Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lessons from Argentina's Crash

Any of you who've followed these postings know that I've referenced the only survivalist I know who has survived and thrived the 2001 economic collapse in Argentina i.e. Fernando "FerFAL" Aguirre. I've alluded to FerFAL, his book and his blog on four separate occasions. This post will make the fifth reference.

(If you want to review my references to FerFAL, the two most pertinent posts are this one and this one.)

It's not that FerFAL and I are involved in some sort of conspiracy (I'm pretty sure he's never even heard of me.) but rather that the Argentinean experience is the most recent and germane to what may soon become our American experience.

But just in case there are any conspiracy theorists out there here's another Argentinean experience from another source.

I'm quoting here:

My driver, a garrulous Argentine from Buenos Aires, chatted with me in his native Spanish– a notable variation on the language due to its numerous vocabulary differences and French sounding phonology.

As it turns out, Diego (‘like Maradona’ he told me, referring to Argentina’s futbol superhero) is quite adept at planting multiple flags. He was a police officer in Buenos Aires in the 1990s, a time in which the city was among the safest in the western hemisphere and being a cop was a decent profession.

Argentina’s economy turned for the worst in 2000, completely collapsing later that year. Under tremendous pressure to maintain an unrealistic currency peg, fight recession, and pay its swelling debts, the government defaulted on its debt obligations, devalued the peso, closed banks, and confiscated every centavo of private funds they could find.

Blood ran in the streets. Protestors in Buenos Aires staged huge riots demanding change. In response, President Fernando de la Rua turned Qadaffi on them, sending police and military into the streets to engage the protestors. It wasn’t Argentina’s finest hour, and by no means a good time to be a police officer in Buenos Aires.

Diego wasn’t around for it.

As he told me, he saw first hand how the initial signs of the recession were wearing down society – rising crime rates and increased homelessness were everyday occurrences on his beat back in 1998.

His first step was in establishing a foreign bank account in neighboring Uruguay; it was a good fit since they spoke his language and it was easy to get to. This was in the days before September 11th– Diego told me how he hopped on a friend’s boat with several other people and headed for Uruguay without declaring their cash hoard. Must be nice.

He spent the rest of the year researching places to escape to… and when things started to turn in 1999, he headed to New York. At the time, the US economy was doing very well, and Argentina was on the visa-waiver program. It was easy for him to gain entry and apply for residency.

In time, he applied for naturalization in the US… not because he found himself swelling with pride for his newfound home, but because it helped reduce his uncertainty. “I was already here paying these crazy taxes… so I thought I would go ahead and apply for citizenship. I thought that having a second passport would give me more options.”

He’s right. It’s a simple, common sense approach to uncertainty: reducing concentration and exposure to any one single government reduces risk and provides more options to be able to better deal with uncertainty.

So, what have you done to reduce your exposure to economic collapse?

"J" writes:
My times in Argentina – both just before their meltdown and just after – as well as trips to Brazil during their bouts with hyperinflation have had no small role in my current investment structure.

J Makes a good point: It's one thing to read about something and intellectually know it; experiencing it is quite another type of knowing.

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