Analysis | Winning the World Cup… and suffering economically
Argentina celebrate their team's victory at the Soccer World Cup.
Argentina won the Soccer World Cup on Sunday after what many have called one of the most beautiful finals in the history of this tournament.
She celebrated her victory in euphoria, displaying his superiority without false modesty. But rejoicing and national pride are one thing. Whether such a triumph can help the country and its people is another.
My country is bloodless, the youth is ruined. We only have football and Lionel Messi to cling to life, said an Argentinian fan interviewed in Qatar by Radio France internationale.
Another opinion of the same tone has was collected in Buenos Aires by Le Figaro the day after the victory: For once we can be world champions of something other than inflation!
These realistic comments from ordinary Argentines refer to a reality well known to specialists who have studied the question. According to Pascal Boniface, author of Geopolitics of Sport (Armand Colin 2014), it is wrong to say that it has no impact, but illusory to think that it will change everything.
Lionel Messi and his teammates after their victory in Qatar.
The economic boost, the extra excitement and the national cement provided by great success in the sporting arena are difficult to measure. On the other hand, the contrast and the decoupling between the successes, even immense, of a national sporting elite and the material situation in the country are often striking.
This is the case today today, when Argentina finds itself in a precarious economic situation.
There are complaints and worries these days in North America or Europe about inflation in the 7 or 8 percent range. But in Argentina, at the current rate, prices are doubling every year. The country is ravaged by this scourge, which has been chronic for decades, with an outbreak which in 2022 reached 100%.
The great victory appears more as a derivative than as a candle of ignition of the real economy.
Argentina also has an extremely heavy foreign debt. Admittedly, it is a less unequal country than neighbors such as Chile or Brazil, but nearly 40% of its population lives in poverty (according to official figures), with less than 500 dollars per month – that is to say a ten- thousandth of Lionel Messi's salary.
Yet in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world. It was in the peloton of ten, even six or seven major economies in absolute value, and where wealth per capita was of the same order as that of the Americans or the French. A country that attracted hundreds of thousands, even millions of poor immigrants from Europe (Spain, Poland, Italy).
Today, according to the rankings, either by Product GDP) or the Human Development Index (the United Nations Development Program HDI), the country ranks between 60 and 80 with an average income per person that varies between 10,000 and 20 000 dollars (depending on the methods of calculation and the rate of the peso). And in this country, the prices are often similar to those at home.
A demonstration against poverty last August, in the streets of Buenos Aires.
Where does this dizzying fall come from?
There are many factors, but Argentinians will often tell you that it's because of politics. People on the left argue that governments are not doing enough for the poor. There is also the usual blame on international factors, that the IMF, and the United States behind it, are suffocating dependent economies.
More to the right, we blame an economic populism which is somehow in the DNA of the nation. On the contrary, it is argued that it is the supposed policies of the left – heavy interventionism in the economy, control of exchange rates, price controls which often do not work or create scarcity – which stifle development and which have caused this endemic evil of the world. Argentine economy which is the continual waltz of prices. We can add an external debt of around 275 billion US dollars, part of which was refinanced by the IMF in 2022.
This country, now democratic and where there is alternation in power, has known long authoritarian, even dictatorial periods.
Argentinian populism, which is not always easy to label left or right, has so far gone through three quarters of a century of history. This is Peronism, a movement founded by Juan Peron, a soldier who came to power in the 1940s, whose words inflamed the crowds.
Not to be confused, however, with episodes of true military dictatorships: the last, fiercest, of fascist ideology was in the 1970s and 1980s. , that Argentina had won its first World Cup. The military regime had made it a masterful exercise in political recuperation, under the theme of national unity.
With democracy returning in the 1980s – as in Chile and Brazil – it is still and always Peronism which is in power in 2022, with President Alberto Fernandez, a man who explicitly claims Juan Peron, half a century after his death.
It was he who, by the way, curtly snubbed his counterpart Emmanuel Macron, writing to him: It's the best who won! Yet complexed in economy, the Argentines do not really have a modest triumph. During this end of the World Cup, we heard all kinds of stories about the arrogance of the winners and the bad jokes (sometimes racist) against the French losers.
In the Argentine politics of the beginning of the 21st century, a character stands out: it is the vice-president Cristina Fernandez (no relation to the president). Former president (2007-2015), widow of a former president – Nestor Kirchner, in power from 2003 to 2007 – she was in quick succession, this fall, the victim of an assassination attempt (in September), then sentenced to six years in prison for corruption (early December). But the sentence is suspended and the condemned is still free – political immunity obliges!
Argentina Vice President Cristina Fernandez and President Alberto Fernandez.
With President Fernandez and the Kirchner family, it is still the left-wing Peronist tendency that is in charge, more concerned with economic control than liberalism – and associated with deficits in public accounts. And she's pretty anti-American.
Opposite – because, despite its current unity in victory, Argentina is politically divided – is the anti-Peronist camp: liberals (who have called themselves radicals in other times) rather pro-American, who have was in power between 2015 and 2019 with Mauricio Macri.
They claim that Argentina – a country immensely rich in natural resources – above all needs liberalism, economic and political freedom.
Fine studies have tried to prove that the national euphoria, for example in the case of France in 2018, could have caused for a quarter or two a rise in GDP of half a percent – perhaps due to the optimism that leads to more consumption. After 1998, the year of France's first World Cup victory, growth had been strong for three years. But according to specialists, it was just a coincidence.
Besides Argentina, there are examples of a radical separation and decoupling between the exploits of a country's sporting elite and the social situation of ordinary people. Greece won the European Soccer Cup in 2004 (arguably the most prestigious trophy after the World Cup), the same year it hosted the Olympics. A few years later, a vertiginous plunge brings half of its population into misery. Minus 25 to 30 percent of GDP in a few years is unheard of in post-war Europe. And then there is Spain – to a lesser degree, but not very far – which won the World Cup in 2010, while experiencing an economic depression from which it would not emerge until a few years later.
Congratulations to the Argentina team! But that will not necessarily put more empanadas on the plates of Argentines.