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Lessons from Argentina’s crash

March 10, 2011
New York City

There aren’t too many things in this world that I worry about– the way I have my life structured makes me feel confident and prepared to deal with whatever might come my way.

Of the few things on my list, however, traveling to the United States is near the top. If you’ve ever gone through US border control checkpoints, you know what I’m talking about.

The gauntlet consists of two phases– first standing in line to have your passport stamped, then clearing the customs agent after baggage claim. The experience is unpredictable, and that’s being generous.

On some occasions, it’s smooth sailing without so much as a casual glance from agents at either stage. Other times, it can entail a lengthy interrogation about the nature of your business, and even extremely personal questions like, “what is this medication for” and “tell me your computer password”.

They’ll frequently herd large groups of people into inspection queues where officers dump the contents of travelers’ suitcases inside out looking for something, anything they can generate revenue on. Too many cigarettes? Report to the cashiers’ window with your checkbook.

Their tactics are intentionally designed to intimidate. In Miami International (easily the worst airport in the developed world), I remember once seeing a squad of customs agents standing in a rather ceremonious, single rank formation.

The senior officer gave the order, and his subordinates fanned out from the formation with the precision of a champion synchronized swim team, heading straight towards the nearest traveler for a random inspection with that booming, authoritarian tone of voice they always adopt. It appears they’re incapable of holding a normal conversation.

My last several visits to the United States (as infrequent as they are) have been fairly painful… and I always expect the worst. Luckily, I had a good experience yesterday evening arriving to JFK– they seemed short staffed and were rushing everyone through border control as quickly as possible.
The only oddity was that one of the customs agents was walking up and down the line giving travelers a sales pitch for why they should sign up for the US government’s “Global Entry” program, which offers the possibility for a speedy immigration experience.

It costs $100 as the officer told us over and over again… of course, no mention of the interview process or biometric data collected upon application. But I thought it was funny that the government was trying hard to pitch their product.

Once free of customs, the car service I use picked me up right on time, and within minutes we were headed for the Midtown Tunnel with the haunting sounds of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross playing in the background.

My driver, a garrulous Argentine from Buenos Aires, chatted with me in his native Spanish– a notable variation on the language due to its numerous vocabulary differences and French sounding phonology.

As it turns out, Diego (‘like Maradona’ he told me, referring to Argentina’s futbol superhero) is quite adept at planting multiple flags. He was a police officer in Buenos Aires in the 1990s, a time in which the city was among the safest in the western hemisphere and being a cop was a decent profession.

Argentina’s economy turned for the worst in 2000, completely collapsing later that year. Under tremendous pressure to maintain an unrealistic currency peg, fight recession, and pay its swelling debts, the government defaulted on its debt obligations, devalued the peso, closed banks, and confiscated every centavo of private funds they could find.

Blood ran in the streets. Protestors in Buenos Aires staged huge riots demanding change.  In response, President Fernando de la Rua turned Qadaffi on them, sending police and military into the streets to engage the protestors. It wasn’t Argentina’s finest hour, and by no means a good time to be a police officer in Buenos Aires.

Diego wasn’t around for it.

As he told me, he saw first hand how the initial signs of the recession were wearing down society– rising crime rates and increased homelessness were everyday occurrences on his beat back in 1998.

His first step was in establishing a foreign bank account in neighboring Uruguay; it was a good fit since they spoke his language and it was easy to get to. This was in the days before September 11th– Diego told me how he hopped on a friend’s boat with several other people and headed for Uruguay without declaring their cash hoard. Must be nice.

He spent the rest of the year researching places to escape to… and when things started to turn in 1999, he headed to New York. At the time, the US economy was doing very well, and Argentina was on the visa-waiver program. It was easy for him to gain entry and apply for residency.

In time, he applied for naturalization in the US… not because he found himself swelling with pride for his newfound home, but because it helped reduce his uncertainty. “I was already here paying these crazy taxes… so I thought I would go ahead and apply for citizenship. I thought that having a second passport would give me more options.”

He’s right. It’s a simple, common sense approach to uncertainty: reducing concentration and exposure to any one single government reduces risk and provides more options to be able to better deal with uncertainty.

