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What Argentina’s New Grand Experiment Means to the World

Milei's victory is an international marker, of sorts, for America’s billionaires and largest corporations, who share his desire to end liberal democracy and the so-called “welfare state”...

Javier Milei,

I hope I’m wrong, but I think I just saw the future of America if Republicans manage to sweep the 2024 elections, Trump or no Trump.

Argentina just embarked on a Grand Experiment, untried before in any developed country in the world; it’s one that multiple American billionaires have been pushing in the US ever since David Koch ran for VP on the Libertarian ticket in 1980.

When I arrived at the airport in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning this week, Election Day, I asked my cab driver who he’d be voting for and why.

“Javier Milei,” he said without hesitation. “The current government hasn’t done what they need to do about inflation.”

I asked him about the Libertarian Congressman’s (and now newly elected president’s) plans to replace the national “Medicare for All” type of healthcare system Argentina has with American-style private, for-profit health insurance plans that people must finance out of their paychecks (if they have a job, otherwise they’re SOL); to end the nation’s free colleges; and his plan to turn all the nation’s public schools and prisons over to “entrepreneurs” to run for profit.

And what about his promise to end all government support for average people, including disability payments, unemployment insurance, and all forms of welfare? His saying that abortion is murder and he’ll re-criminalize it, along with ending women’s and queer rights?

He shrugged.

“Things can’t get any worse,” was his terse reply, adding that he’s driving an airport car as a second job because inflation has wiped out the income from his regular job. This working two and three jobs, he said, has become common across the country.

Argentina has been suffering from an ongoing economic crisis for decades, but it got really bad when the “currency crisis” hit the nation in 2018 after they complied with IMF demands, wiping out half the purchasing power of the peso virtually overnight.

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Much like the United States, up until the 1960s Argentina had a top income tax bracket of 90%, which stabilized the economy and prevented massive wealth inequality. Subsequent administrations, including the military dictatorship, cut that down to 35%, like today’s US, with enough loopholes that, like America, most billionaires pay virtually nothing.

Like the US, they also cut taxation on capital gains (although they’ve taken them all the way down to zero), giving a huge boost to Argentina’s morbidly rich and stripping massive amounts of revenue from the federal government.

Their draconian tax cuts, like Reagan’s, drove huge federal deficits. Right wingers, citing the deficits, demanded cuts in social programs, but, until now, weren’t successful in gutting Social Security and other social programs in either country.

In part, because the US dollar is the world’s reserve currency, we can sell debt (treasuries) to finance our deficits; Argentina has a much harder time, because nobody else uses the peso and international investors are wary, so they’ve been pursuing a policy of printing money and borrowing from the IMF, which has debased their currency leading, in part, to today’s massive inflation.

Inflation this year has been over 100%, exacerbated by previous presidents experimenting with neoliberalism as demanded by the IMF, irresponsible borrowing, along with several years of climate change-induced drought which have badly damaged Argentina’s agricultural production, driving up food prices.

Milei’s opponent in Sunday’s runoff election was the nation’s finance minister, so he took much of the blame for the state of things while Milei — often referred to as “Argentina’s Trump” because he’s a wealthy former TV star, tantric sex instructor, and crackpot economist with no governmental experience other than his first year in parliament — promised to dump the rapidly devaluing peso and replace it with the US dollar. (He campaigned carrying around a chainsaw, saying he was going to take it to “welfare,” the “deep state,” and the nation’s social programs.)

When Milei won the top slot in the runoff election a few months ago, his victory caused the peso to fall further, as markets anticipated mass chaos resulting from the possible implementation of his plan to abandon the Argentinian currency if he won the general election. (It’s going to require huge cooperation from the IMF, and they don’t seem inclined to want to help.)

His primary win set off a run on the peso and produced a further currency devaluation (inflation is at 143% today) which, in turn, caused greater voter discontent. Ironically, that funneled more votes to Milei, who overwhelmingly (55%) won Sunday’s election.

