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Country Risk and Social Discourses during the Argentine crisis (1999 - 2002) Carlos A. Scolari Universitat de Vic (Spain)

Abstract This work is located at the crossway of two territories: communication in a time of crisis and social discourse theory. In this context we describe how the economic discourses worked during the Argentine crisis of 2001. Taking the concept of “Country risk" as a starting point, we analyse specifically how the digital newspaper contributed to constructing the discursive process. The work is concluded with a series of reflections on the position of the economic discourse in the current society and gives evidence of some characteristics that distinguish on-line newspapers.

POSTFORDIST INTRODUCTION In a world economy characterised by growing independence of finance capital, communication has become fundamentally important, as these markets are formed and "live" within global information networks. However, the postfordist economy has an ideology that grants money its own life: apparently capital is now generated by itself and doesn’t have anything to do with human work or the production process. In this sense the media has been a fundamental mechanism in the creation and growth of the financial bubble of the "new economy". All of these transformations are also reflected in the position that the economic discourse holds within the media and in the discursive practices of the entire society (Marazzi, 2002, 2003). The deviated modernisations (García Canclini, 1990) that have occurred in Latin America force us to look closely at how local economies work within the context of the globalisation processes. In a territory where capitalist economy has been installed in an unbalanced way the

2 reflections on advanced postfordist societies should be taken with caution. One thing is evident: globalisation has accelerated the appearance of the so called "emerging markets" and consolidated their integration within the international circuits of financial capital. In the case of the Argentine Republic this process generated a growth model founded on the arrival of financial capital searching for the best interest rates. If at the start of the 90s the Argentine economy grew due to favourable interest rates and from the investment of speculative capital revenue, which generated employment and reactivated an economy that came from 20 years of decadence, when this capital was taken away the economy entered a process of recession characterised by political degradation and destruction of the social fabric. If the Argentine people, after several decades of hyperinflation, adjustment plans, devaluations and crisis, had become used to seeing their daily life filtered through exchange tables and interest percentages, in the 90s the economic rationality was consolidated at the level of social discourses. In this context the discourses of and about the economy took on new valences that helped to form a new discursive territory. Some researchers have identified a move from the economy towards philosophy: in the 90s the economic discourse ended up occupying a fundamental position in Argentine society, eclipsing other discourses such as the political and social discourses (Abraham, 2000). This was complemented by a repositioning of the economic enunciators (Greimas & Courtes, 1979) within the discursive universe. The economists imposed their agenda and their concepts, carrying out a therapeutic role based on a certain fact: they decided what should be talked about, they drew the limits of action and marked out the area of the possible. The economy, beyond its legitimate "scientific pretensions" within a knowledge discipline worked "as a moral guarantee of the degree of responsibility of a political discourse" (Abraham, 2000, p. 260).


The social discourses From the origin of writing in Mesopotamia – where the first practises of cuneiform writing

had a commercial objective – to the latest dreams of the "new economy" - in which the structural function of the discourses and the interpretative practices are evident - the paths

3 where communication and the economy cross seem to be infinite. According to Marazzi "the pervasiveness or absolutisation of the economy in the flexible postfordist society reflects the pervasiveness of the language in the new way of producing and selling merchandise. It is possible to talk of semi-capital, of semiotisation of the social relations of production" (Marazzi, 2002, p. 41). It is an unquestionable fact that most economic practices are indistinguishable from linguistic performative acts. According to the speech act theory (Austin, 1999; Sbisà, 1995) a performative enunciation is characterised not by describing a state but by producing an act. Language from this perspective appears not so much as an instrument of communication but as a devise for creating realities: matrimony, money, property or financial transactions are fundamentally linguistic institutions. It is language that creates these acts by talking about them: matrimony is a promise, money is a convention, the future value of stocks is a bet, etc. A large part of economic activity is based on performative acts. For Carlini "The market, before being a place for economic transactions, is a vast network of human relations, discourses and colloquialisms. It is these relations which make a community: it is for narrating and listening to narrations that the African women walk kilometres to reach the market. They will sell potatoes there but they will also receive ideas, news and, why not, gossip” ( 2002, p. 45). A sale and purchase contract is in fact the authentication of a promise: from this moment a subject gives up the property of a good to another subject. A fixed term deposit and buying bonds of an emerging country also belong to the same dimension as performative acts: In both cases the financial entity commits themselves, if there are no exceptional circumstances, to returning to the investor a larger quantity of money than was deposited. The efficiency of the performative act, like any other speech act, is conditioned to a large degree by the power of the one who utters it: the value of the phrase "I now declare you man and wife” depends on who says it, it is not the same coming from a priest as from a used cars salesman. The same thing happens with economic discourses: if the head of the United States Federal Reserve promises that "next month interest rates will rise”, these words have a

