Why Argentina YPF Oil Company Nationalization Will Be a Disaster

I recently authored an article in which I stated that Argentina’s dollar-for-dollar rule, which requires that importers also export an equal value of goods, was a marginally good idea. This was a pretty big error on my part due to not fully understanding the structure of the law. I was operating under the assumption that Argentina was looking to reduce the amount of exports relative to its imports with this rule, but that turns out not to be the case. The dollar-for-dollar controls are being targeted at importers, which is going to have a very detrimental effect on the economy.

Ideally, a nation should operate with no trade surplus or deficit. Trade deficits indicate that a nation is taking in more goods than it is exporting, which means it is acquiring wealth that it did not earn. Trade surpluses operate in the inverse, where a country is exporting more than they are importing, thereby losing real tangible resources in the process. Argentina has generally maintained a trade surplus with its trading partners.

To keep trade balances even, Austrian School economists advocate for a free market gold standard. When trade is unrestricted, the gold standard prevents a nation from running too large a deficit or surplus. A nation that spends all of its gold will find itself unable to import more goods until it starts producing more exportable goods. Further, the loss of gold from spending will drive up interest rates, which will put more resources aside for the increased production of capital goods through increased savings. This is necessary in order for the production of exportable goods to expand.

Presently, Argentina appears to be doing everything in its power to destroy itself by attacking importers, devaluing its currency, expanding the public sector, nationalizing industry, and implementing outrageous capital controls and regulatory burdens on its remaining productive industry. The profit and loss test imposed by the market ensures that only those business which produce value for the consumer are able to expand and grow, while those that do not provide value will be bankrupted out of business. State regulations and nationalization remove the “loss” part of the profit and loss test by propping up unproductive businesses with tax payer monies or protectionist measures.

While I’m sure the workers at YPF are very happy about the nationalization, as were the union workers at GM who were bailed out by the U.S. state, ultimately all the citizens of Argentina will pay the price for the benefits those YPF workers gain. Just before the nationalization, YPF was looking to commercialize its recent shale finds, which would have attracted a lot of outside investment dollars.  Now, it is highly unlikely that YPF will be able to acquire the resources it needs to capitalize on its discoveries, which simply means the Argentinian people will be worse off in the long run. The Economist Intelligence Unit did a good piece explaining the background of the YPF case, which you can read here.

To learn more about the nature of international trade, and why gold is far superior to any kind of regulatory protectionist trade measures at mediating international trade, listen to Prof. Joseph Salerno’s lecture on international monetary systems.