Meanwhile, Felix Salmon has a really excellent follow up to the discussion of how we can be fooled by the architecture of formerly wealthy nations:
I'd add that this effect has very real repercussions, well beyond touristic attitudes. My favorite example is Argentina during the 1990s, which went on a debt-fuelled spending spree. Every week one investment banker or other would fly down to Buenos Aires, put his team up at the Alvear Palace hotel, eat great food, drink great wine, enjoy a lively and vibrant culture, and pitch the finance ministry on a new bond issue. BA felt so prosperous and European (and, it must be said, white) that people ended up believing the evidence of their own eyes rather than the numbers in front of them.
In fact, large swathes of Argentina - and even of Buenos Aires, outside the parts visited by foreigners - were desperately poor all along. And eventually Argentina ended up defaulting on a hundred billion dollars or so of foreign debt. If Buenos Aires had looked more like Sao Paulo or Manila, I doubt that Wall Street would have been willing or able to finance the unsustainable boom for as long as it did.
In other words, becaues Argentina used to be incredibly wealthy, back at the turn of the century, it still felt wealthy at the end of the century. Which sowed the seeds of the disastrous crash of 2001-2.
In the late 1990s, I was struck by the difference between the Argentina described by tourists, and the one described by the Argentinians I knew. The expats described a developing country with all the attendant annoyances. The tourists described a sort of Far Western Milan.
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