4 different value than if they were spoken by a economic commentator of a provincial newspaper. There are privileged enunciators that impose the media agenda with their declarations (or, as we will see, with their silences). The media is the sounding board of these discourses and at the same time it is also an economic speaker. To bring into focus some concepts that accompany this analysis we will enlist the theory of social discourses by Marc Angenot. According to Angenot a social discourse is "everything

that is said or written in a given state of society; everything that is printed or talked about and represented today through electronic media. Everything that narrates or argues …" (Angenot, 1998,
p. 6). From this perspective the analyst will try to reconstruct a certain state of the social discourse or, as Angenot explains, "examine a general discursive topology". That is, carry out a kind of semiotic tomography of the discursive corpus of a society in a given moment of its history. To reconstruct a discursive universe does not only mean recuperating enunciations: we have to go further than "everything that is said" to analyse the way of saying – or "how it is said" -, the modalities of the daily use of the language, the enunciatees (Greimas & Courtes, 1979) constructed by the discourse and rhetoric devices used by the enunciators. In this work, due to limited space, we will analyse a portion of this discursive universe. This work is framed within a social discourse theory and has the following objectives: 1) to describe the construction of the concept of "Country Risk" within the discourse of the digital newspaper, and 2) to analyse the process of it becoming an instrument of hegemonic politics. As a conclusion we will make a series of reflections on how the economic discourse works and the characteristics that distinguish on-line newspapers. The body of research encompasses, in the first part, all the articles and infographics published by between 1998-2002 dealing with CR (around 250 articles). In the second part of the study we concentrate on the year 2001 and the first months of 2002. The site is one of the most visited sites of Argentina and Hispano-America (Table 1). The on-line version of the main Argentine newspaper includes, as well as the articles published in the first morning edition, periodic up-dates that transform it into an exceptional information channel that allows the reader to follow the evolution of the news (and therefore the economy) minute by minute.


January 2001 February 2001 March 2001 April 2001 May 2001 June 2001 July 2001 August 2001 September 2001 October 2001 November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2003

Daily average 424,219 505,969 617,905 558,412 531,572 404,161 365,993 183,650 231,790 226,621 229,755 Not available 322,239 278,685

Monthly Total 13,150,799 14,167,128 19,155,069 16,752,355 16,478,726 12,124,819 11,345,774 5,693,154 6,953,688 7,025,257 6,892,664 Not available 9,989,420 7,803,177

Visit sessions - - Source: IVC (2001/2002) Table 1 2. THE LONG MARCH OF THE COUNTRY RISK What is “Country Risk”? The United States government is considered to be the most solvent payer in the world. The interest rate on their bonds constitutes the "risk free rate" and is used as a reference for other debtors. The "risk" of lending money to another country is measured by the surtax that is paid with respect to the United States' rate. If the Argentine bonds pay a surtax of 9.50% with respect to those of the United States, we can say that the Country Risk (CR) of this country is 950 points. The value of the CR is announced daily by investment consultants such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s or Fitch and banks such as ChaseJP Morgan. Now this economic variable has been defined we can move on to analysing its discursive constitution.

