Professor Ferns’ dispassionate account of the Anglo-Argentine connection between 1806 and the financial crisis of the 1890s is an effective answer to those nationalist Argentine historians who like to ascribe all their country’s ills to the machinations of British imperialism. The author is as harsh on the irresponsibility of the Barings and on the “foolishness and greed” of some British capitalists as any patriotic porteño could wish. But he also demonstrates that the really large profits from ranching, commercial agriculture, and speculation in rural and urban real estate went to native Argentines; in some areas the price of farm land rose more than one thousand per cent in less than a decade. To the British were left the “less rewarding and more demanding” construction of railways, gasworks, sewers, and electric power plants, and unfortunate investments in government bonds. A few foreign companies made spectacular profits, but on the whole the results were bleak enough to justify the “stern and repeated warnings” of The Economist against Argentine securities.

As Professor Ferns also demonstrates, Argentina, unlike some other Latin American nations, never lost her political sovereignty. The Foreign Office, following Castlereagh’s wise precedent, repeatedly refused to come to the rescue of unlucky investors; as Salisbury bluntly told a bondholders’ committee in 1891, “Her Majesty’s Government [is not] in the least degree disposed to encroach on the function of Providence.” Favors to foreign capitalists came from Buenos Aires, not from London; British investment was made possible, was indeed eagerly sought after, by the landed interests that controlled the Argentine government. And when the crash came, the British government, acting through the Bank of England, offered to bear half the loss. As Professor Ferns shows, both the underpaid Argentine worker and the much-maligned British bondholder were systematically victimized by the issue (in part illegal) of excessive amounts of inconvertible paper money. The blame for Argentina’s economic troubles must be laid at the door of the great landowners, who sold their beef and wheat abroad for sterling, and therefore encouraged and profited from their country’s financial ruin.