Argentina has the goods, but look at the price tag
| Buenos Aires
This is a nation that is living with deceptive abundance. There is plenty of almost everything. But the price of it all is increasingly out of reach of the average Argentine.
That is the essential human drama in the economic mess in which Argentina finds itself.
Few nations in the world are as blessed as Argentina with good climate, superb soil, abundance of minerals, and just about everything else, including an educated populace. This should be enough to make this South American land a paradise.
But Argentina is on the verge of bankruptcy. And so are a number of Argentine businesses. Individual Argentines have to scramble fast to keep the proverbial wolf away from the door.
Seizure of the Falkland Islands April 2, and the looming war with Britain, has only made matters worse. Consider these points:
Inflation is the worst in the world, at least 150 percent per year.
When the ''new'' peso went into effect 14 years ago, clipping four ciphers from the old currency, the peso's value was 3.5 to the US dollar. Today it is 11 ,900 to the US dollar.
In 1945, Argentina had a foreign-reserve balance of $36 billion--accumulated from the sale of bumper crops of wheat and corn and of vast quantities of the range-fed beef for which Argentina is so famous. Today, Argentina is in debt by some $34 billion, with $7 billion needed in 1982 to simplify debt servicing.
Still, Argentina exports vast quantities of grain and beef yearly. If it produced more--and it could, in abundance--it could readily sell it abroad. At the moment the Russians are its best customer, and Argentina in 1981 enjoyed a $ 2 million trade surplus with the Russians, who paid in hard currency.
Now, however, the Soviets, who are still buying huge quantities of Argentine grain, want to pay for the grain with Soviet products. And it seems increasingly likely, with the escalating South Atlantic conflict, that Buenos Aires will be purchasing military equipment from the Soviet Union.
This will cut down on the amount of hard currency available to Argentina to pay off its whopping foreign debt.
All this is somewhat lost on average Argentines, many of whom hold two jobs to make ends meet. Juan Montero is typical. A copyright associate in a law firm here, he brings home 7 million pesos a month, while earning an additional 1 million pesos as a taxi driver on weekends and several nights a week.
''It is not enough,'' he said disgustedly. Furiously waving his arm, he blurts out: ''Life should not be this way.'' Juan's wife works also, bringing home another 6 million pesos a month. Juan calculated he needs 50 million a month to live adequately.
Ministry of Economy officials agree that a family of five (Juan and his wife, Josefina, have three children) would do well to have 40 million pesos a month to ''get by,'' as one ministry spokesman put it.
One item that helps Juan and Josefina is their outright ownership of their four-room apartment in Quimes. The three children scrunch up in one bedroom. ''As they grow,'' says Josefina, ''we're going to have to make an adjustment. The children are now nine, six, and three.''
The Monteros do not have any savings, either. Juan says, ''I owe several million pesos.''
Argentines who have savings have been pulling them out of banks and financal institutions at a fast clip in recent weeks, converting them into dollars, buying consumer goods, or simply hoarding them in mattresses. This run on deposits is partly responsible for the collapse last week of the nation's largest financial institution, the Financira Parana. It overextended itself on loans, and had only 15 percent of its deposits serving as reserves. Other institutions in a similar plight.
Meanwhile, the gross national product fell 6 percent last year. It is expected to fall another 3 percent this year, but it may fall even more as business bankruptcies occur with growing frequency and as industries tool down for a drop in sales.
Automobile manufacturers are closing assembly lines. Only sale of trucks to Cuba has kept some lines open. Closings have led to high unemployment.
To counter all this, the military government of Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri last December named Roberto Teodoro Alemann as minister of the economy. One of the nation's most respected economists, he was given blanket powers to set the economy straight. He immediately froze wages of public-sector employees, an unpopular action in a country where at least 30 percent of the work force is employed by the government.
One reason so many people are employed by the government is that the state has assumed control of ailing industries. The military rules over vast areas of the economy.
Dr. Alemann has his work cut out from the start, but now that war with Britain has come along, he sees his plans being nudged aside.