2.1 The appearance of the CR (1998-2000) During 1998 the CR held an irrelevant place in Clarín’s agenda: it was a financial variable for experts, far from the worries of the millions of citizens. Only a few articles mentioned it and its media presence was reduced to comments made by specialists. Throughout 1999 the CR, even though the economic crisis worsened, continued to be marginal information. On 10 December of this year Fernando De la Rúa became president of the Republic. The government of Carlos Menem, which had lasted 10 years and had been characterised by a history of

6 corruption, degradation of the political system and economic recession, seemed to have stayed definitively behind. During 2000 this situation stayed the same: according to the search engine the CR was quoted in only 34 articles. The Argentine CR fluctuated within normal limits and was only news when it went "higher than that of Mexico or Brazil" (19.08.00). In December the government negotiated a "financial bailout" of 20,000 million dollars with the IMF. With the announcement of the bailout warned that "the country risk, which measures the market confidence in local bonds, closed on Friday at 8.13% above similar United States bonds…" ("Riesgo País", 18.12.00). Slowly the new concept is entering into the universal discourse of the main Argentine newspaper.

2.2 From the didactic phase to the operative phase According to the search engine, during 2001 the CR appeared in the titles of 193 articles. Next we will analyse how this discursive actor entered on the scene. January 2001: In the middle of the month the IMF approved the "bailout". The CR went down and from outside the country “looks good”: the strategist Therry Wizman explains that " the long term the country risk can drop, and in the immediate future, make some capital return to the country...”. However, the analyst also expressed "concern" for the obstacles that the judicial system could make for the reformations that the Argentine government proposed in exchange for the "bailout." The gaze of the other becomes fundamental in an economy founded on trust: with the slightest hint of the smallest political tremor or social expression that generates distrust the finance capital will take flight and leave for calmer markets. If the construction of reciprocal trust between two parties is a strongly visual question ("look me in the eyes, don't lie to me...”), the gaze of the foreign investors is reflected in the actions and gestures of the local actors (stockbrokers, government, etc.): they know that from outside “they are being watched”. In this first phase of its discursive construction the CR is not so much a sign for the internal front but an index for the foreign investors. This fact generates an "external" gaze that ends up constructing the subjectivity of the Argentine financial and economic actors.

7 February 2001: After a radiant January, the collapse of the Turkish market, the higher inflation in the USA and the collapse of NASDAQ causes a new increase in the Argentine CR. ("Bajaron todos los mercados y subió el riesgo país", 17.02.01 – "Se acentuó la caída mundial de las Bolsas", 22.02.01). Several articles in speak of “altered markets”. Therry Wizman makes new forecasts: "I don’t believe Argentina will have a surtax of 6.54% for the country risk again (above similar bonds of the USA), which it had at the end of January. Today the risk is at 7.32% and in the following months there will be noise about the October elections and there is no sign of an economic recovery" ("Mercados Alterados", 23.02.01). March 2001: Things don't improve and the uneasiness grows. The Minister of Economy Machinea resigns from office, which promotes a recovery of the government bonds. The arrival of the new minister López Murphy makes "the country risk, which measures the trust of the investors, fall to 726 points...” ("Fuerte respaldo…", 06.03.01). As we can see, continues using a didactic register with its readers: it is necessary to explain what the CR means in each article. But the situation is not as calm as it seems. On the 8th the rumour circulates that López Murphy is going to resign: the CR goes up 29 points in one day ("Una versión de renuncia…", 09.03.01). Everything goes back to normal as soon as López Murphy confirms his new economic team. On 15 March, after a fall in Wall Street, the CR goes up 19 points; the next day it goes up another 41 points and the rumour spreads again about the minister López Murphy resigning from office. The ex-minister Domingo Cavallo (the inventor of "convertibilidad", a system that anchored the value of the Argentine peso to the dollar) is profiled as his probable successor. The stockbrokers suppose that his return will calm the forces of the market. On the 19th the CR closes at 898 points. Finally the president De la Rúa decides to open the doors to the Ministry of Economy for Domingo Cavallo. Little by little the CR has become part of the media discourse. On 24 March the economic journalist Gustavo Bazán explains how this economic variable works: "The enigmatic term “country risk” takes up an increasing amount of space in the analyses of the stockbrokers, who know what it is about,

