Power & Market

We Can Praise Milei’s Policies without Praising the Man

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When it comes to political battles and controversies there is, unfortunately, a deeply-seated human tendency to emotionally attach one’s self to political leaders and candidates, rather than to principles or policies. This tendency is especially foundational to modern democratic politics in which voters are encouraged to embrace candidates on an emotional level. Once this occurs, the specifics of a candidate’s positions and principles become secondary to the candidate’s image and personality. For many activists and voters, what matters is the (one-sided) emotional bond between the voter and the candidate. Campaign workers encourage this, of course, because an emotional response to the candidate is more likely to get the voter to actually go through the trouble of casting a ballot for the candidate in question. 

A related error is to praise political leaders and candidates based on what they say they believe. In this case, the trap is to credulously believe the politician’s words and to think that his stated beliefs reflect some quality of character or deep commitment to principle. 

In both the cases, the mistake is to fixate on the person of the politician rather than on the policies he or she is supporting, opposing, or ignoring. The truth is—unless he has a decades’-long track record (like Ron Paul)—we can’t even make an educated guess as to what a politician actually believes or what he will do in the future. Just because a politician says he believes in, say, sound money, doesn’t mean he actually believes it. Then, even if he believes it right now, we can’t know that he’ll believe it next week. The political landscape is littered with “principled” politicians who changed their views when it became politically expedient. 

For these reasons, it is a fool’s game to spend time promoting or defending the person of a politician. Only the easily manipulated feel the need to sing the praises of some candidate, tell us he’s a “good man” and otherwise emotionally gush over a candidate who—in nearly all cases—is essentially a stranger. 

For those of us actually focused on goals and principles, we have no time for praising politicians. What we do have time for is promoting, defending, or praising specific policies and principles. If a candidate supports good policies, then that is a good thing, and we tell him so. If a politicians supports bad policies, that is a bad thing and we criticize him for it. This is a far more straightforward approach than speculating endlessly about what the politician in question believes, the state of his soul, or how we “owe him our support.” We don’t owe any politician anything, least of all loyalty. If a politician wants our praise, then let him or her do praiseworthy things

This problem with focusing on politicians rather than on policies became notable in recent months as we editors at mises.org have read increasing amounts of commentary about Argentine president Javier Milei. Much of this commentary comes to us as article submissions for Mises Wire and Power & Market. Many of these are good articles, and the good ones get published. But many more show that many of Milei’s radical laissez-faire supporters are just as susceptible as anyone else to trusting politicians and embracing them on an emotional level. 

For example, many articles we have received about Milei—before he was even elected—were showering him with praise for merely making campaign promises. The authors of these articles weren’t even waiting to see if Milei actually took any significant steps toward shutting down the Argentinian central bank, for instance. These authors just immediately jumped to declaring Milei a free-market hero. 

Many other article submissions are from authors who apparently have the ability to read minds since the articles purport to tell us what Milei truly believes and plans for the future. 

What should interest us, however, is what Milei actually does and what specific policies he supports or rejects.  We don’t know—and we are unlikely to find out—what he actually believes.  Moreover, even if he thinks wonderful radical laissez-faire thoughts in his head, what really matters—as a politician—is what he does with those thoughts. A politician can make promises all day. What matters is whether or not he pushes the laissez-faire policies we want. 

Naturally, then, the articles that speculate endlessly about what Milei supposedly believes or what he might do someday, go into the rejection pile. (There is a time and a place to discuss what politicians believe. Such endeavors, however, generally requires serious historical research that none of Milei’s fans are doing in these articles.) 

The danger of focusing on the candidate rather than on his policies is especially critical in the case of Milei specifically. Outside the realm of domestic fiscal and monetary policy, Milei is indistinguishable from countless other mainstream Latin American politicians. He displays no particular affinity for anti-interventionist foreign policy, and he’s certainly no threat to the established US-dominated geopolitical order. Milei is, and will likely continue to be, a reliable ally of the American security state. More succinctly, we might say that Milei is a “CIA-approved head of state.” 

On the other hand, if we remain focused on the politician’s policies rather than on the politician himself, it remains possible to praise Milei when he takes the right positions. One may be thoroughly unimpressed with his view of global geopolitics, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be useful for pushing some good fiscal policies. After all, for the ordinary Argentinian, Milei’s efforts to cut government spending and rein in monetary inflation could be the difference between grinding poverty and a middle-class life. 

Some of our readers might complain that I’m holding Milei to too high a standard, but this is not the case. To earn praise, all Milei needs to do is move things in the right direction.  No reasonable person expects Milei to achieve every conceivable laissez-faire goal instantaneously. But we also ought to expect him to not go in the wrong direction. Murray Rothbard summed this up in an article on the strategies of the abolitionists. What matters is not instant success. What matter is that policies move toward the ultimate goal. He writes

it is legitimate and proper to advocate transition demands as way stations along the road to victory, provided that the ultimate goal of victory is always kept in mind and held aloft. In this way, the ultimate goal is clear and not lost sight of, and the pressure is kept on so that transitional or partial victories will feed on themselves rather than appease or weaken the ultimate drive of the movement.

Thus, suppose that the libertarian movement adopts, as a transitional demand, an across-the-board 50 percent cut in taxation. This must be done in such a way as not to imply that a 51 percent cut would somehow be immoral or improper. In that way, the 50 percent cut would simply be an initial demand rather than an ultimate goal in itself, which would only undercut the libertarian goal of total abolition of taxation.

Similarly, if libertarians should ever call for reducing or abolishing taxes in some particular area, that call must never be accompanied by advocating the increase of taxation in some other area. Thus, we might well conclude that the most tyrannical and destructive tax in the modern world is the income tax, and therefore that first priority should be given to abolishing that form of tax. But the call for drastic reduction or abolition of the income tax must never be coupled with advocating a higher tax in some other area (e.g., a sales tax), for that indeed would be employing a means contradictory to the ultimate goal of tax abolition. Libertarians must, in short, hack away at the state wherever and whenever they can, rolling back or eliminating state activity in whatever area possible.

In this essay, Rothbard is clear: “any radical movement for social change, including the libertarian movement, has to face an important, realistic problem: in the real world, the goal — for the libertarian, the disappearance of the state and its aggressive coercion — unfortunately cannot be achieved overnight.”

In this scheme, partial success is to be praised, but capitulation to the status quo is also to be condemned. If this is our criteria in evaluating Milei, we are simply being realistic, staying focused, and we aren’t wasting our time contemplating Milei’s deeply held beliefs or his alleged plans for the future. Rather, all we ask is that he do some good without doing harm. By this standard, he can earn some well-deserved praise. 

Image Credit: Quirinale.it via Wikipedia. 

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