Sunday night, Austrian school economist Javier Milei gave a figurative and political curb-stomping to incumbent Argentine President Sergio Massa, beating him by ten percentage points. Not only did Milei win, but he did it in an election in which judges did not arbitrarily change laws and without huge, unexplained tranches of ballots, with 99% marked for the favorite candidate of the political class being discovered after the polls closed. See BREAKING: Political Newcomer Javier Milei Wins Argentina’s Presidency, Besting Socialist Sergio Massa – RedState and WATCH: Great Moments From Javier Milei, the Man Who Hates Socialism, New President-Elect of Argentina for more details.
This election will mark an extraordinary change in Argentine politics. Argentina has been in the thrall of populist and socialist Peronism since 1945. Like socialism, Peronism’s multitude of failures and its success in reducing Argentina to a clown-shoe country is because true Peronism has never really been tried.
To say Argentina is an economic basket case is to malign hard-working, diligent basket cases everywhere. The national currency, the peso, has been nearly inflated out of existence. Argentina’s central bank operates at the whim of whoever is in power.
I’m not a student of Latin American politics, but if you wanted someone “different” to shake up a corrupt and failed government that works for the benefit of the upper classes while giving lipservice to caring about the poor (does any of this sound familiar?) then Milei is your man.
A primer on Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei: he hates leftists. pic.twitter.com/JyS7MZr9Sl
— Catch Up (@CatchUpFeed) November 19, 2023
Milei is running on a platform that would be unremarkable in most of America outside the Northeast and Left Coast.
- Free markets
- Limited government
- Individual liberty
- Property rights
His ideas are earth-shaking in a country where national politics are kabuki between two parties that are, for all intents and purposes, the same (does any of this sound familiar?) and where reform is impossible because the elites are happy with the status quo.
By tapping into voters’ frustrations with economic instability, Milei has ushered a set of previously fringe policy proposals into the mainstream. His signature economic platform includes abolishing Argentina’s Central Bank, ditching the beleaguered peso, and dollarizing the economy—a move most experts warn is infeasible given the country’s low reserves of hard currency. A group of more than 100 economists recently warned that Milei’s economic proposals would spell “devastation” for the country.
Outside economics, Milei has also voiced support for liberalizing gun laws and greenlighting the sale of organs. Years ago, he floated a “free market” for the sale of babies, an idea he has since distanced himself from. In line with his anarcho-capitalist beliefs, Milei has pledged to cut 10 federal ministries, privatize state industries, and dismantle the public health care system in favor of private alternatives. Foreign policy wouldn’t be spared from major changes, either: Milei has suggested he would distance Argentina from Brazil and China, the country’s two biggest trading partners, and align closely with the United States and Israel.
Argentina’s new president Javier Milei has big plans for the government. pic.twitter.com/4uUZNKsXsM
— Catch Up (@CatchUpFeed) November 19, 2023
While polls only had him leading by three points, his ten-point win is due to his appeal to younger voters who have lost hope; see Argentina’s New President Proves the Power of Unapologetic Truth-Telling.
Feelings of exasperation are particularly potent among young Argentines, who are more likely to be informally employed and earn lower salaries than middle-aged and older populations. TikTok, Latin America’s fastest-growing social media site, has been critical to Milei’s courtship of these young people. Milei has 1.5 million followers on the platform, compared to Massa’s 254,000. Milei’s advisor, Fernando Cerimedo, is an important player in the Latin American far right’s digital strategy; his previous clients include Bolsonaro, who adopted a communications plan that prioritized digital media and built an audience of 5.5 million TikTok followers.
Milei’s rhetoric is not incrementalist; it is “shock therapy.”
Why do I think Milei will ultimately fail?
Because if you don’t believe in government and will not be able to use the power of the state to put your agenda into place, you can’t reform a government. You can lead a revolution, put heads on pikes, and create a government de novo, but you can’t be a reformer.
The existing power structure will control all the levers of government. They will fight him tooth and nail. Because he is a one-man movement, he will struggle to find allies to appoint to key positions to enforce change and purge opponents from power. The most likely outcome is another military coup d’etat and a return to the failed governance of the last 70 years. See The Press Freak-Out Over Javier Milei Has Begun, and It’s Absolutely Moronic.
His only hope is that he scores some major immediate successes that improve people’s lives and subverts part of the ruling class to his cause.
Even though I think Milei will fail to achieve the ambitious goals he has set, I don’t think he will be forgotten. An incumbent president trounced by a political novice by ten points will break the existing system. Whoever comes next will more likely than not try to build on what Milei started because going back to the status quo will be unthinkable.
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