8 and also the politicians who are starting to understand – under pressure — about its implications. But the most striking aspect is that the country risk has also started to become a topic of conversation and a concern for normal people. Today it is the ingredient that replaces obsessively consulting the price of the dollar and the rates of the fixed term deposits, two classic concerns of the Argentine middle class… People, without knowing, intuitively understand that it is in the “risk zone”. But, what is the country risk? In simple terms, the “country risk” is an average interest rate that comes from calculating the prices and the performance rates of certain debt bonds of our country…" ("Qué es el riesgo país?", 24.03.01). As the CR becomes a part of the social discourse it has to be explained. On one hand the author presents us with a narrative program (Greimas & Courtes, 1979) that turns the CR into an active subject that opens the way and looks to becoming part of the Argentine social discourse. Later on Bazán describes with examples how the CR works and what it represents for the Argentine economy. In other words, it could be said that the enunciatee for the CR concept is constructed in this phrase: the "average" citizen, readers of Clarín who have only basic financial knowledge, which has allowed them to survive in a hostile economy, but who do not include the CR concept in their encyclopaedia (Eco, 1979). In this phase the informative discourse can be confused with the didactic discourse. Although these two types of discourse often coincide -both aim to “make something known”, they have the capacity to transmit ("ability to say") and it is legitimate for them to do so ("right to say")- normally the journalists leave it to the specialists to explain scientific processes and concepts (Charadeau, 2003). The specialised journalist (in this case the expert in economy) takes an intermediate position between these two discourses and assumes the task of “making it known” to their readers what country risk is about. According to Charaudeau: "The informative discourse and the didactic discourse coincide, although with differences, in using the activity of explaining. Not a demonstrative

9 explication, like you can find in scientific work, but rather a clarifying explication. These two types of discourses are directed at a broad range of unspecialised audiences and therefore they don’t try to lay the foundations of a truth but only make it clear in an intelligence framework that is accessible to the majority. This activity is called 'divulgation'…" (2003, p. 71). Finally, Bazán describes one of the main enunciators of the CR (in this case the bank Chase-JP Morgan). In the following pages we will look at the various repositionings that this voice has generated: from blind obedience to questioning the origin of the enunciation. April 2001: The ups and downs continue all month. On the 25th announces that "after rising 388 points in three days, the country risk fell 89 basic points yesterday" ("Alivio en los mercados", 25.04.01). In the following days this tendency to fall continues thanks to the measures of the minister Cavallo May 2001: During the first week of May some doubts about the exchange conditions of the Argentine debt begin to put pressure on the CR again, which is at 1092 points. Once the question is clarified it falls to 975 again. The following week new doubts take the CR to 1050 points. These ups and downs with the tendency to rise continue throughout the rest of the month. In May the CR became a definitive part of the conversations of the Argentine people. It is no longer necessary to explain what it means or the possible consequences of it increasing in each article: the media have already created this competence in their readers. On the 15th publishes Vicente Muleiro’s article that confirms that this new discursive phase has started. The CR has left its initial phase, which mainly involved economic enunciators and enunciatees, to become a part of the social discourse of the Argentine people. According to Muleiro "The concept of country risk has become a part of daily life with the force of a thermal sensation that marks the temperature of the soul. Asking about its state has become as habitual as asking after the health of a person’s family in a casual chat among friends. 'How is the Country

10 Risk going today?' asks the person beside me while he looks, with tired despair, at the speechless tiles of the urinal wall…" ("Cómo está hoy el riesgo país", 15.05.01). It is possible to see how Muleiro introduces a metaphor: the CR as a meteorological value. The author also holds that "Redressed with this apparent economic rationality, the closing figure of the country risk has the ancestral weight of a force of nature, of the kind that are impossible to dominate. It’s as if they told us that it is 44 degrees in the shade... like a dark force, against which we rationally can do nothing, the country risk is a powerful discovery of verbal terrorism" ("Cómo está hoy el riesgo país", 15.05.01). In this way the discourse of the economy seeks to be presented as if it were a natural science of the markets. This position of the economic discourse tends to cancel out any space for debate: the economy stops being a social science subject to interpretive dynamics and places itself next to the "hard sciences". Behind the rationality of the numeric values that the stockbrokers shuffle every day there hides – as Muleiro writes – “dark forces of nature” that it is necessary to dominate. In the same article the references to "the lava of Etna" and “yellow fever” are sufficiently clear in manifesting this concept. As if finishing a discursive phase, Muleiro explains once again what the CR is. However, if we continue reading the article we discover that it is no longer necessary to continue insisting with a didactic discourse: most Argentines know what it is. "… 76% of the people of Buenos Aires have heard of the "country risk". And 57% not only consider it an important indicator but also follow its level and evolution with interest, according to a survey made by Equis Consultants managed by Artemio López. The survey was carried out in the capital in the first week of May interviewing 440 people. Therefore, the “country risk”, that until recently was only part of the language of certain specialists, today integrates en masse the concerns

