Why Did Argentina Elect a Right-Wing Non-Establishment Extremist?

Yves here. Immediately after Javier Milei’s election as president of Argentina, Nick Corbishley provided a detailed rundown of many of Milei’s campaign pledges, such as reversing the plan to enter BRICS (where Milei has flip-flopped), attacking China, and pledging to get rid of the central bank. I keep telling myself I should shred the latter idea because it’s so loopy but it’s also na ga happen (Milei is not a dictator, as much as he seems to fancy himself to be one, so he can’t overturn legislation…such as the law that created the central bank and later ones that gave it regulatory powers).

It was not hard to conclude that these grandiose schemes had vastly more shock value than potential to make matters better for Argentine citizens. So why did he win? The short version is his opponent had a poor economic track record, so even someone prepared to break china looked better.

The interview on theAnalysis.news is instructive because it gives a better sense of how divorced from reality Milei is. Forgive the typos in the machine-generated transcript; I’ll replace it with the cleaned-up one when it become available.

By Gregory Wilpert. Originally published at theAnalysis.news

Gregory Wilpert

Welcome to The World on Fire. I’m your host, Greg Wilpert. Argentina experienced a political earthquake on November 19th, when the right-wing TV commentator and libertarian economist Javier Millay, won Argentina’s presidency with 56 % of the vote. Millay could be considered a populist in the mold of Brazil’s Jaíp Bolsonaro or the US’s own, Donald Trump. He has promised to privatize all government services and also to dollarize the economy, among many other things. Joining me now from Buenos Aires to make sense of what happened in Argentina on Sunday, November 19, is Artullio Baron. He’s an Argentine social scientist and the author of numerous books on the neoliberalism, imperialism, and geopolitics. And he’s also Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires. Thanks for joining me today, Artullio.

Atilio Borón

It’s a pleasure to see you here. Yeah.

Gregory Wilpert

So Argentina has historically gone back and forth really between a right-wing, neoliberal paradigm and then also a more progressive or center-left paradigm representing basically the former President of Argentina, Juan Peron. But currently, the election of Javier Meylet seems to have represented a definitive break from the dominance of these Peronist parties. Now, how did that happen? And why did so many Argentines vote for someone so extreme who seems crazy both in terms of his political proposals and also in terms of his personality?

Atilio Borón

Well, I think that one crucial factor to understand this situation is the poor economic performance of the present government of Alberto Fernandes, which failed to control inflation, which is in this moment at the end of the year, the estimation is about 190% inflation rate for all the whole 2023. Very sharp decrease in the real wages and salaries of most of the population. People really wanted a change. And Mr. Massa, which did a very good political campaign, but was not able to convince large part of the electorate that his promises that he will stop inflation and recreate a more stable economic environment was not believed by the people, because for a very simple reason, he is still today, I’m sorry, the minister of economy. Many people say, Okay, if you know how to do it, do it now. Don’t wait until you are elected president and then we will see what happen. Do it now. So to some extent, Massa was seen as the continuation of the present government. And he was, in fact, a continuation with some new features, because he is not really a Permanista. But on the other hand, you have that most of the population wanted a change, no matter what the change meant.

They wanted something has to be changed. I want to make clear this because there is a mistaken analysis which says that 56% of the Andetain population went fascist. This is not true. Most of the people who voted, I would say the overwhelming majority of the people who voted for Millay just wanted to keep inflation low to increase their real wages to increase the security, citizen security in the slums and in the poor neighborhoods of the greater Buenos Aires area. And that’s all. They have nothing to do with this fancy idea, crazy idea. Millay revived some of the saints of Adolf Hitler. When Hitler talked about the superiority in terms of the white race, okay? And he, Millet, said that we are esthetically superior to the left wingers or to the collectivists, to the communists, Marxists, feminists. He has a lot of people who are absolutely blackmailed as the worst thing that happened in Argentina. People didn’t vote for that. They just wanted a change. Mass did not offer a likely change in the Colombia situation. Millay has all this gesticulation, this strong face. He was the angry man who went with a chainsaw to demolish the central bank and to fire all the hundreds of thousands of people working in the state, which were not working at all according to him.

And of course, people voted for him, that’s all. But his ideas are absolutely impossible to carry out in the practice. This is no question of that.

Gregory Wilpert

Now, who is Javier Millay and what can we expect from him? I mean, as you mentioned the number of his policies, they seem very extreme. He says of himself that he’s a libertarian. How many of his far-right ideas, libertarian ideas do you think he will be able to implement? What do you think will happen?