About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Freeman13

    simon black,
    i appreciate the articles you put up here in your web site.
    i too want to be free from the country i am living in, fusa.
    i will follow your article whenever i have some free time.
    thank you for sharing your philosophy and life experiences.

  • Justen Robertson

    “tell me your computer password”

    WTF? Hahah, not a chance in hell that would ever, ever happen. The code I keep on my laptop (naturally, locked up under a couple layers of strong encryption to protect my clients) is worth more than some pissant customs officer’s life. They can’t seriously expect people to do this?

    • Terry

      Why not?

    • Guesta

      If you do not provide a password for your PC, you will go to prison, buddy. Just a warning. Look it up, it had already happened.

      What you can do is have an encryption that accepts two passwords, – one opens the real content, and another “the valet password” opens up a fake content that looks like bunch of nothing special.

    • Chris

      Unfortunately they do. Thus the use of encryption software.

    • Un_viet

      I am sorry but I don’t think you can refuse their request, unless you want to go to jail and have your laptop confiscated. The US Customs and Border Protection have the right to inspect your laptop without any warrant at the ports.

  • Rsrafferty

    Hey Simon,

    I have been reading every newsletter you send out for about a year now and have been living outside the states myself for the past 3 years. I travel back to the States 2-3 times a year to see family, friends, and take care of some business things. Yes U.S. border control is an extremely invasive process, however, I never have been bothered once. It is always smooth, but by your description it makes it sound like the worse process ever. I may have been lucky but you sound to be exaggerating a little.

    Also, I am not sure exactly why you say the Spanish from Argentina has French sounding phonology. I don’t hear that at all but I would say it has very strong Italian influence. Either way, I guess everyone has their own perspective.

    Thanks for the post and I look forward to more!

  • Carlos

    Hi Simon,

    Good stuff Simon but if I may I would like to comment on one thing you said. You mention that you are confident and prepared based on your preparations and otherwise in life and that this helps you avoid worry and undue concern about most things.

    All well and good as far as it goes Simon. Thing is that you cannot prepare for any number of things that may happen in your life. Cancer, death, a debilitating accident, food poisoning, natural disaster, hi-jacking of whatever carrier you are on, loss of relationships for reasons that are other than your fault…even a stubbed toe.

    While I commend you for your preparedness in so far as you can humanly be there is something that can be done by all us to prepare even better for whatever life throws our way.

    I speak of faith in God. Whatever you may personally think about such things may I encourage you to consider the claims of the Bible and the one whom it talks of to allow you to truly find peace in the midst of whatever, and I mean whatever, may come your way?

    Nothing we do in this life can substitute for the peace of knowing God as the living God. To know that we are loved, forgiven, and in the hands of the one who ultimately controls all things to line up with His ultimate purposes for us all.

    If you ask me, true relationship with God is the ultimate preparedness.


    • Chris

      Fine if you subscribe to superstitious nonsense. For the rest of us who understand that there is no god we’ll deal with life.

    • Agabardi

      But what you say here does not disagree with what Simon teaches. I believe in God but also in the necssity of planting multiple flags.

  • Michael Mason

    “In Miami International (easily the worst airport in the developed world)”

    Perhaps, but most likely you will see the hottest girls in any American airport, so it could be a wash.

    “French sounding phonology.”

    It seems to me more Italian sounding.

    - MPM

    • Fred

      You can see plently of botoxed, boob jobbed up, tanning salon princesses in LA too.

  • M1super90

    I’ve been following an Argentinian by the name of Fernando Ferfal Aguirre for several years online. He writes about the best “been through it, and here’s how you cope with the SHTF scenarios” I’ve seen. Having lived through the decline of a first world nation collapse gives him a unique ability to advise. I recently bought his book “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and am working through it.

  • Cerfer457


    If I understood the description of the Panama conference correctly, one of the unusual (and frankly awesome) aspects was having bankers from various countries present, so that conference attendees could open bank accounts on the spot without having to travel to the respective countries.

    Will purchasers of the upcoming DVD set of that conference have access to those bankers, say, by meeting up with them in the US? If so, I will want to buy the DVD set. If not (i.e., if all I get from watching the DVDs is bankers’ names, but I still have to fly to the various countries to meet with them to open the accounts), the appeal of the recorded conference–for me, at least–is greatly diminished.