11 of the people of Buenos Aires from all neighbourhoods, social strata and economic recourses. And although it is difficult for people to define it technically, the citizens of Buenos Aires believe they understand the importance of the term. Understanding what the “country risk” is seems to be in direct relation to the socioeconomic profile of the people. But the survey highlights that no social stratum escapes the phenomenon. 82.6% of those that live in the zone north of the capital and 85.5% of high income earners are familiar with the term. In the south zone knowledge of the term reaches 59.2% and among low income earners the percentage falls to 54.8%" ("Cómo está hoy el riesgo país", 15.05.01) On Sunday 20th an article is published that has a certain critical tone regarding the risk assessment companies. The article starts with a question: who assesses the assessors? Daniele Nouy, spokeswoman of the Bank of International Settlements, explains to that in her institution “they are not taking any steps or plan to monitor these agencies”. However the role of risk assessors like Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch was questioned by the bank in the latest crises: "the country risk is overestimated in recessions and underestimated when the economic cycle is inverted. In this way, the banks don't reserve enough in good times and in the crises they restrict credit." Helmut Reisen from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development of Geneva, stated that "in general the agencies are mistaken in preventing crises, like the Asian crisis, although Moody's lowered South Korea’s and Thailand’s credit rating before the crisis. After this exploded in the region, the ratings they gave these countries 'fell to rubbish status which increased their problems' because everyone cut their credit" ("Críticas a las calificadoras de riesgo", 20.05.01). This critical analysis of the CR agencies is interesting: for the first time the infallibility and transparency of the gaze of the credit rating agencies is questioned. In spite of this warning, the CR continues to be the main economic indicator for the rest of the year.

12 At the end of May the minister Cavallo "reconciles" himself with the markets: “I am currently having a better reception from the markets than the one that I received in the first two months of my previous administration” he explains to the journalists. In this way Cavallo completes "the reconciliation process with the stockbrokers, with whom he had a confrontation last March, after a few days of taking office, when he described them as 'short sighted' and 'ignorant'..." ("El ministro se reconcilia con los mercados…", 22.05.01). Once again the gaze appears as the constituent element of the financial relationships: investigates, and to a certain degree plays down, the gaze of the assessors. However, the minister Cavallo writes against the local stockbrokers and the "short sighted" men: the men of the city "don’t see" the new measures that come from the Ministry of Economy (in this case the debt exchange) that will open the way to growth., 14.05.01
Daddy. To find out the real country risk shouldn’t we measure the unemployment levels, the road blocks, the crime rate, the corruption, floods, traffic accidents and all these things? Yes, but the risk assessors are only interested in the possibilities a country has of paying. And if we make an assessor for the risk assessors?

13, 12.05.01
Europe is a different reality.... in Monaco for example they don’t measure the “country risk” but the “country pleasure”.

Figure 1 The minister Cavallo’s statements again take up another classic topic of the economic discourse: the market as an organic entity that is alive, something that is subjected to narrative programs: "the markets don’t support or stop supporting. Rather the markets get scared or they get less scared... The markets have been exaggeratedly afraid, but as soon as they receive all the information and see results they will become much calmer" ("El ministro se reconcilia con los mercados…", 22.05.01). Once again the economy is presented as the natural science in charge of studying this live being. The CR has jumped from the economic supplements to articles on politics and society, to end up in the Clarín’s comic strips (see Figure 1).