Atilio Borón

He want to demolish, to explode the Central Bank. That would be the first country except for Monaco and a few islands in the Pacific without a Central Bank. But of course, Monaco is part in practical terms of the French economy and they use the euro. That cannot be done. Secondly, he said that the major goal of his policies will be to achieve fiscal equilibrium and the state will not spend one penny more than the budget, which is likely to be raised with taxes and so on. This is impossible. Most of the countries, most of the countries run on a basis of some fiscal deficit, even Keynes made all these elaborations about the virtues of fiscal deficit to promote economic development. He said that no fiscal deficit, zero deficit, okay? For instance, in order to do that, he said that he will not pay the Aguinaldo, as we say it. I don’t know this, is the.

13- End-of-year bonuses.

Atilio Borón

End-of-year bonuses, which has been a historical conquest of the work, labor in classes in Argentina since the late ’40s, can you imagine? This is part of the basic compensation for the salaries and wage which are going down the drain. He said, I will not pay that. Well, that is ridiculous because this will create an enormous social explosion. The same he says, there is no money in the state. And of course, all the public works which are already in execution, which are already unfinished will be stopped. When people say, Well, but we need a sewage and we need fresh water and we need the pipes to run. That’s a problem of the major, the intendables, as we call in Argentina, the local authorities, they will have to talk to the private guys which are in their locality and see who is interested in doing business with all the sewages and the freshwater pipelines and all that. This is a lot of these ideas which have no sense. I must tell you, Greg, that he has zero experience, zero, okay? Not only as a public administrator, but also as an entrepreneur. Here is the guy who the only thing he has done has been writing books in which there is a lot of plagiarism, by the way, the nonsense of plagiarism in the books.

He has no idea for any time of the prices. If you ask him, Okay, how much is the one kilo of meat today in Argentina? He has no idea. You know, how is the value of the one liter of milk? No idea. And when the journalist, he asked, Are you planning to run the country? And you don’t know some basic things. For instance, the transportation ticket in urban, Buenos Aires. No idea. And he said, No, because all these shopings are done by my sister. He’s a single, he lives with his sister. I have an idea. What he has in his head is an Excel sheet, a worksheet, and looking at that, he said, Well, we need a fiscal equilibrium. We will stop spending money in science and technology. No more free university. We are going to privatize the public university. We have 57 public universities in Argentina. He wants to privatize all of them or introduce a fee which cannot be paid by. We have 50% of the population living under the poverty line. There are people which are among the poor, which because of this great development of local universities, are attending the university because the universities are free.

But if you impose now a fee to register in one of those public universities, most of those people won’t be able to pay. The ideas he have for it are also, well, if you have a problem with your salary, you can always sell one of your lamps. You have two, okay? The kidneys, you have two kidneys, just sell one. He also argued that, well, organ trafficking is a market and should not be interfered with the state. If somebody decided to send a lamb, he should be able to say, and the state has nothing to do with that. That’s a lot of crazy ideas. And of course, I see that this is very, very difficult to carry out in the practice.

Gregory Wilpert

Why do you think that’s so difficult? I mean, in terms of practice, of course, there’s the obstacles in terms of the population accepting it and of just whether it works, but also what’s the political situation in the Congress? I mean, will you have any support? What support will you enjoy there?

Atilio Borón

Well, he doesn’t have a single governor in a country in which governors are very, very strong. He doesn’t have a single mayor in all the countries, okay? In the Congress, his bloc is a minority, okay? But the traditional rights, led by Mr. Mauricio Macri, could support a few of those decisions, but very, very difficult he will get the support, for instance, to the abolition of the Central Bank, among other things, because that would imply a constitutional reform in which you need to have two-thirds of the members of the Congress supporting the decision. That would be very blah, blah, blah. He would talk about all things, making gestures and so on. But in real terms will be very difficult. But a few of those decisions will be carried out. For instance, I am very much afraid about the privatization of the pension funds, which in Argentina is a very significant part of the national income. Why I say this? Because we have for the population over 65 or 70 years, 70 if you are male, 65 if you are women, 93% of that population today is assisted with some pension or jubilation, as we say here in Argentina.

