Argentina: A Bright New Perspective? 

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On November 19, Argentineans went to the polls. They cast their vote to an outsider: Javier Milei. The recently elected president is a complete newcomer to the Argentinean political scene, but there is something that makes his ascent even more original, his libertarian ideas. 

Argentina was a cultural and social melting pot in the nineteenth century, with immigrants coming from all over the world, especially Europe. They migrated in search of a brighter future, and their dream was made possible until around the seventies. From that decade forward, the country has undergone a slow but permanent decline in all aspects of life. 

The main reason for its decline, considering not only its relative position on the world stage, but also its alarming levels of impoverishment, can be attributed to one cause only: 

Inept economic policies. 

The country is vast, certainly has some of the best farmlands in the world and the most astounding mineral resources contained all along its 5,000 km mountain range, or following the 3,000 km of its coastline along the Atlantic. 

The discovery, around ten years ago, of the world’s third most important shale gas deposit, helps to illustrate the point, Argentina has all it takes to have a bright future. 

So, one cannot, in truth, attribute the decadence of Argentina to the lack of natural resources, or to any sort of natural handicap. 

We should instead focus on the controversial economic policies that have been applied in this vast country since the end of the Second World War and the rise of the Peronist Party to power. 

Juan Perón, a charismatic army colonel, rose to power in the late 1940s, after being stationed for some years in Mussolini’s fascist Italy. During his stay there, he embraced some populist ideas, which he promptly implemented upon reaching power in his country. 

For Argentina, these policies meant a quick rise in government intervention in the economy, increased controls and elevated taxes, and a general hostility towards private enterprise and initiative. 

Perón systematically emptied the state treasury to blindly favour the well-being of the working class. With the unwavering support of the masses and flourishing trade unions, he created his political party, “Peronism”, which has dominated the political scene ever since. 

As years went by, different governments succeeded one another in office, including civilian democratically elected ones, as well as generals who took power via military uprisings. Independently from their ideology or legitimacy, none were able to reverse this downward trend. 

Over time, the original fascist corporate ideas, mingled with all sorts of Latin American versions of socialism, producing a constant rise in government intervention over all aspects of the economy, an alarming increase in taxation, and a dense array of regulations in all areas of life in Argentina. 

Nowadays, an average entrepreneur, who might want to undertake some sort of humble business venture in the country, may face up to 149 different taxes, on county, state, and national levels, many times overlapping. Regulations are so complex, and often so likely to be modified, that even a small sole trader has to hire the services of a chartered accountant to manage them. Every insignificant move in the commercial and industrial sectors of the economy needs to be summarized and authorized, which gives rise to astonishing levels of corruption in all levels of public office. 

Tax pressure has become alarming: income tax reaches up to 35%, VAT, up to 21%, export taxes for agricultural commodities, up to 35%, every banking transaction is taxed, labour costs run at 90% of the employee’s pocket salary, meaning the employer pays nearly double. 

These state policies were justified and motivated by some governments on the basis that the general income had to be distributed in a more equitable way. 

Nevertheless, reality has been unkind to the socialist ideologues who pushed to implement these ideas. 

In the year 2023, 50% of the population in Argentina lived below the poverty level, meaning they barely manage to eat every day. The government runs a violent inflation rate of over 200 % per year. 

Over the years, the Argentinean peso has suffered so many devaluations that it lost 12 zeros (000.000.000.000). 

The country has defaulted on its debt on several occasions over these last years, having, therefore, lost all credibility on the international credit markets. 

Floating in these murky waters, a bright new lotus seems to be blooming. 

Javier Milei was born in 1970, in a standard Argentine middle-class family. He played soccer like most Argentinean kids, later he majored in economics, and worked in the private sector as well as in the academy. 

Five or six years ago, he started to be invited to late night talk shows, in which, due to Argentina’s ever worsening economic situation, he was being consulted on strictly economic issues. His outspoken and vehement style, paired with his extreme libertarian ideals, made him very popular among Argentinean youth. 

In 2021, he formed the Libertarian political party, and presented himself in the upcoming elections, obtaining a surprising 13.9 % of the votes and a very honourable third place. 

Thus, he became a member of parliament with a seat in the lower house. This event signalled the starting point of his skyrocketing political career. 

Without monetary resources, which were only available to the established political parties, and relying mostly on a precise use of social media and very direct answers to the inquiries he faced on mass media, he rapidly became extremely popular amongst the youth, all across the social spectrum. 

His radical ideas, never before included in any serious agenda, which consist of the dollarization of the Argentine economy, or the elimination of the country’s central bank, started to become popular discussion topics among the youth, not only at the posh clubs and lounges, but also in the shanty towns of the outer Buenos Aires. 

This year, he refused to wait for the end of his term in Parliament, and decided to run as a presidential candidate. Mainline political parties, including the remnants of the Peronist party, in office, underestimated the power of this newcomer. 

To their unpleasant surprise, Javier Milei and his libertarians, came in first with an astonishing 30% of the total polls. This rare event shocked all of the rest of the political parties to their foundations. 