2.3 From the operative phase to the explosion June 2001: In spite of Cavallo’s repeated gestures the distrust of the markets and the tendency of the CR to rise continue during the whole month. July 2001: In the second week the CR goes over 1600 points. The situation is very complex, the political alliances are about to explode and there is even the hypothesis that the president De la Rúa will resign. The government, to avoid falling in default (failing to pay the country’s

14 debt), prepares to vote for an apparent rescue plan: the "law of zero deficit". The investors, frightened, detach themselves from Argentine bonds for fear of unseen measures. August 2001: Approval of the "law of zero deficit" reduces the CR to 1571 points, but the next day it shoots up to 1700 and the United States government sends the Under Secretary of Treasury, John Taylor, to calm the situation. The financial speculators begin to look towards other more revenue-yielding markets; while the stockbrokers wait for an answer from the IMF which makes them wait. It is interesting to stress that the processes of unlimited semiosis (Eco, 1979) that are verified in the discursive space (rumours of resignations, misinterpretations, "signs" of the government or the IMF, etc.) have more than once caused the CR to shoot up. In this case, it is the "silence" of one of its privileged enunciators which causes an ulterior increase in the CR: "without having precise information on how the negotiations, in which a good part of the economic team and the IMF technicians are involved in Washington, are advancing, the stockbrokers are starting to show a certain amount of distrust about the fruit of the agreement… And this attitude was expressed by the consequent rise in the country risk to 1503 points" ("El silencio del FMI…", 15.08.01). The economic system demands a constant flow of communication, without frights, in which there is no place for silences or for the wild circulation of discourses (rumours). It is evident that a discursive situation of this type is utopian, since the discourse is by definition the world of secrets and misunderstandings, a place where we are all potential double agents (Fabbri, 1995). However, the silence of a privileged speaker such as the IMF becomes a factory of rumours. The next day confirms: "the market moved to the rhythm of the rumours. If help from the International Monetary Fund would arrive or not was not discussed but rather how large this assistance would be. And there was a version for everyone’s taste…" ("Repuntaron las acciones…", 16.08.01). The war of rumours doesn't stop. On the 22nd informs that "the market is still trapped by nervousness and uncertainty, which was translated into a new, strong increase in the country risk" ("Un rumor equivocado", 22.08.01). Finally the agreement with the IMF arrives and the CR falls to 1451 points. The Argentine market (this

15 living being that moves to the rhythm of rumours and silences) has a “positive reaction” and some speculate that the CR could even fall to 1200 points. September 2001: If August closed with a decrease in the CR, September could only start up with an increase. On the 7th the CR rises to 1455 points and the continuous flight of bank deposits is confirmed. On 11 September all eyes are on New York: the terrorist attack creates a strange political and financial climate. The national agenda also changes and for the rest of the month practically doesn't talk about the CR again, which continues fluctuating around 1600 points (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The long march of the country risk October 2001: The rumours get worse about the future of the minister Cavallo. It is only a few days to the legislative elections. At this point the CR has beaten all the records and has stopped being a meaningful value for foreign analysts: when it went over 1000 points the country entered another economic dimension in which ranking assessment doesn't make sense. However, the CR continues to be the main indicator of the Argentine economic discourse. This persistence can be explained in only one way: the CR has stopped being an economic indicator and has become exclusively an instrument of political hegemony. Although

16 from the moment the CR appeared it was used for political ends – to legitimise fiscal adjustments, accelerate the approval of laws or cut back on public works – in this last phase the hegemonic function tends to cancel out the economic function. On 11 October the Argentine CR went higher than that of Nigeria arriving at first position with 1859 points: "And the day arrived. Yesterday on the screens of stockbrokers all over the world Argentina appeared, for the first time, as the economy with the highest country risk in the world...” ("La Argentina…", 11.10.01). The day after the elections – in which the "voto bronca" (punishment vote in the form of blank votes or invalid votes) got the highest result – the agenda leaves politics to return to the economy. Everyone waits anxiously for a new set of measures from the minister Cavallo... that don't come. The silence of this privileged speaker causes the CR to climb to 1824 points. The government responds to the crisis with more silence. The result is that the CR goes over 2000 points and the bond market collapses (-20%). November 2001: On 1 November the CR, amid the silence of the state enunciators, rises to nearly 2300 points. The next day, when the economic measures are known, the CR climbs to 2500 points. The financial world is evidently sceptical. Nobody believes in the minister Cavallo’s new measures. Faced with this decomposition of the financial system the analysts stop monitoring the unstoppable ascent of the CR to direct their attention towards the bank deposits. The oscillations of the CR mark the week of Monday 12. The on-line newspaper describes a typical day: "The financial market began to move again up and down to the rhythm of the different versions of the debt exchange. In the first part of the day, the risk climbed up to 3170 points, encouraged by comments attributed to the Secretary of Finance, Daniel Marx, regarding a possible debt-restructuring offer (known as a haircut) to external investors. Later, the civil servant refuted this interpretation of his statements and denied emphatically that he is thinking of proposing a haircut. This relaxed the nerves of the stockbrokers a little and attenuated the fall of

