The author believes that the basic reason for the failure of Argentina to develop its rich economic resources, particularly in the fields of hydroelectric power, irrigation, petroleum, and natural gas, is the excessive concentration of decision making and taxing power in the hands of the central government. Long before the OPEC crisis, Allende Posse waged a futile campaign against the wastefulness of deforesting large stands of Argentine hardwoods to provide firewood to fuel trains and power stations. He criticizes YPF, the national petroleum entity, for allowing vast quantities of natural gas to escape unused and for causing the nation to rely on increasingly costly imports of oil, while its extensive waterpower resources remain largely unexploited. The substitution of hydroelectric power for the wasteful use of wood and petroleum would have permitted the conservation of these combustibles for more rational long-range uses.
Allende Posse condemns also the national policies that concentrated the supply of electrical energy principally in greater Buenos Aires. Shortly after the overthrow of Juan Domingo Perón in 1955, the writer estimated that the metropolitan zone received over two-thirds of the nation’s energy horsepower, though the rest of the country had three times more population (pp. 167-169). Many interior towns regularly had only a few hours of illumination in the evening or none at all, while forty percent of the Argentine population depended on oil lamps or candlelight.
The “two federalisms” of the title essay, written in 1956, contrast the operation of government in Argentina and the United States. An admirer of the North American system, the author describes the advantages of a country with only six percent of its population in the combined capitals of Washington and the then forty-eight states, and with its intellectual capital in Cambridge, its financial center in New York, that of meat in Chicago, petroleum in Texas, steel in Pittsburgh, automobiles in Detroit, and movies in Hollywood. In contrast, in Argentina, Buenos Aires is the universal capital of all of these activities. There, he mourns, resides the power to raise taxes and to make decisions; there rules the devouring bureaucracy that neglects the great Argentine frontier.
Despite the polemic and repetitive character of the volume, Allende Posse’s perception is basically correct. He saw clearly the distortions being built into the Argentine economy by the megalocephalic growth of Buenos Aires at the expense of the rest of the country. Argentina would be much farther along the path of integrated development if the politicians and generals had heeded some of the strictures of the informed engineer.