The Libertarianism that Milei and American politicians like Rand Paul and Mike Lee embrace, as I’ve noted previously, is a political/economic system that was invented and named in the 1950s by a front group for the real estate lobby to rationalize their opposition to rent control, which was then spreading out of New York City and across America.

It basically argues, as Koch did in his 1980 campaign, that the only “commons” (things publicly owned and administered) a country can legitimately claim are the police and the courts.

They, in turn, have the primary job of making sure that property rights of wealthy people supersede all other rights, including the rights to healthcare, education, clean air and water, protection from abuse by employers, housing, and anti-poverty programs (including Social Security). All of these, Libertarians will tell you, are simply vestigial forms of socialism (or communism) and should be turned over to billionaires or giant corporations.

Libertarians’ key rationalization for this is that “private industry is always more efficient than government,” an argument that, while false, anybody who’s ever stood in line for an hour at the DMV can understand.

Ever since the 1980s, when Reagan embraced the libertarian worldview claiming that, “The nine most frightening words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help,’” the GOP has increasingly embraced Libertarian policies. Republican presidential candidates now compete for who can gut or shut down the most federal government agencies, from the EPA to the DOE to, well, ask Rick Perry.

Milei haș taken it so far as to say that poor people should feel free to sell their body parts, children, and organs to wealthy people on private, unregulated exchanges to pay their rent and medical expenses.

Billionaires and big corporations love Libertarianism because they end up with all the formerly-government-run sectors that they can then turn into profit centers to rip off the public. And shutting down regulatory agencies like the EPA, Interior, and USDA means they no longer have to pay for pollution controls, food safety systems, and other pesky protections for the “little people.”

Probably the example most Americans would recognize is Medicare Advantage, a privatized health insurance scam for seniors that makes billions in profits every week for our largest insurance companies while routinely refusing to pay for doctor’s visits, procedures, and even hospitalizations. It’s literally killing people by denying them care.

Milei ran on the promise of shutting down 10 of Argentina’s 18 federal agencies, throwing most of his countrymen, women, and children into the arms of the nation’s largest and richest corporations and the billionaires who own them.

He’s also a climate change denier, winning him — like Trump — the support of the nation’s fossil fuel industry, claiming the country’s drought and wildfire problems are part of natural climate variations.

Milei has told the nation about global warming:

“It’s another one of the lies of socialism.” He’s also added, “There is a cycle of temperatures … a cyclical behavior … and therefore all the policies that blame humans for climate change are false.”

Economist Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted:

“No one so extremist on economic issues has been elected president of a South American country.

“His extremist views and values go far beyond macroeconomic policy — he hardly acknowledges any legitimate role for government in some of the most important policies that most people have come to see as necessary for a democratic, humane, and stable society.”

Proving Weisbrot’s point, Milei recently told Tucker Carlson:

“Every time the state intervenes, it’s a violent action that harms the right to private property and in the end, limits our freedom.”

As Weisbrot notes, Milei claims that any attempts to “fix the problem of hunger” or “fix the problem of poverty,” or even deal with unemployment is “communism or socialism”; all of these problems should be left to billionaires and giant corporations to solve through private charity or minimum wage work.

Programs like public schools, the free college system that Argentina has that allows any capable student to become a doctor or lawyer at no cost, their national healthcare system, housing supports, Social Security, and even a minimum wage and unemployment insurance are “abhorrent,” Milei says. He claims that “social justice” is simply another word for “theft from rich people”:

“It’s stealing the fruits of one person’s labor and giving it to someone else. So it means two things. First, it’s stealing. The problem with that is that one of the Ten Commandments is ‘thou shalt not steal.’ To support social justice is to support stealing. So one problem is that it violates the Ten Commandments.”

Milei has referred to Pope Francis as “a fucking communist,” saying that because the Pope champions social justice and the plight of the poor he is “the representative of the evil one on Earth.” (Apparently Milei has never read Matthew 25.)

When asked about Milei, (who is not associated with any political party, but, like Trump, has essentially taken over and destroyed Argentina‘s right wing movements) the Pontiff, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, told a television interviewer:

“The extreme right always reconstructs itself; it is the triumph of selfishness over communitarianism. … I am terrified of saviors of the nation without a political party history.”