This is a huge business, okay? Very profitable business. It doesn’t work because look at the Chilean experience. The Chilean experience show that it has been a real failure. And most of the problems which erupted in October in Chile, October 2018, were in part due to the fact that people started to go to the pension fund and then receive only one fraction of what they expected. Even there are documents of the World Bank saying that the system is not working as it should and that the state pension funds are better, more reliable than private. But there are enormous interest groups surrounding Mr. Macri, which is the really mastermind behind all these using the figure of Millay. But Macri, what wants is some of these big chance of the Argentine economy. For instance, the pension system or the straight oil company, which is very profitable these days because of the new discoveries of oil and gas reserves in the Argentine South. I think that some changes will take place not without very strong popular resistance, because people really have a sense that we have already tried this medicine in the past, in the years of menin, and we know what happened with the privatization of the straight oil company in which practically there was really just a question of robbing all our assets and not making any real investment.

When the company was recovered by the state and they made more investment, they discovered this huge vacamuerta oil field. That means that really would be very against the current and against the public opinion, try to go back to a privatization scheme once again.

Gregory Wilpert

Now it seems like Argentines had a very difficult choice between Millay and Masa. I mean, one person representing this right-wing libertarianism and the other one representing economic failure, essentially. How did it come to that? I mean, what happened to other forces in particularly progressive forces, let’s say, why weren’t they able to present a coherent alternative?

Atilio Borón

Well, it was very, very difficult, okay? Because when you have the threat of an extreme right like Mr. Millay, then people try to rally around some which present a more or less palatable alternative. Even if I didn’t like the policies of Mr. Massa, and I think that he did not make the job we needed him to do in order to keep inflation low, when you have to decide between him and Millay, there are no choice. I use in one of my articles a letter written by Trotsky regarding the election of 1933 in Germany, in which he asked the communist and the socialist to support Mr. Brunig because he said, We have the absolute evil, which is Hitler. On the other hand, we have a bourgeois politician, but at least he will not shoot us and kill all of us. Now we have to prevent Hitler winning the election. This the same reasoning went on and on in Argentina among many people, very progressive. But we are very angry with this government and say, look, even if the other guy is the same as Hitler, but he will not do what he says he want to do.

For instance, many people say he’s talking about that, but he’s not doing that. They did not believe that that Millay was serious. And Millay is serious. Millay is a fanatic. He’s absolutely fanatic. Look, you know the story of the dogs. He has four dogs. All the dogs have the name of some of this Libertarium. The most famous this Libertarian, the most famous is the name of one of the dogs. He believes absolutely what I wrote in a paper, small article which was published today. Look, not a single conservative government ever applied the ideas of libertarianism in America or in the United States. Not even Reagan, not Trump, not Margaret Thatcher, no one. Because those are fancy ideas for a scholarly discussion. Greg, you know that in the academia, many times we are involved in very disantined discussions. They’re like the sex of the angels, we say it in Spanish, sex of Los Angeles. It’s a nonsense. Who believes really that markets can properly work without some state regulation? That markets are absolutely alone, because Millet repeat word by word, Rodbar, when Rodbar say that the state is an organization to rob the taxpayers. And he say exactly the same.

Yesterday evening he said, If your salary, if your wage is too short, it’s because you have too much estate. Therefore, well, those in front of that dilemma, people said the people who were in a very bad situation, they didn’t care too much about what Massa was saying, because Massa should have solved the inflation problem before, not promised that he would resolve the problem of inflation when he was President. That is the heart of the matter. But we are entering into a dangerous zone during the next three months. Because I’ve seen that Macry, who wrote a book called Second Term, which I read very thoroughly. He said in the last chapters that we have to try again what we did. But it didn’t come out well because we were very slow. Gradualism is is fatal to a process of change. Now my fears are that Millay may make an agreement with the people, the representatives in the chamber of deputies of Juntos por el Campio, which is all this organization created by Mr. Macri and approve two or three general laws, two or three general pieces of legislation. And on the basis of those legislations and advance in dismanting, for instance, the labor legislation, the Union legislation, social rights, minorities, and all that.

This is my fear. In the first three months, many people will say, Well, but let Millay rule the country to see what he wants to do. I think those three next months, December, January and February will be absolutely critical because he may get approved, approve some legislation, which will be very favorable for him to introduce major reforms in the organization of the state, in the deregulation of the economy, in the liberalization of the foreign trade, which produced huge amount of among the small and medium enterprises, which are the most important sources of labor demand in this country.

Gregory Wilpert

Now, I want to turn to what a MLA presidency would mean for the region and also what it might mean for Latin America’s relationship with the United States. What do you think? How is that going to develop?

