While other nations are cutting budgets, Buenos Aires has passed
a law giving government pensions to published authors beginning at
It is not enough for this city to boast cavernous bookstores that
stay open past midnight, broad avenues once roamed by literary
giants like Jorge Luis Borges, cafes serving copious amounts of beef
and red wine, or even a bizarre neo-Gothic skyscraper, the Palacio
Barolo, inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy."
Now, writers have yet another reason to live here: pensions.
The city of Buenos Aires now gives pensions to published writers
in a program that attempts to strengthen the "vertebral column of
society," as drafters of the law described their goal. Since its
enactment recently, more than 80 writers have been awarded pensions,
which can reach the equivalent of almost $900 a month, supplementing
often meager retirement income.
"The program is magnificent, delivering some dignity to those of
us who have toiled our entire life for literature," said Alberto
Laiseca, 71, one of the recipients, who has written more than a
dozen books of horror fiction, including "The Garden of Talking
Machines" and "The Adventures of Professor Eusebio Filigranati."
The pensions reflect how Argentina has sought to bolster what is
already one of the strongest literary traditions in the Spanish-
speaking world; Borges, the acclaimed short-story writer and poet,
easily comes to mind, but Argentina also boasts classics like
"Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism," a 19th-century cornerstone of
Latin American literature by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who went on
to become president of Argentina.
The country produced an array of other renowned writers in the
20th century, like the novelists Ernesto Sabato and Roberto Arlt,
and in recent years Buenos Aires has enjoyed a resurgent literary
scene (of the 22 authors recently chosen by the magazine Granta as
the best young novelists writing in Spanish, 8 are Argentine). In
addition to the pensions, the city offers subsidies to independent
publishers and tax exemptions on book purchases.
The literary pensions underscore how Argentina -- despite the
European feel of its capital city, which evokes parts of London,
Paris and Budapest in its leafier districts -- seems like an
alternate reality on some pivotal matters. As some European nations
debate austerity measures aimed at curbing large budget deficits and
reining in expansive welfare states, Argentina is deepening its own.
While European nations trim social benefits, Argentina, in an
effort to reduce inequality, has granted pensions in recent years to
more than two million people who worked in the informal sector.
Retirement benefits were also extended to Argentines living abroad,
some of them outside the country for decades.
Under President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, social spending
has soared in other areas, including cash transfers to poor families
and programs like "Soccer for Everybody," in which the government
covers the broadcasting fees of soccer matches so people can watch
for free. But as economic growth slows amid galloping inflation and
a crackdown on access to hard currency, concern is growing that the
buildup in social spending may not be sustainable.
Many writers here, as well as some legislators, insist that it
is. The literary pension law, approved at the end of 2009, received
the backing of various political parties, with a notable exception.
The party of Mauricio Macri, a right-of-center businessman who is
mayor of Buenos Aires, abstained from the vote. …