Thursday, 31 July 2014

Don't bind your hands Argentina

It really is long past time that Argentina dealt with the hangover of the ridiculous peg they under took in the last millennium.

In other areas the law has evolved to realise that debt that cannot be paid will not be paid, and a formal wind up procedure is available in every civilised state that ensures that both creditor and debtor take the necessary cold baths as soon as possible and as quickly as possible so that economic progress is not stalled.

And in other areas of international law it is recognised that a prior parliament cannot bind a future one if the will of the people is behind the change. So treaties can be torn up, and alliances changed.

But apparently not so in the area of state debt owed in a foreign currency. There both the sensible nature of bankruptcy and the right of self-determination by the people doesn't seem to apply.

While that is the case, no sovereign state should ever borrow money in a foreign currency. Not ever. It should immediately repudiate or redenominate any that exist and constitutionally bar itself from undertaking such a practice at any time in the future.

And that is what Argentina should do now. Clear the deck permanently so that it can move on.

There is never any need for the state to get involved in issuing foreign currency debt instruments in the free floating era.

A clever state understand that private entities that can go bankrupt can undertake those sort of actions - so the private banks and the private companies can do the foreign borrowing if they see that as appropriate for their purposes.

For very early stage developing countries, the services of the IMF may be useful in getting very basic infrastructure and a functioning modern banking system in place. But Argentina is way beyond that.

A clever state understands that exporters need to export. They need to sell their goods and services to fulfil their own profit making objectives. Unless those exporters find a way to take the importer's currency and swap it for their own currency then the deal will simply not happen and no goods will be made or shipped.

For states that are export led, they necessarily have to undertake 'liquidity swaps', or the world quickly runs out of the right sort of money to allow deals to happen. They understand that the 'liquidity' enables new deals to happen that wouldn't otherwise happen, growing the real economy at the same time as the monetary one.

The result over time is that export states tend to accumulate foreign currency assets. Some then call these 'sovereign wealth funds'. That saving is forced as a consequence of the export-led policy. The export-led policy has to go first before those savings can ever be used.

Now of course an exporter is going to try and tie an importer's hands, but a clever import nation will realise that and refuse to deal on those terms. There are plenty of exporters and they are desperate for new markets. So you hand out trade permits to those who can offer the best liquidity deal. That then avoids an eternity in purgatory being whipped by the United States, which has either lost the plot internationally or is trying to force an end to this ongoing farce depending upon your point of view.

Argentina has had a series of very bad governments making very bad mistakes. Hopefully it has learned some lessons and can move forward. We shall see.

Be strong Argentina. You have nothing to lose but your chains.