El Turco’s ‘Motorcycle Diaries’

El Turco’s ‘Motorcycle Diaries’

All good things eventually come to an end, and so has my three-week South American vacation. I am in the middle of my 13-hour flight back to Istanbul from Sao Paulo as I am typing these lines on Feb. 27.

As loyal readers would know, I wrote about the economies of the countries I visited during my trip, emphasizing comparisons with Turkey. I wanted to summarize those columns in this final South American piece. I will also mention a few observations I did not get a chance to discuss.

The countries I visited share many common “macroeconomic traits” with Turkey. For example, just like in Turkey, inflation is playing second fiddle to growth in Brazil. The Brazilian Central Bank has an excuse, as the country is suffering from stagflation. I was also surprised by the backwardness of Brazil’s infrastructure compared to Turkey’s. But while Turkey builds airports, Brazil builds airplanes, so I can forgive the bad roads.

Argentina’s economic mismanagement of the last few years was the sole tragedy of my trip. Their cooking up of inflation statistics offers important lessons for Turkey, as the country is “updating” its methodology for measuring inflation, unemployment and the current account deficit.

Chile is kind of the Turkey of the region in terms of macroeconomic performance. Or rather Turkey is the Chile of Eastern Europe, as the country has growth rates even more impressive than my fatherland’s, without the high inflations and current account deficits for company. And like Turkey, they are worried about hot money and the associated currency appreciation.

There is a silent rivalry between Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, or at least between the nationals of those countries. Although it has the worst economic performance of the three nowadays, “Porteños,” as residents of Buenos Aires are called, think they are better than everyone else.

When I asked a gentleman I met on a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento in Spanish whether he was from Uruguay, he answered in the affirmative, adding in perfect Shakespearian English: “We Uruguayans can actually speak English.” Language skills are even better in Chile. I wish Turkey’s education policy would concentrate on language skills rather than distributing tablets.

If you ask my personal opinion, my favorite of the three (or four if you count Brazil) is by far Chile. Not only do I admire the economic performance and business acumen of the Chileans, I have my personal reasons, too.

I emailed presidential candidate Andrés Velasco, with whom I co-authored a paper in 2003, from the airport right before I boarded my flight, telling him that “estoy enamorado de Chile y una chilena” and asking for a job in Santiago. I was his teaching assistant for two years, and so maybe he could make me his adviser for Turkey-Chile economic relations if he wins in November.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be covering South America for the Daily News from Santiago in a year. But until then, I will be continuing with my columns on the Turkish economy starting on Monday.