Having come out first, but not reaching the required 45% of the vote, a second tour was mandatory. He was now being attacked mercilessly from all sides. His opponents were naming him: ultra-right wing, fascist, ultraorthodox, and other epithets in an unrelenting campaign, destined to drive fear into the hearts and minds of his potential electorate. 

The government used all the immense resources at its disposal to try to discredit him, even reaching to some aspects of his private life, in a vane attempt to reduce the shine of this new star on the Argentine political horizon. 

An orchestrated discredit campaign, attempting to induce fear into the population and seeking to revolt the masses was put into practice by the government and the main line political parties. 

To disrepute Milei, the party in power affirmed, through an expensive and inutile propaganda, that he was in favour of the rise of transport fees and utility services, also that he was representing the wealthy, that he was an agent of foreign powers, amongst all sorts of wild conspiracies. 

Nonetheless, on November 19, 2023, Javier Milei and his party obtained an incredible 56% of the ballots in the second tour of the electoral process. As a result, he became the elected president of Argentina, to assume power on December 10th. 

This is an unprecedent phenomenon in many ways for Argentina. 

An absolute newcomer, having only a three-year connection with politics, with no major political party standing behind him, reaching the highest office. 

His liberal/libertarian ideas were never presented as an option before in an electoral contest. 

Moreover, the candidate never concealed his intentions of performing major surgery and shock therapy on the agonizing remains of this once flourishing country. 

These apparent drawbacks ended up being the pillars on which his victory rests. 

 Argentina’s young voters, Milei’s electoral base, are people under thirty years of age. This group, contemplate the fact that he did not belong to the political establishment as an asset, considering all main line politicians corrupt. His libertarian concepts, although new and unknown to most, seemed to be a draught of fresh air in a stinking swamp. The plain and straightforward messages resounded in the ears of Argentina’s youth, tired of endless frustrations and lack of hope. 

In conventional Argentinean political circles, ideas like these were kept well hidden, for they were supposed to frighten off the electorate. 

But apparently, after so many decades promising better outcomes for the population, and hard facts indicating that the conditions were worsening for all, the plea for change prevailed, even if it meant jumping into the unknown. 

Fifty-six percent of voters countrywide, in some provinces reaching bigger proportions, decided they would rather risk their wellbeing and that of their loved ones, and go for this new and promising option, than stick with the old populist structures. 

As we know, Javier Milei, all along his short but intense media tour, never withheld the basic pillars of his economic intentions. 

A balanced budget, because this massive government spending has to be trimmed, and the dwindling of a deficient and inefficient social assistance program. 

State owned enterprises, such as the national flag carrier, or the public TV broadcasters will be privatized or shut down. 

Tax reductions, and deregulation all across the spectrum are also to be expected. 

What in the past was considered a sure r ecipe for electoral disaster, has shown to be exactly what the population was demanding. 

Older generations did not understand this all too well, but the new ones, millennials and centennials in general, found this straightforward message appealing. A feeling of freedom seems to prevail, a need for the unleashing of the private potential pent-up in every individual, without the permanent hindrance of this enormous state with its dark and tangled bureaucracy. 

This overgrown body of state regulations and permanent interventions in all aspects of life in Argentina for so long, together with the progressive deterioration of living standards, seems to have proven in the eyes of the voters under 30, who represent 50% of the total electorate, that old recipes that have failed for years are extinct and have been firmly rejected at the polls. 

Apparently, for the first time in many years, an anti-populist ideal seems to have triumphed. Now, society needs to confront the sacrifices, because they will be cashed on later. 

On top of purely economic considerations, Milei´s foreign policy with a clear alliance with the western powers, mainly the United States and Israel, seems to be a welcomed change from the usual strategic alliances with countries such as Russia, Venezuela or Iran, the staunchest supporters of the outgoing Peronist government. 

The best example of this occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Argentina, purely as a result of its ideological alignment, preferred to purchase the vaccines from such doubtful sources as Russia and China, rather than from the main line western pharmaceutical companies. 

Internal security is another issue where Mr. Milei has a different approach. Over the last years, crime has increased alarmingly, reaching levels of violence never before encountered. The security approach up to now, seemed to favour the criminals by justifying their actions on grounds of civil rights, poverty or social injustice, this is specially felt in the underprivileged neighbourhoods of Argentina big cities. 

The incoming administration has indicated that it will apply a zero-tolerance attitude towards crime, and this has led to unparalleled levels of popular support. 

Will all this come through? Is there a generational renewal going on in Argentina? Moreover, have the people woken up and realized that if they don’t act now and, in some ways, take matters into their own hands, this cycle of decadence will deepen, and the possible way out will be even more unattainable? 

Currently, this appears to be the situation, and a clean gust of fresh air seems to be gathering over the apparently ever overcast skies of Argentina. 

Will Javier Milei and his team be able to alter the fatal course upon which Argentina has been bound for years? Only time will tell. 

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