Post: Argentina’s Push for Dollarization: A Bold Move in Challenging Economic Times


The Rise of Libertarian President Javier Milei

In a surprising turn of events, self-proclaimed libertarian Javier Milei secured victory and became the Argentine Republic president on November 19, 2023. His proposals included an ambitious plan to dollarize the Argentine economy, which garnered him widespread attention. Argentine voters were drawn to his radical ideas, as they believed his plans would disrupt an inefficient social order and remove an often corrupt political class.

Initial Hurdles and Temporary Abandonment of Dollarization Plans

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding his election, President Milei announced on December 14th, 2023, that he would temporarily abandon his dollarization plans due to lack of funds. However, the Argentine Minister of Economy later confirmed during the World Economic Forum in Davos that the government remained committed to closing the Central Bank and pursuing dollarization when conditions improved.

The Pros and Cons of Exclusive Dollarization

Milei aimed for exclusive dollarization of Argentina’s monetary economy to combat the problem of chronic hyperinflation that has plagued the nation since the latter half of the twentieth century. The expected benefits included ending hyperinflation by eliminating domestic currency issuance while adopting the more favorable inflation rates from the issuing country, measured growth in various means of payment masses, and permanently disregarding transition costs. But this came with consequences:

  • Loss of autonomous monetary policy: Countries lose a critical macroeconomic tool capable of stabilizing economic cycles and managing internal or external shocks after renouncing their currencies.
  • Increased vulnerability to external shocks: Shocks encountered by the issuing country might be amplified in the dollarized country due to discrepancies between the original nation’s monetary policy and its specific circumstances.
  • No lender of last resort: The absence of a central bank controlling the money supply means that there is no safety net during banking crises.

Requirements for Successful Dollarization

Two essential conditions must be met to ensure a successful dollarization process:

  • Sufficient and evenly distributed dollar reserves: If reserves are lacking, inflation will likely occur during the period between announcement and actual implementation. Inflation rates would then be inversely proportional to the available dollar reserves.
  • Distribution to all income levels: An unequal distribution of dollar reserves increases the risk of the poor losing access to financial resources, potentially leading to severe consequences such as extreme actions to meet their needs.

Economic Justification: A History of Inflation Struggles

The call for dollarization in Argentina stems from its economic history marked by persistent and frequently high inflation rates since the 1950s, particularly after the end of military dictatorship. Given the government’s continued failure to address this issue, the drastic solution of dollarization – essentially prohibiting any manipulation of the currency – seemed justifiable.

A Lesson Learned from the Carlos Menem Emission Fund System

To better understand the challenges and potential outcomes of Argentina’s proposed dollarization, it’s worth examining President Carlos Menem’s emission fund system,

implemented in 1991. This involved fixing an exchange rate with the US dollar, backing domestic currency issuance with dollar-denominated assets, and banning central banks from sterilizing balance payments’ capital movements.

Throughout the 1990s, pesos became almost interchangeable with dollars as conversion costs were minimal, and the US currency was widely accepted within Argentina’s internal operations. However, the plan ultimately failed due to fiscal irresponsibility from various government levels that allowed budgetary issues to persist.

What Lies Ahead for Argentina and Its Economy?

Prioritizing dollarization as a solution for Argentina’s economic troubles comes with its advantages and disadvantages. A successful implementation depends on meeting stringent conditions and learning from previous experiences, like the Menem emission fund system failure. While challenges remain before achieving complete dollarization, the Argentine government remains focused on reaching this goal under President Milei’s tenure. Time will tell if radical libertarian ideals prove to be the key to unlocking Argentina’s potential, leaving behind the burden of hyperinflation and flirting with unorthodox monetary policies.