17 the price of the Argentine debt bonds. Therefore, the country risk finally closed at 3026 points..." ("El riesgo país cerró…", 13.11.01). The market is agitated, more alive that ever, it "moves up and down" following the "rhythm" induced by the different versions. It is possible to think that the financial markets are organisms that feed on semiosis: when there are a lot of interpretations, the market becomes agitated. On occasions one speaker has to return many times to his discourse to "rectify" or "clarify" the meaning of his words. The absence of discourses, as we have already observed, also alters the metabolism of the markets: sometimes it is the silence of a privileged speaker which creates a hole that is unfailingly filled with the rumours generated by other enunciators. December 2001: On Tuesday 4th the Argentine CR closes at 3306 points but on Wednesday, thanks to a change in the credit rating system introduced by the bank JP Morgan, it dawns at 4040 points. The Argentine economy has gone through all the financial red lights and slips towards the hell of default. The pressure cooker finally explodes and becomes a "cacerolazo". December 12 reminds its readers that the CR has reached 4160 points. But the temperature in the streets is higher: the banks refuse to return money to their clients and the social fire runs through the streets of Argentina to the rhythm of the beating saucepans. The week that begins on Monday 17 December has already entered the history books. The road blocks, demonstrations and mass meetings at the entrances of the banks are only the warm up to the resignation of the government and the assault on the Congress headquarters. Buenos Aires burns live on the world’s screens while the presidency is passed between five politicians during an endless week. During the attack on 11 September the digital newspaper reached 994,843 daily visits, but the resignation of president De la Rúa raised this to 2,221,500 (Grupo Clarín, 2004).

2.4. After the explosion: the meteorological discourse The arrival to presidency of Eduardo Duhalde generates a discursive change: the great obsession with the markets, the scourge of the savers, the value that best represented the rhythm of the economy (and the decadence of a society) ... leaves the pages of the newspaper

18 together with the government of Fernando De la Rúa. The CR, which in the months following the December 2001 crisis will reach 6000 points, disappears from Clarín’s discourse. This disappearance is less suggestive: in general the news enters at the first page and little by little is diluted in the inside sections of the newspapers. Following this pattern the CR would have stopped “being news" in the big headlines then died little by little in some secondary column of the economic supplement. However, the journey in this case is different: the CR, a fundamental component of the media agenda, disappeared abruptly from Clarín’s discourse. The question is even stranger when we reveal that other Argentine newspapers (such as La Nación) continued to talk about the CR in the articles published in the weeks after the crisis.

Figure 3: The new meteorological value However, to say that the CR disappeared is incorrect. Starting from 21 January 2002 the CR acquired a new status in the display: the Argentine credit rating is located in the right column of the on-line newspaper, under the icons that provide the Buenos Aires

19 weather information and forecasts. From now on this space is dedicated to the CR and the price of the dollar (see Figure 3). The end of the system of "convertibilidad" reopened a frozen exchange market during several years. In this context the CR stops being “news” mentioned in headlines and articles to become a meteorological variable. With a glance at the on-line newspaper the readers can find out if it is raining in Buenos Aires and what temperature the markets have reached. Clarín’s "silence" can be understood as a contribution made by Argentina’s largest communicational group to the government of Eduardo Duhalde. Furthermore, after the social explosion the hegemony should be rebuilt on a different discursive base, employing new metaphors and concepts. The revolution of the "cacerolas" ate up the government of Fernando De la Rúa and its discourse.

