There has been much ado concerning Bitcoin and how authorities and businesses in China and the United States have reacted to it, but possibly more intriguing possibilities may lie ahead for this currency and other cryptocurrencies. The Wall Street Journal ran a piece a week ago about the obvious divide that exists in Latin America. The Atlantic facing countries have more command oriented economies while the Pacific facing countries, with the exception of Ecuador and Nicaragua, have more market-oriented economies. Latin America has become a continent of focus on a global scale with stifled European growth and an Asia-Pacific region that has already been welcomed into the global economic conversation. Alternative currencies will make their mark on Latin America and it will affect both sides in a different fashion. In the end, Bitcoin and Latin American Growth will go together as they both are in spotlight at the same time and cryptocurrencies (including Bitcoin) will afford Latin American businesses and entrepreneurs the opportunity to operate on a level playing field with the rest of the globe.
Notable State Oriented Economies of Latin America
These countries have economies that are more beholden to national interests. The most extreme state run economy on this list is Cuba, which has a Communist regime that has made slight concessions to economic liberalization. Venezuela has arguably the second most extreme state run economy and is in the midst of a socioeconomic and political crisis. Argentina has had its fair share of instability and command-oriented economic events courtesy of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner including price controls, drama concerning possession of the Falkland Islands, inflation of 26%, police strikes, and the nationalization of YPF just to name a few measures. Brazil is always feared to resort to its old ways and currently there is still a great deal of red tape and taxation is comparatively higher than peers.
Notable Market-Oriented Economies of Latin America
Mexico’s efforts to attract and grow business is not just limited to Mexico City, but Guadalajara has been emphasized as a growth destination in the digital and tech space much like the way Bogota is the established economic powerhouse city in Colombia and Medellin has broken out a youthful, digital force. Mexico is currently the 14th largest economy and growing. Mexico is still plagued by the drug cartels as demand for drugs across the northern border still exists. Ciudad Juarez is plagued by cartel-induced violence, which is considered so bad that the Sun Bowl strongly discouraged visitors from traveling across the border as the college bowl game was an opportunity to promote both El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez for tourism and business.
Colombia still is combatting FARC, but it is clearly winning the battle after President Uribe’s term. FARC has been more limited to the jungle areas of Colombia. Active peace talks with FARC are also being negotiated to an extent. The Colombian economy has much room to grow in terms of agriculture, energy, finance, tourism, and digital technology.
Belize is actively courting Americans to purchase real estate in the country marketing their pristine beaches, tax policies, and English fluency. Belize has a lot more growing to do and it has to shake stigmas.
Chile is considered by the Heritage Foundation to be #1 in economic freedom in Latin America. Chile enjoys a trade surplus, a central bank policy rate of 4.5% that would be attractive to investors outside of Chile. Trading the Chilean Peso may be a worthy endeavor for those wishing to take advantage of the carry trade against countries/economic zones that have extremely low interest rates such as the United States, European Union, and Japan. Chile has low inflation and has policies that benefit not just copper exports, but other exports to help maintain the surplus. Morgan Stanley expects Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico to grow on average 4.25% in 2014.
These countries are not facing looting outbreaks, fights over toilet paper, nor do they have leaders that are trying to escalate action against another country.
Bitcoin’s Impact on State-Oriented Economies
In all of these state-oriented economies, there are currency controls. Venezuela and Argentina are infamous for their price controls. Brazil’s government influence in the economy stems from their excessive influence, possible corruption issues, and inflationary concerns. Entrepreneurs, investors, and ordinary individuals will be looking to the marketplace to meet their needs. Rationing, red tape, high costs, and possible surveillance are associated with these state-oriented economies. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies will meet the needs of many that have access to the internet.
Competing globally in countries that wish to be more insular comes with negative ramifications, but the usage of the internet and the ability to transact in a possibly untraced fashion in a global marketplace will enable competitive pricing for citizens to receive the goods and services needed. Venezuelans will be able to buy toilet paper from foreign sources without having to use a currency that is being grossly debased. Venezuelans will also have the opportunity to engage in entrepreneurship while still in Venezuela to fund their endeavors and possible defection to other countries such as Colombia. Over 26% of Venezuelans use the internet on a daily basis. Venezuela has not filtered the internet just yet and purchasing Bitcoin is far more secure than holding onto Bolivar.
Bitcoin usage could take the government’s tight grip on the economy away by rendering its presence useless by adopting the private currency. Less tax revenues can be collected, a populace that is armed financially and possibly literally (you could have bought anything on Silk Road), and decreased influence from political leaders and enforcers as cryptocurrency usage becomes viral. This thought process can be applied to Venezuela-lite in Argentina, which is an economy with a lot of potential.
The Brazilian economy could grow further by giving businesses more exposure overseas and overcoming the exotic sovereign currency issue. The World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in 2016 will put much pressure on the Brazilian economy to grow and keep up appearances. Lower transaction costs, currency familiarity, and nationality ambivalence with Bitcoin customers will help Brazilian firms seeking to do business outside of Brazil. With a large influx of tourists and business-people coming to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the acceptance of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will remove the barriers of having to convert currencies and engage in secure purchases. Brazil may be a more command-oriented economy like Argentina, but global expectations and aspirations should push them away from past tendencies.
For the state-oriented economies, Bitcoin and its competitors offer greater freedom, monetary security, entrepreneurship opportunities, transaction security, and privacy. In the case of Venezuela, it could spark a change in governance much like the way social media was credited for bringing in the Arab Spring to life. Much of the problems surrounding Venezuela are economic in nature and the black market is a natural alternative. Prevention of seizure of assets by keeping them in a digital wallet in the cloud is far more secure than keeping funds in a bank regulated by the Venezuelan government.
Bitcoin’s Role in Economic Growth for the Pacific Countries
Entrepreneurship as described in the previous section is on a smaller level than what may be in Colombia, Mexico, Chile, and Peru. Colombia and Mexico have cities that have hopes to global players in the digital space. Attracting business from Europe, Canada, and the United States would be easier with lower exchange and transaction fees. Credit cards and PayPal place transaction fees on users wishing to make international transactions and this fee would be reduced.
Latin American outsourcing can experience growth as call centers, development and design firms, and independent contractors are able to not only competitively bid as they do now, but they would be able to accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and this will drive in more business. It is not a fad, it is a matter of making an easier and cheaper transaction. Less barriers to making the purchase will make the sale and it will help Latin American businesses be able to be global, which can lead to Venture Capital growth.
Bitcoin will lead to greater international business transactions for Latin America and enable economic growth. The benefits are different for these countries as the need for stability is not pressing, but rather these countries have an insatiable appetite for growth. Entrepreneurship, competing globally, lower transaction fees, transactional security, competitive biddng, improved economic development, and changing perceptions are all benefits of adopting cryptocurrencies in these countries. A startup in Medellin or Cartagena can compete with a firm in Toronto and another firm in Indianapolis for a services contract. Removing the barriers of nationality from the transaction to focus solely on the services provided and costs involved are a major benefit.
Consumers win too in these countries as they would gain purchasing power because some items are more expensive in their domestic markets than foreign markets. Ex-pats and immigrants can send money to family members in their native country in a simple, inexpensive, quick, and secure fashion. This can help boost local economies.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies help make the world a smaller place just like the way air travel, the internet, telecommunications, and social media have done. Cryptocurrencies promote globalization and Bitcoin will help provide that opportunity to Latin America, which is eager to compete and grow in the global marketplace.