Argentina had become rich by making a triple bet on agriculture, open markets and Britain, then the world’s pre-eminent power and its biggest trading partner. If that bet turned sour, it would require a severe adjustment. External shocks duly materialised, which leads to the second theory for Argentine decline: trade policy.
The first world war delivered the initial blow to trade. It also put a lasting dent in levels of investment. In a foreshadowing of the 2007-08 global financial crisis, foreign capital headed for home and local banks struggled to fill the gap. Next came the Depression, which crushed the open trading system on which Argentina depended; Argentina raised import tariffs from an average of 16.7% in 1930 to 28.7% in 1933. Reliance on Britain, another country in decline, backfired as Argentina’s favoured export market signed preferential deals with Commonwealth countries.
Indeed, one way to think about Argentina in the 20th century is as being out of sync with the rest of the world. It was the model for export-led growth when the open trading system collapsed. After the second world war, when the rich world began its slow return to free trade with the negotiation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, Argentina had become a more closed economy—and it kept moving in that direction under Perón. An institution to control foreign trade was created in 1946; an existing policy of import substitution deepened; the share of trade as a percentage of GDP continued to fall.
Yes of course there was bad policy, but how did the country get into such a bad idea trap to begin with? The entire piece, from The Economist, is of interest.