Once again I’m writing to you from abroad. This time, my travels have taken me to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina and still maybe the most beautiful city on this continent. I’m here to do a ton of shopping, eating and secret society stuff.
Buenos Aires is probably the loveliest city ever to be completely screwed over by socialism – or we know it down south, “socialismo”. And let me tell you, you gringos don’t know what socialismo even looks like up there, compared to the mess it’s made down here.
Just what does it look like? In Buenos Aires’ case, it looks like having to change your dollars to pesos at an illegal street dealer (called a “cave”) because you get almost double what the government claims it’s worth with their price-fixing. It looks like import controls that have now made it almost impossible to get some very common goods – like tampons. Take note, ladies: Buenos Aires has no tampons.
It looks like an announcement made this week that makers of food and drinks, cleaning products and other common items will now be required to get a specific approval of EVERY new product they want to sell, including quantities and packaging.
At the start of the 20th century, Argentina was one of the wealthiest nations on Earth. Today, it is in default and has become an economic and political pariah. The government and a sizable chunk of the people here blame their problems on capitalism, the United States and Imperialism – in other words anything but themselves. They are the very model of what Vargas Llosa called “the Perfect Latin American Idiot.”
But don’t get me wrong. Buenos Aires is beautiful. And what you can get here now is amazingly affordable if you’re a tourist. Coffee and sweet croissants for $3. Downtown hotels for less than $30 a night. A three-course meal for $10. A Shawarma from an Armenian restaurant costs $3 too, and serves to point out that this was once a country of immigrants, of people who came to Argentina, like they still do to the United States, in search of a better life. Not many come anymore.
It doesn’t seem like its going to get any better, either. This coming weekend is the presidential election in Argentina. The godawful idiot they’ve had in power for the last several years, Cristina de Kirchner (pictured above), tried to maneuver to change the laws so she could be perpetually re-elected, but elements of her own party thwarted her. Not because they were appalled by how she’s bankrupted and destabilized her nation, but just because they want her job. Now, of the three major candidates who have a chance of winning, one is her handpicked substitute to rule in her name, another was part of her government and complicit in all her garbage and the third isn’t much better either. Ultimately, they’re all “socialistas.” That third guy (Mauricio Macri) is allegedly “center-right” but in practice he’s well to the left of Bernie Sanders. By his own admission to the major newspaper that most favors him, his big difference from the other two guys (and Kirchner) is that he thinks the government should heavily regulate business, rather than directly control it.
Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for, I guess. And that’s what I’m leading to here: all socialism is crappy, but some is definitely more crappy than others. Take Uruguay for instance. It’s a socialist craphole too. Prices are ridiculously high by regional standards because of taxation levels you couldn’t believe (both sales tax and import duties). The government is terribly bloated and inefficient. But in the 12 years I’ve been living in Montevideo and visiting Buenos Aires (both of which are amazing beautiful cities you should see if you ever get the chance), I’ve seen two very different stories. When I first arrived, both cities had street kids; and I mean kids as in children, not teenagers. Now it’s been several years since I’ve seen any at all in Montevideo. In Buenos Aires, they’re still all over the place. That’s a real and definite difference in just how crappy one socialist government has been compared to the other.
There’s other, less striking but maybe more important differences too. Argentina’s economy has collapsed, while Uruguay’s has diversified (in part so that they wouldn’t be automatically sucked into the endless economic crises that their neighbor goes through). Internet service and speed in Buenos Aires was notably slower and spottier on this trip, mainly because I’ve gotten used to Montevideo’s extremely good internet coverage.
None of this makes Uruguay’s socialismo “good” — it just makes it less crappy. It has been able to accomplish a few more good things with a thoroughly bad system than Argentina has. But the difference still matters, especially to the millions of children in Argentina (22.3% of all children in the country) living in abject poverty.
So what makes the difference? How can you tell if the type of socialism you’re looking at is going to be totally worthless or only mostly worthless?
I’ve come up with a theory based on a dozen years of firsthand experience. There’s two categories that make up an axis of suck, ranging from “lousy socialist bureaucracy but not a nightmare” to “complete totalitarian craphole.” The first category is Corrupt; the second is Crazy. Corrupt is how much theft, nepotism and political influence-peddling a government does. Crazy is just how batsh*t nuts the leadership is.
So for example, most of your Scandinavian socialist countries are very low on either Corrupt or Crazy. You have to give up to 70% of your income on taxes, sure, but you won’t have to line up for two hours to buy toilet paper or fear being taken away in the night by secret police. On the other hand, you have Sweden, which is low on Corrupt but much higher on Crazy than the other Nordic countries – which is why their insane policies of catering to Islamists in their immigrant population has made Sweden the Rape Capital of Europe, and now they’re talking about taking people’s houses away by force to give to refugees.
In South America, most “socialista” governments are worse in both categories than their European counterparts. Brazil isn’t that Crazy, but it’s pretty damn Corrupt. And Argentina, Bolivia and, of course, Venezuela are all super-Corrupt and super-Crazy. Argentina’s Kirchner government is so famously corrupt that some of its provincial governors rule in literal dynastic fiefdoms straight out of the middle ages. And while Kirchner is not quite as crazy as the “My dead boss comes and talks to me through birds” Chavez-cult craziness of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, she’s still crazy enough that she thinks that Argentina’s economic default isn’t real, that the U.S. and Israel are plotting to assassinate her, that diabetes is a disease that only rich people get and that the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina (to be fair, that last one is a collective insanity of her whole country). Oh yeah, and there was that time she murdered a district attorney who was about to implicate her in helping Iran to cover up a brutal terrorist attack and then thought she could pass it off as a suicide.
You’ll notice I didn’t include any kind of category for efficiency. That’s because no socialist government is very efficient. What can pass for efficiency pretty much depends on how much Corruption or Craziness gets in the way. If you aren’t too Corrupt or too Crazy, you might just be able to get one or two things miraculously done that actually come through and turn out not to suck. The countries that aren’t totally screwed up, where once in a while something goes right, aren’t an example of socialism actually working, they are just places where the Corruption and Craziness wasn’t so bad as to turn absolutely everything it touches into crap. Canada is probably the least Crazy least Corrupt socialist country in the world, so it looks like things go mostly well. But even there you still have high taxes, inefficient public services and way too much government meddling in people’s lives. That’s how you end up with things like a guy facing a six-month prison term for criticizing a feminist on Twitter.
And that’s the whole problem. The only way to make sure your government won’t end up turning your country into a total wreck sooner or later is if the state isn’t large enough or powerful enough that the corruption of its bureaucracy or the craziness of its leaders can screw things up. Whatever good socialism might do from time to time, it gives government and the people in it too much power. You’re always just one self-serving asshole or insane nutjob away from flushing everything down the crapper.
Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t write on a specific subject; he’s EveryJoe’s resident maniac-at-large. A recovering Humanities academic and world-traveler, he now lives in South America and is a researcher of fringe religion, eastern philosophy, and esoteric consciousness-expansion. In his spare time he writes tabletop RPGs, and blogs about them at therpgpundit.blogspot.com. Follow Kasimir on Twitter @KasimirUrbanski.
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