Milei Chronicles (8) A Non-viable Candidate?

Milei claims to be a follower of the Austrian School of “economic” philosophy developed in Vienna before World War One. This quasi-religious doctrine has never been implemented in its pure form (as described by Milei in his rambling incoherent speeches) because to do so eliminates much of the state upon which people depend for their transport, their health, their currency etc… This may seem advantageous for Milei, as presidential candidate, but it so clearly is not so for so many Argentinians. It is particularly damaging for those who rely on the state for certain human needs as their incomes are insufficient to provide for their private health, private homes and private transport (to mention just a few of the public services Milei wants to privatise).

It is difficult to find other presidential candidates that follow the dictates of the Austrian school but Ron Paul was one, albeit unsuccessful, US Presidential candidate and there is a long but largely inactive list of Libertarian Parties all across the world, none of whom ever seem to be elected to power democratically. Ron Paul did claimed to support the Austrian school of economics, and stood as a candidate for the US Libertarian Party in 1988 but when this didn’t work he also stood twice to be presidential candidate for the Republican party (again unsuccessfully). Could this be Milei’s plan too to sell out and then enter the JxC alliance? The Brexit party did this with the conservative Tory party in the UK which allowed the Conservative party to shift to the right and to hang onto power.

The Austrian school is market economics on steroids with an fundamentalist interpretation of property rights (an fluvial example is discussed below). Its most famous economist is Ludwig von Mises which has a US thinktank in Alabama no less and a few sorry overpaid and undertaxed kids from South America in the CATO institute that love Milei and the US dollar. The Mises institute have had their interest piqued by Milei’s speeches. Podcasts on the Mises institute website show evident surprise that Milei takes their theoretical viewpoints literally and that he somehow thinks that such policies could be implemented in Argentina.

The idea that a person like Javier Milei is standing as a presidential candidate so that he can run the very state he wishes to govern into the ground (while at the same time asking the Argentine people to trust him) is horrifyingly reminiscent of Carlos Saul Menem in the late 1980s and the 1990s. The destructive legacy of the late President Menem and of his clownish Minister for Economics Domingo Felipe Cavallo (another hero of Milei who is regularly booed out of universities in Argentina) was to literally break the back of the Argentine economy in the 2001/2002 crisis. This left a trail of suicides, bankruptcies, ineptitude and corruption (but mostly poverty and unemployment). Menem and Cavallo caused a major destructive economic collapse. Does Argentina really want to go there again? Milei doesn’t seem to care. He wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Why? Oh Jesus, Why?

Let’s take a step back to try to understand why a majority of any national electorate would vote in such a suicidal manner for the destruction of their State by electing an non-viable Presidential candidate like Javier Milei.

There are many approaches to to try to understand such a phenomenon. In particular one can look at global analogies (Bolsonaro, Trump, Nigel Farage’s Brexit party) which demonstrate similar traits to the Argentine-Milei phenomena. One also needs to understand the voter anger behind this and see who is stoking this, then take a deep dive into new (social) media manipulation of voter preferences as has been happening on Telegram, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook along with others. I shall attempt to address this in a separate article.

But it is important also to look at local specifics by analysing today’s realities in Argentina and South America. These include nasty levels of state corruption. Milei focuses on a carefully chosen selection of this reality amping up his rhetoric to create social anger to fire up his voters. Patricia Bullrich, the JxC candidate, does this too but she’s a lousy public speaker, Milei has media training.

By focusing on the activities of corrupt politicians and poor people while ignoring huge corruption in the corporate sector both Milei and Bullrich avoid alienating their beloved markets (who are also their financial backers).

Gnocchis: invisible state employees

As an example of small-scale corruption in Argentina we can look at policy assistants and researchers assigned to political deputies and senators and paid for by the taxpayer. These assistants are often named to their positions for nepotistic reasons or as political favours.  Many such appointees don’t ever turn up to work and if they are fired for not doing their job they can sue the state for false dismissal.

Such state appointees are locally referred to as “ñoquis” (English: gnocchi) after the Italian food (which is typically served at the end of the month). In the days before the direct deposit of salaries in a bank account, gnocchi employees would also only be seen at the end of the month (for a paycheck) being otherwise absent from the office. This still happens and current estimates are that this absorbs 1% of state budget, it is corrupt but the state turns a blind eye.

As to nepotism a corrupt state requires that political appointees are chosen for their loyalty, thereby assuring complicit silence (for example on overpricing state contracts). Curiously these liberal market rules do not seem to apply in LLA. Milei works with his sister and while this may not be corruption, it is clearly nepotism.

Milei states that as president he would eliminate not just BCRA and the currency but also State control of pretty much everything including the state oil company YPF, the state airline Aerolineas Argentinas and AySA the state water services company (most of which have recently been taken back under state control, with significant costs after being sold in Menemism). In September 2023 the US southern district court (Wall Street) added a sixteen billion dollar fine levied on the Argentine state by Repsol due to the reversal of their corrupt buyout of YPF in the 1990’s most of which was interest. All three were privatised and ransacked by Menem and Cavallo.

Milei also says he will eliminate whole ministerial departments such as health, education, womens issues, controls against racial discrimination (INADI), and state supports for communications like cinema production (INCAA) and scientific investigation (CONICET). Milei also has a “quasi-religious” sanctification of private property and a virulent hatred of public ownership or any state support for the unfortunate, the disabled, the unemployed etc… In Milei’s world poor women can be left to give birth in the street if they can’t pay for an ambulance or a hospital bed. It’s dog-eat-dog out there in Milei’s chilling dystopic efficient Argentina.

How can Milei’s outbursts even be considered a public policy by a public representative who wants to be president?

Javier Milei is not the smartest kid on the block but he is an excellent manipulator of right of media channels, like the populist right-wing channel LN+ where Milei appears almost daily on bully-pulpit programs like Jonatan Viale’s purile show called “Reality” that sadly, passes for political analysts in Argentina.

When Milei speaks to the press they listen, very often without criticism. They don’t even call foul of his non-viable policy. He is allowed to laud abolishing public health after a global pandemic or ignoring climate change in a climate emergency. This is not just alright; it’s better, maybe because its cheaper for the rich? “Don’t worry Argentina: uncle Mises says it’s all good!”

Right-wing Interviewers barely discuss the fact that his policy suggestions have never been successfully implemented in any nation. Why would they not question whether Milei can’t be expected to be successful in Argentina with a two year-old, completely inexperienced party and a group of failed civil servants left over from the horrors of Menem?

Will the Argentine electorate see that Milei is just a different hairdo advocating nonsense ideas, a charlatan, and a very dangerous one at that? Or will they have to learn the hard way? A lot of this will be decided by how he comes over in the press. For now the same press that love JxC also love LLA, the question which will decide the election is how long will this last?

1 Comment

  1. Ok – I don’t get why its so common that like most taking a stab at getting a handle on Milei most keep missing the key factor that says the most about him and, in light of that, a slightly sharper observation ties the details together. The missing element – Murray Rothbard – founder of the Libertarian Party, Mises Institute as well as the Cato Institute together with Charles Koch. Understand Rothbard (and Hayek) and Milei is wasily read so much so it will be noticed Milei actually has few original ideas -his “ideas/proposals” are mostly regurgitated Rothbard and Hayek . Also Cavallo his idol; “The best Minister of Economy in all of history was Domingo Felipe Cavallo” (Milei – Radio Perfil Interview July 5, 2022). Mikei wants to replicate the Austrian model used by Pinochet.

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