Some countries default on their performing debt because they no longer have the ability to pay it. Other countries default on their performing debt because they no longer have the willingness to pay it. Argentina has been in both situations: something of a serial defaulter, it defaulted on or restructured its obligations in 1828, 1890, 1982, 1989, 2001, and 2005.
And it’s going to default once again in 2013.
Argentina is a unique and special case on many levels: the failure of its 2005 and 2010 debt restructurings does not mean that debt restructurings in general don’t work, or that we need to resuscitate the idea of a sovereign bankruptcy regime. Still, the precedent being set here is not a happy one — not for international bondholders, probably not even for Elliott Associates, which is still a long way from getting paid, and definitely not for Argentina. This is looking very much like one of those court cases which absolutely everybody ends up losing.