A Radical Libertarian Triumphs in a Country Whose Name Means Money

Javier Milei’s victory could be called a farewell to Perónism, at least for the moment, in an upset that the pollsters — yet again — failed to see coming.

AP/Matias Delacroix
Javier Milei votes in the presidential runoff election at Buenos Aires, November 19, 2023. AP/Matias Delacroix

What a moment for the country whose name means money. The victory in the Argentina presidential elections of the radical free market libertarian Javier Milei certainly puts a spanner into whatever gears are turning Latin America to the left. The leftist economic minister, Sergio Massa, a Perónist, conceded defeat in the run-off even before the official account was released — opening the way for the populist Javier Milei.

The Sun rarely, if ever, endorses in foreign elections, but we don’t mind saying our interest in this election has been keen. Mr. Milei used his penchant for theatricality to signal that he was leading a broad backlash against political correctness. He’s a pro-life professor of economics who sometimes carries an Israeli flag and says he’ll move Argentina’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem. To show his budget plans, he’s carried a revving chainsaw.

All of this is of interest to us but none of it more than the fact that Mr. Milei is a follower of Austrian economics, which centers on defining money in terms of gold. That is currently outlawed under the amendments of the International Monetary Fund passed in 1978. The logic of Austrian economics, though, has been moving to the fore of the debate on how to correct an economy that has saddled America with crushing debts.

Leftist thinking has trapped Argentina in the grip of staggering inflation — which has been running at more than a gob-smacking 140 percent. Mr. Milei has pledged for starters to move toward the dollarization of Argentina’s economy, meaning tying its money to the American dollar. That’s short of a gold standard, but even having a candidate in an important country campaigning on such ideas is newsworthy.

Particularly in Latin America. Its major countries — Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, and Chile among them — are led by leftist presidents or premiers. Communist China has been nosing around the continent, trying to hook its desperate governments into joining its belt-and-road initiatives. In sharp contradistinction, Mr. Milei, who professes admiration for President Trump, is likely to be a rare voice siding with America.

The Israel part of the story is particularly resonant because Argentina was the site in 1992 of a bombing attack on Israel’s embassy at Buenos Aires, and in 1994 of the attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, a Jewish community center at Buenos Aires. The United States  government has described the AMIA bombing as being perpetrated by Hezbollah with Iranian support. It killed 85 persons.

We do not mean to suggest that the election of Mr. Milei is without risks. He has little executive experience. Far less so than, say, Mr. Trump, who, though elected president without any government experience, had at least run a corporation. Mr. Milei’s La Libertad Avanza coalition will hold just eight of 72 seats in Argentina’s senate and under 40 of the 257 in its house. Mr. Milei’s coalition has no provincial governors.

It is tempting to see Mr. Milei’s victory as a rebuke to Perónism, the political regime that pushed Argentina, whose prosperity once rivaled America’s, off the rails. The Perónist agenda, economist Lawrence Reed observes, “expanded the power of labor unions, spent lavishly on welfare schemes and waged class warfare against the rich,” with disastrous results. Mr. Milei’s victory marks an opportunity to reverse decades of damage.

It is remarkable, though, how thoroughly Mr. Milei confounded the pollsters. Going into the runoff the vote was said to be on a knife edge. Yet the rightist won handily. The AP this evening is reporting that 97.6 percent of the votes had been tallied, with Mr. Milei winning 55.8 percent and Mr. Massa 44.2 percent. It was, the AP noted, wider than predicted by all polls and the widest since Argentina’s return to democracy in 1983.

Mr. Milei’s election is the latest in a series of global electoral victories for free-market-leaning or center-right politicians — Christopher Luxon in New Zealand, say, Giorgia Meloni of Italy, and Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. Marine Le Pen, by no means an economist like Mr. Milei, is gaining ground in France. Next year America’s own voters will go to the polls over many of the issues in which Mr. Milei just gained a mandate.

The New York Sun

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