Atilio Borón

Well, as I mentioned to you, he’s a person with very strong conviction. He’s a fanatic. He’s a true believer, the classic true believer, so much studied in the American political science guy. He will reduce the contacts. He said, at least this is what he was boasted to say, that he will not deal with communist regimes. China is one communist regime. Brazil is also to him. Lula is a communist leadership. You have to bear in mind that for Millay and the small sector of fanatics which surround Millay, any form of collectivism is communist. Okay, any kinds of Keynesian politics is collectivist. He is a fanatic leader of the road to serve the book by von Hayek. You remember that book is dedicated to the collectivist of all parties. Well, he believed. He will try to reduce the relationship between China and Brazil. He said that the first visit of President will be to Israel. He will plan to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He is a real enemy of the Chinese. This is, for instance, for that reason, Millay is a celestial music to Washington bureaucrats for Blinket and Biden and all that because he’s a cold warrior against China.

But my question is, will he be able to go ahead in that program anti-China when China and Brazil are the first and second commercial partners of Argentina? What will be the reaction of the entrepreneurial leaders, the big corporations which have been supporting, supporting Millay? Not to break the ties with China, but to increase their business with China, which is one of the largest markets for Argentine product. The same with Brazil. Argentina and Brazil economies are very, very strongly intertwined. Therefore, I think that he will try to do that. But summing up the answer to your question, this will imply a weakening of the capacity of Latin America and the Caribbean to play a role in the international chessboard, as Brazil used to say. Brazil needed to have Argentina side by side in order to make a better negotiation with the great powers of the West and also with China, Russia and India. Now, Lula is alone. I am concerned also because Argentina was accepted as a member of the Brigs, which is a very important achievement of this government. Very likely, Mr. Millay will decide not to accept the invitation and just slam the door and going out of the brief, which will be a major, or I would say, a catastrophic mistake in terms of foreign policy.

In addition, the people who are advising him in foreign policy, Greg, are students of International Relations 100 and all of them will be flanked in examination because they don’t understand absolutely nothing of what happened in the world. Absolutely nothing. We are extremely concerned that you can say because given all my wordings of the situation.

Gregory Wilpert

Well, we’ll definitely continue to follow the situation and hopefully have you back again. But we’ll leave it there for now. I was speaking to Professor Atilia Boron, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires. Thanks again, Atilia, for having joined me today.

Atilio Borón

Thank you, Greg. I’m sorry I was giving such a grim picture of the Argentine situation, but I hope that perhaps in a few months we could have a more enjoyable conversation. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Gregory Wilpert

Thank you to our audience for joining us on The World on Fire. Until next time.

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  1. Fred

    I guess we should ask ourselves if we thought Trump could solve all our problems or we are so desperate would be willing to try, would we vote for him? Fortuantly, I hope, many of us believe he is complete moron who thinks that comb over looks good.

    1. Lefty Godot

      People elected Trump because they were so fed up with the system that they preferred having somebody who (they thought) would break it to someone who would just keep edging along with it the way it was. Once they did that, all kinds of reasons were concocted to make it seem like there was some underlying rationale behind it that you could explain (like the insane QAnon narratives that tried to cast it as a heroic struggle against iniquity). The government pursues the policies it wants regardless of what the American people want, and Congress in particular ignores popular opinion entirely. The two major parties make no credible case saying what they can do for Americans (outside the 1%) to make their lives better; instead they restrict themselves to making the case that they will take punitive actions against those other Americans that “you” the voter don’t like.

      It sounds like Milei tapped into the same “what the hell, just break it” sentiment that got Trump elected in 2016.

      1. JonnyJames

        The winner-takes-all, big money sham of Elections Inc. does not provide any meaningful choice to begin with. JB or DT is not a choice, D or R is not a choice, it’s a kick in the face. I refuse to “vote” for amoral, mendacious scum. Don’t like DT? Whaddya gonna do? vote D (and vice-versa). It’s a cruel joke, and the joke is on us.

        “The US has no functioning democracy”
        “The US is an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery” (Jimmy Carter)

        There is no way to “vote” against the interests of the oligarchy. Sadly, millions still believe in the fairy-tale and get caught up in MassMedia-dictated drama.

      2. JonnyJames

        Sorry Lefty, I forgot to mention: I agree with your post and would say it’s very similar for Argentina and other supposed democracies in Europe. The established parties have not produced any positive results, the situation has worsened and people are desperate and have nowhere to go.

        Geert Wilders’ “Party for Freedom” (Partij voor de Vrijheid) in the Netherlands won a plurality of votes in the Tweede Kamer and he has a chance at becoming PM.

