April 13, 2024

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100 days by Javier Millet

100 days by Javier Millet

New Argentine President Javier Melay has been in office for just over 100 days.

Since his inauguration on December 10, Millay, a far-right “libertarian”, has been on a mission to end what he described as an “orgy of public spending” by the previous government that left him with the “worst legacy” ever. Another government in the history of Argentina.

His extreme libertarian agenda – which Millay says will make Argentina great again – coupled with his wild hair and way of speaking have drawn countless comparisons to Donald Trump, as well as praise from the former US president and other die-hard fans. Elon Musk said Miley's speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this year was so “hot” that it distracted him from having sex.

However, this political outsider is having a harder time convincing Argentines themselves of his vision. The self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist won the presidential race last November on a promise to tame high inflation by converting the country to free-market rules. So far he has failed: inflation doubled during his first month in office, though it has slowed somewhat recently. Poverty rates skyrocketed: retail sales declined. Miley faced widespread street protests and reached a deadlock in Congress, which twice rejected her plans. Plans, he claims, that will transform Argentina “again into a world power.”

All these difficulties lead to difficult questions: Who is the real Javier Millet? Is he an economic visionary who won over voters and led Musk to predict that “Argentina is heading toward an era of prosperity”? He is a power-hungry thug who led tens of thousands of Argentines to protest in the streets under the slogan “The country is not for sale!”

trump card? not exactly

What is certain is that Miley is not Donald Trump. Although his anti-establishment persona and inflammatory rhetoric lead to easy comparisons, Millay is a product of the long history of Latin America, where authoritarianism is the rule and democracy the exception.

Although Miley embraces some elements of Trump's populism — like the “Don't Tread on Me” flag he likes to stand with — Miley is more the archetype of the South American leader or strongman than a would-be Trump.

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Like Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez – his ideological rival – Millay is seeking extraordinary powers in the name of saving the country. For decades, free-market economists have viewed Argentina as one of the world's leading examples of how progressive economic policies can lead to disaster. They argue that while Argentina was ruled by conservative forces in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was among the world's leading economies, before leftist governments came to power who inflated spending through social welfare programs that the government could not afford. . Which causes the chronic problem of inflation. In his maiden speech on December 10, Millay seemed nostalgic for that distant era, boasting in public exaggeration that Argentina was “the richest country in the world” and “a shining beacon for the entire West.”

But Argentina was not a paradise at that time. A single political party clung to power by rigging elections from 1874 to 1916. Although the country became an agricultural superpower, this period was also marked by rampant corruption, excessive borrowing, recurring financial crises and empty coffers that the government was trying to drain. Fill it the same way Millay wants today – by privatizing state-owned enterprises.

Argentina's last democratic period, which began in 1983, is the longest in the country's 208 years. But the economy has proven almost beyond repair to both dictators and its democratically elected leaders – on the left and right – since the country's independence from Spain in 1816, under the weight of inflation, bankruptcy and various restructuring plans.

Miley won over voters last year on a promise to end this long-running economic malaise, launching a sweeping attack on what he described as the root cause: “the perversion of social justice.” Many of his economic policies were inspired by the work of Murray Rothbard, a 20th-century American libertarian economist who was a friend of Holocaust deniers and whose critics accused him of advocating segregation. Elements of the Rothbard Doctrine were core tenets of Miley's presidential campaign, such as the slogan “Taxes are theft” and his promise to abolish the nation's central bank.

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At the same time, he blamed progressive governments, such as that of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, which was in power from 2007 to 2015, for much of the country's problems. As a remedy, he has already begun to dismantle Argentina's social welfare programs and distance the government from education and health care.

Resistance

So far, Millay does not appear to be disgusted by the idea of ​​shelving democracy, as his vision of a libertarian committee has sparked political opposition. On March 14, the Senate rescinded an executive order authorizing Milley to personally push spending-cutting reforms without congressional approval. (The decree remains in effect, however, unless it is also rejected by the House of Representatives, where the president has a better chance.) Last month, the opposition forced him to withdraw a sweeping bill that served as the cornerstone of his economic plan and would have allowed him to privatize state-owned enterprises and liberalize broad areas of the economy, including environmental controls, labor laws and relations.

According to one report, Miley expressed her anger at lawmakers who refused to sign the bill, adding that it could lead to a shutdown of Congress. He called the lawmakers who voted against him “parasites.”

It is an open question whether Millay misread how far his voters are willing to go to change Argentina's economy. He can test the limits of Argentina's nascent democracy to fulfill his dream of transforming it from a country driven by populism, welfare and social rights into a libertarian utopia where the fittest can reach their full potential by those freed from the burden of sharing their generosity. Even if his policies ultimately tame commodity prices, Argentines may not accept not being able to access the same public health policies as previous generations – or for their elected leader to threaten to shut down the legislature.

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Argentina, after all, is not the runaway economic disaster that Millay and his ilk claim. It has a diversified industrial base and is a major exporter of agricultural products. It has the second-highest human development index in Latin America and is the country's third-largest economy, with a highly educated population and a strong, if restless, middle class that knows how to fight for its rights.

In January, shortly after taking office, Millay went to Davos with a message for the world's business. “Don't let anyone tell you that your ambition is immoral,” he said. “You are the true heroes of this story and rest assured that, as of today, Argentina will be your steadfast and unconditional ally.”

As the enthusiastic responses from Musk and others showed, his message was well received by the wealthy. But Millay must make an equally compelling appeal to the real heroes in this story: the people on Argentina's streets and neighborhoods, whose patience may run out more quickly than expected if the inflation monster is not killed soon, and who have rarely been tamed in Argentina's long history.

If he fails, he will be remembered not as the libertarian genius that Trump and Musk claim to be, but as just another in a long line of would-be South American leaders who have failed to deliver on their promises — and made life miserable for millions along the way. method.

*Oki Goni is an Argentine essayist and journalist, with contributions to the New York Review of Books and The Guardian. He is the author of The Real Odyssey: How Nazi War Criminals Escaped Europe.

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