Milei’s victory has America’s rightwingers positively giddy. Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, tweeted a celebratory video of him promising to “destroy” the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, along with the Ministry of Women, Genders and Diversity.

Republicans are loving him,particularly his hate of racial and religious minorities. US Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar (R-Florida) endorsed him on Twitter, saying “We want [Argentina] to be one of the best countries in the world, because it’s what they deserve. A country that has everything. It has soy, it has meat, it has minerals, it has land, it has water, and it has only one culture, only one religion and only one race, completely homogenous.”

Yeah, “one race.” White people control virtually 100% of the levers of political and economic power and Argentina. He’s been embraced across the GOP.

And his campaign appears to be the world’s first to make extensive use of artificial intelligence generated images and memes. It was very effective, portraying him as a superhero and his opponent as a Cuban army style socialist; expect to see Republicans use this in next year‘s election.

Trump posted to his vanity Nazi-infested social media site, “MAKE ARGENTINA GREAT AGAIN!” while Vivek Ramaswamy tweeted, “May the spirits of {neoliberalism’s founders] Mises & Hayek be with you.”

Rightwing influencer and failed Arizona senate candidate Blake Masters posted a video of Milei screaming in Spanish:

“Leftist sons of bitches, be afraid!” He added, “Now, Argentina electing Javier Milei foreshadows Trump’s return in 2024.”

I spent several hours Monday with a politically knowledgeable Argentinian friend-of-a-friend walking around Buenos Aires, and he was blunt:

“Milei is a very smart man, but he is also insane. Really. We call him ‘Loco Milei.’ Nobody knows exactly what he’s going to do or how far he will go, but the current situation is so intolerable that Argentinians will vote for a lunatic if he will simply change the economic course of the country. Poverty has gone from 25% to over 40% in the past two decades, which is a disaster: people are in a lot of pain.”

I asked about Milie‘s plans to criminalize abortion and gay marriage (Argentina was the first South American country to legalize gay marriage back in the 2010; abortion in 2010) and he shrugged:

“Maybe it’s just talk and maybe it’s not. We shall see.”

Because Milei doesn’t have a parliamentary majority, it’s unlikely any effort to replace the peso with the dollar will to go anywhere, but all bets are off on his reconfiguring the federal government to trash the poor, gut social services, and privatize the nation’s schools, colleges, and medical system. Converting the country to dollars, however, would require a massive stock of the US currency that is simply unavailable within the country; the World Bank is suggesting they are unlikely to finance necessary reserves.

Thus, he’s already moving the goalposts, saying his economic reforms won’t kick in until 2025 at the earliest, even though he takes office next month. Meanwhile, he’s ramping up the victim-blaming rhetoric, attacking “lazy” poor people, progressives, and pursuing what he calls a “culture war” similar to the one that led to the murder of over 30,000 people during the military dictatorship of 1978-1983.

Millie refers to the “LGBT lobby” and Argentina’s women’s rights movement as arms of the hated “socialist agenda” that he says must be “stamped out”: the first step he has promised will be ending legal protections for women and queer people by dismantling the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity and the legal rights they protect.

Like America’s far right groups attacking public schools and libraries that carry books about civil rights movements, MLK, and Rosa Parks, Milei is all in:

“Gender ideology, native peoples, ecology and inclusive language [taught in Argentina‘s public schools] destroy the values of society”. 

His victory is an international marker, of sorts, for America’s billionaires and largest corporations who share Milei’s desire to end liberal democracy and the so-called “welfare state” both in Argentina and around the world.

In its wake, expect to see the GOP double down on Milei-like language and policies as they try to drive America back toward their own libertarian ideal, which hundreds of years ago in Europe was simply known as “feudalism.”

Thom Hartmann is the NY Times bestselling author 34 books in 17 languages & nation's #1 progressive radio host. Psychotherapist, international relief worker. Politics, history, spirituality, psychology, science, anthropology, pre-history, culture, and the natural world.