3. CONCLUSIONS: ECONOMY, METEOROLOGY AND INFORMATION The aim of this work was not to analyse the “economic information” (the statistics or forecasts of the financial markets) nor question its enunciators. As we have seen, on several occasions the actual economic actors that dance to the rhythm of these figures have questioned the institutions that assess the CR and rank the different economies. The objective was to analyse how the economic discourse is imposed on society and how it becomes a powerful instrument of political hegemony. The CR constitutes an exemplary case: for one year in the name of the CR, fiscal adjustments were applied, reductions in social expenditure were justified and special powers given to the Argentine Minister of Economy were legitimised. The discursive evolution of the CR invites reflection. The economic discourse, if it aspires to hegemonise the territory of social discourses, should adapt to the rhythms and the rhetorical devices of the mass media (short, forceful sentences, extended use of metaphors, etc.). The domain of finance is sown with metaphors: the stocks "rise" and "fall" like the temperature and the markets "react" like living organisms. The Argentine markets, like air masses, have "turbulent" days or they are calm, and in the event of a crisis even Brazil can end up "contaminating" (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980).

20 At the beginning we pointed out how the economic discourse was proposed to Argentine society as a place in which to found other social discourses (the "economy as philosophy"). But the economy also tried to make itself the "natural science of the markets". When the financial area is understood as an ecosystem governed by laws the economist can make hypotheses, carry out predictions and propose possible remedies. The metaphor of the ecosystem is complemented with the organic metaphor: as we can observe the market is a live, conscious organism that sometimes "becomes agitated" and should be "calmed”. The "illnesses" of the market (like unemployment) can be "diagnosed" and cured with a "remedy". According to Abraham, during the 90s "the economists were the main characters of the public scene" in Argentina, "they made the diagnoses, and carried out the therapy as well" (2002, p. 15). In the case of the CR we can detect a longer lasting phenomenon with respect to the average duration of information in the media. It is not without meaning that they talk of the "long march" of the CR: bringing the CR onto the scene and turning it into an instrument of political hegemony was a process that lasted many months. If between the years 1998 and 2000 it made shy appearances, in 2001 the CR burned stages to an unstoppable rhythm and at the end of its journey in 2002, instead of dying in the inside pages of the newspaper, it was comfortably installed in the home-page of the main Argentine on-line newspaper. Including the CR with the weather information is positioning it at the crossroad between different types of discourses: informative, economic and meteorological. Although the meteorological discourse can be seen as a subgenre of the informative discourse (both try to "make something known"), they differ in the temporal dimension. The meteorological discourse: 1) offers current information about the weather conditions, and 2) proposes a series of hypotheses about the evolution of these over the next hours and/or days. As a difference to the traditional informative discourse that works in the dimension of “has been", the meteorological discourse combines the “is" with "will be”. In this sense the on-line newspaper is an ideal device for the meteorological discourse, since besides the forecasts, it can indicate the temperature and the current state of the weather. The CR is placed in this dimension of “is”: the real time necessary to move in an economy dominated by financial logic. The contamination between the economic discourse and the climatic discourse is not a

21 coincidence. As Abraham states, economy and meteorology share the space of prediction: both are knowledge that, starting with a probabilistic analysis, define a future scenario. To conclude it is necessary to ask: Where is the specificity of the on-line newspaper found in this case? It is clear that the printed newspaper can only offer information from the day before. Yesterday’s dollar price or CR estimates have no financial value (except for identifying tendencies): economies based on capital flows and financial activity need information in real time. In this sense the on-line newspaper creates an implicit user (Scolari, 2004), inviting the reader to visit the newspaper several times a day, offering them the climatic-financial information that is most useful for surviving in the agitated markets. Therefore, the on-line newspaper finds its specificity in providing information in real time that allows the reader to stay in tune with the rhythms of the market. At the discursive level, this causes a confluence between the meteorological discourse and the informative discourse. In the last decade of the 20th century the economic discourse has delineated a relentless destiny for Argentine society. The decrease in state presence was considered a return to the “natural order” that the economic science took charge of understanding, explaining and preaching. The long march of the CR is only one example of political instrumentalisation of an economic concept. We are speaking of naturalisation and of building hegemony hiding the social conflict. Naturalisation and cancellation of history are, according to Roland Barthes (1957), the coordinates of myth: In our case, the myth of Country Risk.

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