By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
If you're the leader of a country these days, chances are you have historically low approval ratings. It's true of Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel, but also the Prime Ministers of Japan and India, and the leaders of the Arab world. We are living in an era of global dissatisfaction.
It has been a year of protests, from the Arab Spring to the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York...to similar ones in London, Madrid, Tokyo, and more.
So I found it surprising that one nation just re-elected its president by a whopping margin. This incumbent won 22 out of 23 provinces, and beat out the nearest contender by 37 percentage points. No, this is not a Russian election...
It's actually the leader of a pretty vibrant democracy: Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. If you gauge the mood from her victory parade, Argentines are happy and prosperous. They've had eight years of strong growth, leading up to a 9% rise in GDP this year. Annual salary increases there are approaching an astounding 30%. Imagine if your boss put 30% more in your paycheck next year. You would be happy, too.
People are partying - nightclubs and restaurants are packed; and rockstars from all over the world are adding Buenos Aires to their list of must-tour cities. Argentina's biggest export soybeans keeps hitting record high prices on the market. And the nation's main trading partners are Brazil and China - both of which have had a surge in domestic consumption, creating a ready market for manufactured goods.
Argentina's economic rise reads like a dramatic turnaround. In December of 2001, it declared the largest debt default in history, sparking a period of all-out chaos - there were five presidents in just two weeks. And it was disastrous for the Argentine people: many in the middle class had their entire bank savings wiped out, leading to deadly riots and widespread poverty.
They have done well to emerge from it, helped especially by the devaluation of their currency. (If only Greece and Italy had that option, there would be no Euro crisis.) And Mrs. Kirchner is right to avoid massive austerity programs at a time when what is needed is growth.
But the success of Argentina's comeback may also be blinding the country to a build up of problems. Loose money, large subsidies and a cheap currency are leading to inflation. While Kirchner's administration puts the figure around 9%, that number is widely regarded to be doctored. Reliable private estimates put it closer to 25%. Kirchner's populist campaign has promised "beef for all," "fish for all," even "TVs for all." Further subsidies on energy, transport and water are said to cost up to 5% of GDP. Meanwhile the surpluses that led to Argentina's decade of fiscal stability are now dwindling - at the rate of two billion dollars a month.
While the remedy to that is structural reform, Kirchner has instead resorted to crude protectionism. And external headwinds are on the way - a global slowdown will mean lower incomes from agriculture and reduced demand from China and Brazil. Simply giving people subsidies doesn't work in the long term: Sooner or later, the money runs out. And so does popularity.
There was a lovely moment from Kirchner's election night celebration last week. As the people roared out victory, the President began dancing. The crowds soaked it in. It was a moment to remember. But it's also an analogy for the Argentine economy. Partying hard is fun, but it is often followed by a painful hangover.