Did Milei Win Argentina's Presidency by Employing Honesty?
In Argentina, Javier Milei recently won the presidential election with 56 percent of the votes, a remarkably wide margin in any country holding reasonably free presidential elections. Milei, an economist, subscribes to the Austrian school of thought. He identifies as a libertarian and even an anarcho-capitalist. In some appearances, he is presenting himself as Captain ANCAP.
Unlike many libertarians seeking political office, Milei has not sanitized his language or tailored his message to sensitive ears. In interviews where journalists are shocked by his labeling of leftists as evil, he doesn't back down or smooth things over; instead, he further clarifies why he believes this description is accurate. In one instance, he demonstrates his intention to shut down unnecessary departments, such as those for transport and education, by ripping them one by one from a chart and shouting ¡AFUERA! (OUT!) each time. He concludes the segment by declaring an end to the era of politician thievery, and with a cheer for “damn liberty”.
Among some libertarians, Milei faces criticism for not being libertarian enough. He waves the Israeli flag, and he seems to believe that neither American nor Ukrainian politicians are culpable for Ukraine being at war. He has even visited the World Economic Forum, a place apparently off-limits for those wishing to spread knowledge of Austrian economics. Other libertarians argue for pragmatism, pointing to the now-open opportunity to disseminate libertarian ideas and economic knowledge.
Regardless of one's stance on this issue, we can acknowledge that the world has never before witnessed a libertarian winning a presidential election or even coming close. It’s also apparent that the path to the presidency for Milei did not involve methods tried by many other liberty advocates.
Broadly speaking, we see mainly two strategies for making society more libertarian:
- Cautiously hint that one or another prohibition might not be appropriate or effective, hoping that this way, an occasional parliamentary vote might swing "our" way. The reason for choosing words carefully is that people may not accept proposals that challenge the status quo too harshly.
- Outright state the fact that the state is evil, that taxation is theft, and that politics is the vilest game ever invented. The proposal is to shut down the state and not replace it with anything. The challenge lies in getting enough people to realize that it's worth a try.
Those of us who have adopted the more radical strategy have so far little to show that we can achieve results. At best, we count among our achievements those in our immediate circle who we believe we have influenced. Most of us understand that as long as people are reasonably well off, a significant portion of them won't spend much time pondering whether the state is morally defensible. A severe crisis, making it difficult for people to put food on the table, might be necessary. Capitalism works against our cause in this regard. At least for now. Politicians work for our cause. With fervor.
On the other hand, the more cautious strategy hasn't shown any real successes either. Politicians are incredibly skilled and effective at creating crises and using them to undermine and curtail our freedoms. We are rapidly heading towards increasingly total tyranny.
But something has just happened in Argentina that suggests a more radical approach might be more reasonable and effective in changing a society in a libertarian direction. Someone who openly and unambiguously explains the evil of the state has stepped up and grabbed the bully pulpit. Unfortunately, it probably required the Argentine society to suffer deep misery for a long time, but the fact remains that it is possible to reach people with a very radical message, without watering it down.
Did he succeed despite insisting on calling a spade a spade? No, his success is thanks to his clarity and forthrightness.
People are not mindless fools. It's likely the purity and unvarnished nature of the message that paves the way for it to reach its intended audience. If Milei had too often backed down and sent increasingly adapted messages, he would have been suspected, and rightly so, of being just another politician with his own interests at heart. (It may still turn out that this is precisely what he is, but so far, that’s an open question.)
Now then. If Milei has proven that the path lies in clarity and that it is reasonable to assume that people are thinking individuals who can understand even radically unfamiliar arguments. What does it mean for us, other than that we should continue on our chosen path, continue to drum out the songs of freedom and economic sense in our most heartfelt verse?
Perhaps it means that we don't need to wait for our society to be completely brought to its knees, making people receptive in that way. We have a golden opportunity to borrow Milei's megaphone, provided we find ways to amplify the signal.