    • simonblack

      This is Simon’s assistant: you should not have to travel to do so: we are including applications in the workbook…

  • Mike

    My favorite was:

    “Why are you wearing long johns underneath your jeans?”

    “Um, because it’s the Pacific Northwest, and it’s cold?”

  • Flanagle

    I’m reading a book right now called “Super sad true love story” by Gary Shteyngart (who came to the US as a Russian emigre when he was a kid). It takes place about 25-30 years from now as best I can figure. At that time if you “…spend over 250 days abroad and don’t register for Welcome Back, Pa’dner, the official United States Citizen Re-Entry Program, they can bust you for sedition right at JFK, send you to a ‘secure screening facility’ Upstate, whatever that is.” The “Welcome Back Pa’dner” program is very intrusive. The book is a bit like “Brave New World” crashing into “1984″ with some very astute observations about where we are headed. By the way if you want a good pizza in Manhattan in the future they only take Yuan.

  • James Simpson

    i’m all for planting multiple flags. however, unless you are from a third/fourth world country earning less than $1/day, why would anyone opt for US citizenship? aside from the some of the highest income tax rates in the world, a high cost of living in urban areas, the country has a horrendous estate tax system which makes it near impossible to share your wealth with your children!

  • joff

    Many do not realize that George Sorous was also involved in Argentina’s debacle as well. Co-incidence?

  • Jack

    I have dual citizenship (USA and Sweden) and think that is all good and great and might come in handy one day. So, nothing much to say about that.

    BUT, with all its problems, this cabbie still chose to come to the states. Why? All things considered America still allows greater individual freedom than most countries, and even though there may be laws that limit them, such as drug laws, they are not strictly enforced and there is some wiggle room as long as your not a real criminal.

    In Sweden, the goverment has total control over your life and you are little more than a well fed slave with the illusion of freedom. America hasn’t got that far yet and there is still a chance with America’s history and traditions that she can turn the corner. Here it will never happen and servitude to the state will only increase.

  • Jason34

    Me thinks Simon conjured up this story to help sell his viewpoint and product.

  • GSL

    Nice piece. I love the Reznor/Ross music as well.

  • Sy

    Maybe it’s time for that driver to head back to Argentina?

  • AJ

    Simon, I was recently introduced to your website. So far I like it alot.

    I have a question for you (Simon) and other readers. I am Citizen of a third/fourth world country. Very soon I am going to apply for US citizenship. How easy will it be, to use passport from my birth country when opening bank accounts in other countries (Singapore, Panama, Hong Kong)?

    Suppose I want to invest 20000 dollars in Hong Kong. I can show my birth country passport to them. Then the IRS will ask me about any foreign accounts when filing my yearly taxes. Which I have to tell them the truth. IRS will call Hong Kong Bank to confirm that I have that money in the account and ask them to do a pile of paperwork. So the Hong Kong bank in the end will treat me as just US citizen anyway and my 2nd passport will not matter after all.
    Am I thinking through this correctly.
    I will appreciate Simon or any other reader’s thought on it.

    • Nihhon

      First the bank will ask you to declare in writing whether you are or are not a US citizen when you open the account.
      The answer to your question about ease of using birth country PP depends on the country whose PP you hold, the bank, source of funds, etc. Third world country is more difficult than say Western Europe or Japan because it is more difficult to verify your background and the legitimacy of your funds. US is more difficult than most fiorst world because of papaerwork and hassles with IRS.

  • Someone

    Yes, citizens of Arg. didn’t need a visa back then but “applying for residency” wasn’t and isn’t easy. “Policeman” isn’t a profession that would fall under an employment preference category. Many from Arg. stayed on illegally.
    “numerous vocabulary differences and French sounding phonology” not really, not numerous and not French sounding.
    Traveling to Uruguay can still be done.

  • Worldwise

    Simon , just how much travel do you REALLY do?????????????
    Standing in line to have your PP stamp happens often all over the world. Having your belongings searched happens less often but happens all over the world.
    Some countries are better than the US some worse and much of it is random (arriving at busy times when a lot of planes have just arrived.)

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