In recent weeks we have seen the old truths reassert themselves in international economics. Countries that are running large balance of payments deficits in the emerging world have suffered substantial falls in their currencies. This has of course made imports dearer, which may cut their deficit a bit, but it reflects the doubts some in markets share about how they will be able to borrow enough to carry on living beyond their means.
When the currency falls too far too fast for comfort, inflation starts to accelerate in the country affected. The authorities then respond by putting up interest rates. They also sometimes reach for controls, seeking to stop people in their country taking so much money abroad, or preventing them from buying foreign products. Quite often it is the most socialist of governments that resorts to the highest interest rates and the most draconian controls. They clearly do not do this wanting to hit the living standards of the poor, though that is what it does. They do it because they feel they have no alternative.
If their country is at the same time heavily in debt and the state os overspending, it adds to the agony. Argentina has suffered a large devalaution, and there are worries over when and how she will repay her debts. Argentina defaulted on her debts in 2002. Now the government has doubled public spending over the last 11 years, only to set up another debt and inflation crisis. Far from being kind to the poor, the new squeeze is unpleasant. It includes curbs on internet purchases. Inflation is around 30%.
Venezuela is also in deep trouble. Turkey now has had to increase interest rates by 400 basis points – an extra 4% on a loan – to try to buttress its position. The Argentinian peso has fallen almost 20% this year, the Turkish lira 5% and the South African rand 7%.
So to all thsoe who say a country can carry on borrowing, spending more in the public sector and printing as much as it likes, I just ask why isn’t that magic formula working in emerging market countries these days? If socialist policies of spending much more in the public sector worked, Argentina would have one of the most successful economies, along with Venezuela.