The Last Latin American Revolution
Javier Milei’s early success in Argentina is a harbinger of what may soon be coming to the rest of Latin America
BUENOS AIRES. I had the chance to speak for nearly an hour with Argentine President Javier Milei on December 9 of last year, one day before he was sworn into office. During our conversation we discussed the future of the libertarian revolution that is taking place in Argentina and his absolute determination to see it crystallized in concrete reforms that would restore freedom and progress to his country. Nearly two months into his presidency, there is no doubt that while much remains to be done, Milei is already off to a great start.
I’m writing this column from the iconic Palacio Duhau in Recoleta, Buenos Aires, where I have met several well-informed friends. They all concur that, so far, Milei is well on the way to achieving the unthinkable: putting an end to a century of collectivist decline. The lion of the Andes, as Milei is sometimes called, has not wasted time.
Shortly after coming to power, Milei dramatically narrowed the gap between the official and the market exchange rates by devaluing the peso 54%. He went on to shut down ministries and public offices and lay off swarms of useless bureaucrats. He also passed an emergency decree with 300 measures to deregulate the economy. Among them are the privatization of all public companies, the elimination of rent controls, an open sky policy, cutting subsidies to different sectors of the economy, ending import restrictions, deregulating satellite services and many others. In addition, the reduction of fiscal deficit is moving forward.
During the first month of Milei’s administration, public spending decreased by 30% in real terms compared to the previous year and the previous month. In other words, the government is already spending almost a third less than in the same period last year when adjusted for inflation. Needless to say, this is only the beginning of the 6.1 points of GDP worth of deficit spending that Milei has to adjust in order to restore a balanced budget. Most of this adjustment (3.2% of GDP) will affect the public sector by cutting spending, while a temporary increase of taxation (2.9% of GDP) will do the rest.
Despite the harsh measures adopted so far and the challenges some of them face in the courts and congress, Milei’s popularity has stayed at around 60%. Public support and the strong hand of Security Minister Patricia Bullrich explains why the demonstrations orchestrated by the infamous Argentinian unions have not been able to harm the government. If anything, they have contributed to increased public support for Milei’s efforts to fight what he calls the “caste” of “parasites” that have exploited Argentinians for so long. If he is successful in getting rid of the “caste” so that he can turn Argentina around, the ideological and political impact throughout the region will be enormous—even more so because he and other free market advocates have already achieved a lasting change in the mentality and values of millions of young people by replacing collectivist and statist ideas with notions of individual responsibility and freedom. Indeed, the good news is that already this is happening all over Latin America, not just in Argentina.
For instance, after my December visit to Buenos Aires, I went to Bolivia to give a series of lectures on freedom and the power of the spontaneous order of the market. Over 500 students attended my first lecture there even though, as I found out later, they had to pay for it. Other events organized by young local freedom advocates, such as Rodrigo Mundaka, also took place and had over a thousand participants, including business people and executives. This came as no surprise to me. Followers of freedom are to be found in the millions among the youth of Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru and are increasing their numbers every day. At the same time, socialist leaders are facing increasing resistance.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric, for example, has run the country into the ground with his statist ideology and anti-police stance. Now the Andean nation faces a dire economic situation and the worst security crisis in its history. As a result, 70% of Chileans reject his socialist administration, according to a recent poll. In Peru, communist President Pedro Castillo was put in prison after an attempted coup. His successor, socialist Dina Boluarte, has been forced to shift to more pro-market policies. In Colombia, Gustavo Petro faces a disapproval rating of 66% in recent polls as a result of his failed policies to tackle unemployment and his willingness to collaborate with terrorist groups. Even Brazil’s President Inácio Lula da Silva is struggling with maintaining his popularity, which is currently running at below 40%.
The collapsing public support of left-wing leaders in the region presents an excellent opportunity for political alternatives with a more pro-freedom stance. To some extent, a shift to market-oriented policies will be inevitable given the growing number of young people who are becoming libertarians as well as the Milei effect. But it’s not only the youth who are playing a decisive role in the region’s future. Business people in different parts of Latin America are more willing than ever to support libertarian and anti-socialist think tanks and organizations. The most notable cases are Ricardo Salinas in Mexico; Nicolás Ibáñez, Lucy Avilés Walton and Dag von Appen in Chile; Salim Mattar in Brazil; and Erasmo Wong in Peru. All of them have made crucial contributions to spreading the ideas of freedom, fighting against collectivism in their countries and beyond.
In addition, there are hundreds of free market think tanks and libertarian groups all over the region, with a considerable combined impact. Part of it is due to their active use of social media, which has proven critical in spreading libertarian ideas all over Latin America. It is easy to find YouTube videos of Milei, Agustín Laje, Juan Ramón Rallo and other like-minded Spanish-speaking public intellectuals with several million views, and it is no exaggeration to argue that they have more influence on public opinion than most—if not all—traditional television media. At the same time, demand for Spanish-speaking libertarian public intellectuals is exploding while more people are speaking up against socialism, government intervention and left-wing politicians in general.
Despite these unprecedented and promising developments, it is too soon to celebrate. Freedom can never be taken for granted anywhere, even less so in a region where collectivism still often seems ingrained in its cultural DNA. But one thing is certain: At long last, the region is starting to experience an intellectual revolution that is elevating liberty to the place it deserves. And, although this phenomenon still has a long way to go, it might change the course of history.
For there is one revolution with the potential to end all Latin American socialist failures: a freedom-oriented revolution capable of delivering lasting individual liberty, economic progress and dignity for hundreds of millions of people.