A Tear for Argentina

Argentina’s latest default poses unsettling questions for policymakers. Though the country’s periodic debt crises are often the result of self-destructive macroeconomic policies, the default has been triggered this time by a significant shift in the international sovereign-debt regime.

CAMBRIDGE – Argentina’s latest default poses unsettling questions for policymakers. True, the country’s periodic debt crises are often the result of self-destructive macroeconomic policies. But, this time, the default has been triggered by a significant shift in the international sovereign-debt regime.

The shift favors hardline creditors in bond issuances governed by US law. With emerging-market growth slowing, and external debt rising, new legal interpretations that make debt future write-downs and reschedulings more difficult do not augur well for global financial stability.

There are no heroes in this story, certainly not Argentina’s policymakers, who a decade ago attempted unilaterally to force a massive generalized write-down on foreign bondholders. Economists who trumpeted the “Buenos Aires consensus” as the new way to run economies also look foolish in hindsight. The International Monetary Fund has long recognized that it made one too many loans to try to save Argentina’s unsustainable dollar peg as it collapsed back in 2001.

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