Michael N Peterson
Michael is the content specialist at an academic institution in the Washington, DC area. He is currently pursuing an MA in economics from GMU. Michael’s studies focus on development economics and institutional analysis.
Argentina just elected Javier Milei, a boisterous, wild-haired economist with a pro-market agenda to transform the nation’s economy. After decades of Peronist rule, Argentina is now home to the first libertarian head of state in modern history, a feat that many in the media seem to miss.
Even before the official results were announced, voters sensed a turning tide in favor of the libertarian candidate. With his trademark style, Milei carried 21 of 24 provinces, attracting more than 14 million votes, the largest vote total for a single candidate in Argentina’s history.
It’s no secret that Argentina was one of the world’s wealthiest economies at the turn of the 20th century. Before the country’s ill-fated tour down the road to socialism, Argentina embraced free markets and limited government. Juan Bautista Alberdi, whom Milei frequently champions in his speeches, helped design Argentina’s 1853 constitution and create the initial conditions for the nation’s nearly 80-year stretch of economic prosperity. As an admirer of Thomas Jefferson, Alberdi echoed very similar libertarian themes that Milei is attempting to revive.
But for some unexplained reason, many people view Milei’s victory as just another triumph of the populist wave. This view, however, confuses Milei’s eccentric style with a genuinely populist agenda. Whereas Trump and other populist leaders call for a protectionist program to protect domestic workers against foreign competition, Milei advocates for the opposite. In fact, Milei’s victory speech directly invited people to join Argentina’s free-market revolution. Even Elon Musk acknowledged the significance of Milei’s victory, writing that “prosperity is ahead for Argentina.”
Latin America is often associated with failed socialist experiments, run by dictators such as Hugo Chávez in Bolivia, Fidel Castro in Cuba, and now Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. Although this association is largely accurate, the West would be better served if it looked deeper under the surface into the pro-market movements shaking the region awake.
Despite claims to the contrary, Argentines voted for Milei because his ideas are powerful. When inflation and routine recessions choke your economic prospects, the promise of free markets looks much brighter. Milei’s vow to dollarize the economy, for example, showcases the attraction of tying the government’s profligate hands. Indeed, Argentines are displaying a strong appetite for free-market reforms, and Javier Milei has shown that his popularity isn’t a fluke.
The West has a unique opportunity to strengthen its relationship with Argentina. Fortunately, President Biden has expressed interest in cooperating and listening to the ideas of the self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist. “We can’t wait to hear the ideas of the president-elect and what political direction he wishes to take, and to make sure we can keep that line and communication channel open,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
But the US should do more than merely listen. President Biden should open the door to stronger bilateral trade agreements between the two countries. Eliminating trade barriers, promoting investment, and removing immigration frictions would be beneficial first steps. These actions would also demonstrate to the entire region that it pays to enact economic reforms and curb the growth of government.
During his campaign, Milei said that Argentina will cut diplomatic ties with China, Brazil, and other nations that infringe on individual liberty. Of course, the private sector will still be free to invest, but the government will no longer subsidize involvement in these countries. According to Milei, Argentina should be modeled after Ireland, which implemented free-market reforms in the 1990s. “Where you give way to freedom, society flourishes. Not only economically, but it flourishes also in social aspects,” he said in an interview for the Economist.
This hands-off approach should excite the West. Investors are already celebrating Milei’s victory, and Argentina’s stock market has floated up in recent days. To further entice outside investors, Milei has vowed to privatize Argentina’s public companies, including the oil company YPF and Aerolíneas Argentinas, the country’s largest airline. The biggest challenge for Milei will be to persuade potential investors that his reform package can outlive his tenure. But if investor sentiment and voter support are any indication, Milei is already on the right track to lifting Argentina out of its decades-long economic malaise.
As the first libertarian president in the modern era, Javier Milei’s election should send a signal to the West that now is the time to fortify ties with countries that embrace the ideas of liberty. The US should heed Milei’s invitation and capitalize on Argentina’s capitalist revolution.