Can a rich and stable country decline, lose its wealth, and devour itself in spasms of bitter polarization? Americans hope not. We like to believe weâre on top to stay. But this month, an Independence Day will be celebrated not just here but in what is sometimes called the worldâs only formerly developed country: Argentina. The story of its rise and fall is full of warnings for the United States.
Argentina is vast â the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world â and blessed with fertile land, many rivers, and a long coastline. It shot to prosperity in the late 19th century. By 1913 it was one of the worldâs 10 richest countries. In faraway France, if someone flaunted great wealth, friends would say he was âriche comme un Argentin.â
No one uses that line anymore. Argentina has squandered its gifts. Once, its per-capita income was equivalent to that of Switzerland; now it hovers around the level of Russia or Turkey. A veritable mini-industry has sprung up trying to explain how this happened. How could a country that was once rich and confident stumble and fall?