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Pinochet wannabe? Argentina’s president-elect is not the libertarian he claims to be

Preview Javier Milei claims to be a freedom-loving anarchocapitalist but scratch him and a fascist bleeds through
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Javier Milei says he is a freedom-loving anarcho-capitalist, but scratch him and a fascist bleeds through

The far-right Argentine economist and so-called “libertarian” Javier Milei was elected president on Sunday night, promising to tackle inflation and take a sledgehammer to the state in the midst of an economic crisis. But his proposed policies will most likely not be a panacea for Argentina’s woes and, more likely, will only harm the country more.

Before detailing Milei’s particular positions, it needs to be noted upfront that Buenos Aires’ economic crisis is directly attributed to former right-wing President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), who took out a massive International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan in hopes of boosting his political cred before a tough reelection that he eventually lost. It was this massive and unpayable debt that carried on into the administration of current outgoing President Alberto Fernandez, contributing to hyperinflation. The history of Argentine economics is long and complicated (the economy is in crisis about every six years), but this latest one is directly attributed to the same sort of austerity and Western bootlicking that’s on the table today.

That’s where Javier Milei comes in. He wants to lean into these very same policies and institutions that mangled the Argentine economy, namely the IMF and the West, predominantly the United States, while also giving up his nation’s sovereignty by adopting the US dollar. He wants to cut off ties with major countries like China purely on ideological grounds, never mind how ridiculously this would destroy Argentina’s supply chains and place in international trade. He has also promised to abandon the BRICS format, opting instead to do business with the “civilized” world – North America, Europe, and their partners, including Israel.

It’s clear that this is not only foolhardy, given the long-term trajectory of the eastward drift of economic, political, and diplomatic power, but an outright betrayal against the Argentine people. Abandoning its sovereign currency – just like Ecuador and El Salvador, both countries themselves undergoing regular cycles of turmoil, did – would guarantee that Buenos Aires’ monetary policy is written in Washington, DC. Without fiscal exchange and labor market integration, this effectively would make Argentina a US colony.

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Javier Milei waves during his victory speech after winning the presidential runoff election in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 19, 2023
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On top of this, Milei wants to abolish virtually every governmental agency – fulfilling a libertarian wet dream perhaps communicated to him by his most trusted adviser, his deceased dog. (No, really, he takes advice from his dead dog). The social costs, which can also be calculated economically, of slashing education, health, transportation, and technology, would not only be immense, but would almost certainly make Buenos Aires an economic non-factor within a generation and, at best, a perennial victim of brain drain.

Then again, it’s also important to note that he is not a pure anarcho-capitalist/market libertarian as he apparently professes. If you look at his policy proposals, here are some highlights: “Militarization of the institutions during the transition period,” building a for-profit public-private prison system, relaxing regulations on imprisoning people, implementing forced labor for prisoners (such that they cannot be released without being economically productive), reducing the age of imputability of minors (the age at which someone is considered morally competent by law, thus able to be criminally sentenced), and creating a national surveillance network complete with cameras and facial recognition.

Milei’s advocates believe that he has now ridden into his mandate on an anti-crime, pro-market reform wave on the back of rising crime and an out-of-control left that doomed the economy. On the contrary, his policies will not alleviate the material conditions – poverty and destitution – that are driving crime, and his hard-on-crime policies, which are totally out of step with what libertarians claim to believe, is, at best, a band-aid on a gaping wound. At worst, it’s clear that he is following the same route as other pro-capital tough men like Chile’s former dictator, Augusto Pinochet.

That is to say, while many of the original neoliberals lauded Pinochet as their man, and, indeed, Pinochet implemented the first prototypical neoliberal constitution in history in Chile, this was a farce. In fact, the state began to intervene more in the economy from 1975 to 1982, a period described as a “pure Monetarist experiment” that also overlapped with Pinochet’s dictatorship, than the former socialist government of Salvador Allende. This supposed laissez-faire period was, in fact, categorized with heavy state control of the economy and state repression designed to cull opposition to these unpopular policies, which netted little economic growth and culminated in a banking crisis.

While Milei claims to be a libertarian and a free-market capitalist, he has already shown himself to have an authoritarian streak. Moreover, his predecessor on the right, Macri, also had to contend with political realities – e.g. the fact that austerity is extraordinarily unpopular – prompting his reforms to grind to a halt. Milei will necessarily need to employ state repression – particularly against those on the left, whom he openly dehumanizes – to ram these policies through if he intends to do even half of what he has stated publicly. It would be impossible for Argentina to be both a democracy and a degenerate right-wing semi-feudal state at the same time.

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