election.
The result is well-known. In the recent primary elections, Macri suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Kirchnerism. Moreover, once again, the catastrophe hovers over Argentina, enveloped in a political and financial whirlwind of incalculable consequences.