The Crisis of Argentine Capitalism

By Paul H. Lewis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Preconditions for Growth

Argentina celebrated its centennial in 1910. Great changes had taken place since the country won its independence from Spain, and its citizens were justly proud of the progress made. In the last few decades Argentina had become one of the world's leading exporters of beef, wheat, corn, and linseed, and as a result it was one of the wealthiest of nations. In terms of per capita gold reserves, it ranked ahead of the United States and Great Britain and only slightly behind France.1

Visitors who came to Argentina about this time were impressed by the prosperity, modernity, and optimism they encountered. One of them, the English writer James Bryce, noted, "Every visitor is struck by the dominance of material interests and a material view of things. Compared with the raking in of money and the spending of it in betting or in ostentatious luxury, a passion for the development of the country's resources and the adornment of its capital stand out as aims that widen the vision and elevate the soul." As for the capital, "Buenos Aires is something between Paris and New York. It has the business rush and luxury of the one, the gaiety and pleasureloving aspect of the other. Everybody seems to have money, and to like spending it, and to like letting everybody else know that it is being spent." It was a city of imposing buildings, narrow streets jammed with handsome horsedrawn carriages and even costlier motorcars, spacious parks, and many shady little plazas adorned with equestrian statues. Bryce noted especially the gleaming new Congress building with its "tall and handsome dome"; the stately Colón Opera House, "the interior of which equals any in Europe"; and the Jockey Club, social center for the country's proud elite, "whose scale and elaborate appointments surpass even the club-houses of New York." The city's one great thoroughfare, the Avenida de Mayo, was "wide, and being well planted with trees," was "altogether a noble street, statelier than Picadilly in London, or Unter den Linden in Berlin, or Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington." It connected the Plaza del Congreso with the Plaza de Mayo, around which were

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