The Last Argentine Picture Show

SANTIAGO – The only thing worse than a terrible movie is a terrible movie that we have already seen. By nationalizing oil giant YPF, Argentina has treated us to a tale of economic nationalism of a kind that the world knows all too well. We have seen this show before, and it ends badly.

Start with the predictably overwrought reaction of businessmen and conservative politicians. After this expropriation, they insist, no one will ever again invest in Argentina.

That is false, just as previous claims that no one would lend to Argentina after its umpteenth debt default turned out to be false. As P.T. Barnum reminds us, there is a sucker born every minute; a sucker who will be bailed out by his government if he over-lends surely is born almost as often.

What is at stake every time Argentine governments put on a populist display is not the fate of foreign investors, but of the country’s citizens. Populism and economic nationalism have been impoverishing Argentines at least since the 1940’s. This time will be no different.