        So called far-right parties seem to be doing well in many countries. As Chris Hedges, Michael Hudson and others have pointed out that the other supposedly pro-labor parties have abandoned the working class, and the working class have no alternatives. The so-called Socialist parties are now right-wing, authoritarian warmongers pushing neoliberal (anti-labor, right-wing) junk economics.

      3. LY

        I describe Trump as A/B testing promises. Whether he could and/or would keep them was secondary to the soundbite.

        Once Trump got into power, the signs were there that Trump would not and could not make changes – from letting the Republican congress drive the attempt to replace Obamacare, to withdrawing from the Middle East and Central Asia, to appointing neoconservatives. For me, the biggest red flag was Trump getting rid of Bannon.

        Who said it that if you’re on the losing side, vote for chaos? Taleb?

    2. Mikel

      By that theory and considering what came afterwards, Obama was the Hail Mary from voters that preceded the Trump Hail Mary.

      1. Lefty Godot

        If you were drinking the kool-aid then, Obama might just be the guy to make those big changes that everyone was hoping for. Lots of people I knew were into that. If you actually had followed his career you could see he was another empty suit from Corporationland whose mentors were Joe Lieberman and Rahm Emanuel, which pretty much predicted what you were going to get. I voted for Bob Barr. The only other possibility was Cynthia McKinney. Was kind of a coin flip there. Then I skipped 2012 in disgust.

  2. Piotr Berman

    In my mother tongue it is not as funny (china = porcelana, exactly like in Spanish), but Milei intends to break with China and to break china, so he is rather consistent.

  3. ciroc

    Milei has already backtracked on his pledge to cut diplomatic ties with China, close the central bank and dollarize the Argentine economy. I am optimistic that political realities will continue to bring him to his senses.

    1. Altandmain

      Unfortunately, Milei will do a lot of damage to the economic conditions of Argentina before be leaves.

      He won the election to begin with and public opinion won’t be there to stop every bad decision. Plus he will no doubt try to manipulate the public to support economic choices that will be harmful to the public interest.

  4. furnace

    Milei will be a total disaster for Argentina, even if he doesn’t manage to do the most radical things he wants to (such as organ selling and abolishing of the central bank). It’s at best four years of Argentina without a federal government, which is catastrophic, and at worst Macri 2.0 but even crazier. Too often people forget that the Argentinian economy is in shambles precisely because of the outrageous loans Macri took during his term, mostly for crony policies. Any more of that and the country will go literally bankrupt.

  5. Susan the other

    Boron was very articulate and sounded absolutely reasonable. Millei, on the other hand, is as superficial as Sam Bankman Fried. He even looks like him. I wish there was a way to make politics practical and maintain it as the art of the possible. Keep it as boring as housekeeping. We actually need language keepers.

    1. Darius

      Norton does a great analysis. The key is that Macri borrowed huge amounts of dollars from the IMF, setting up a debt trap that is nearly impossible to get out of by conventional means. Cristina de Kirchner, the only politician with the chops to get out of it, is in jail due to lawfare. So it was rigged in Milei’s favor.

  6. john

    I m not aware of any chainsaw that can cut thru concrete or steel….anyway, he wants to privatize everything, in a country where 50 families own everything…there will be another revolution in one year…

  7. Pier Bontempi

    I am surprised to see the choice of Artullio Baron as the voice of understanding all things, Javier Milei. Mr. Baron is all the things you stated in your introduction of him. However, during the campaign Mr. Baron was an unapologetically in his criticisms of the newly elected President Milei. He expressed his views in an out of the top fashion and was not bashful to make unproven claims. For example, comparing a devout follower of Israel – not Jewish, to Hitler. If anything, the lack of imagination to make this assertion was ridiculous. Mr. Baron during his career collected an impressive curriculum, Harvard educated. His personal library is impressive and worthy of preserving. If you can ask him about what he promised to do to theses precious books in the event of a Milei’s victory. I am glad to see Nero’s instincts did not win.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t understand your complaint.

      1. The fact than anyone,, here Baron, is a vociferous critic of Milei does not make them wrong.

      2. Israel has been engaged in a long-term program of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, which has now escalated to what many depict as genocide. Many Israel officials and members of the public have openly stated genocidal intent. Palestinians are demonized in schools much the same way Jews were in Nazi Germany. Many Jews criticize Zionists for the genocidal intent and acts and explicitly decry how Israel is emulating the behavior of Nazis.

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