In the early part of the 20th century, Argentina was among the top ten richest countries in the world, maintaining this position into the 50's.
Between 1890 and the 1930's, Buenos Aires was totally overhauled, changed from a pretty Spanish colonial town to what it is today, a huge city with sprawling boulevards, French and Italian architecture, hundreds of parks and plazas and tree lined streets.
During this time, the very rich traveled to Europe, especially to Paris where they painted the town red with their parties, their music and their beautiful women. It was the French, seeing how lavishly the argentines spent money, who coined the phrase "riche comme un argentin" or "as rich as an argentine".
I wrote before about how Argentines invest in "brick", buying property after property in cash, as a means to putting their money away for a rainy day, in a US$ denominated asset, real estate.
Well, during 2011, Argentines "saved" close to 18.5 billion dollars, in one form or another. Some funds are literally saved "under the mattresses" , although it is more common to put your greenbacks away in a bank's safe deposit box, or illegally ship them out to hard currency denominated accounts overseas. Eighteen and a half billion dollars, a record in the last decade, at a pace of over 1.5 billion a month!
This outflow just about doubled the amount of cash held underground by argentines, which now totals close to 161 billion dollars, exceeding the total argentine external debt by about 20 billion or so!
Argentines were apparently not daunted by their government's desperate measures to control or eliminate capital flight, paying a hefty premium of up to twenty percent (the difference between the official rate and the "blue" rate) to transfer their funds to safer terrain.
As rich as an argentine indeed.