I was invited by the great Mark Skousen to speak at the FreedomFest in Las Vegas this July. FreedomFest is a conference like no other. More than two thousand participants, the who’s who of the libertarian movement, great speakers, debates, and a lot of friends.
Such a massive event helped me to have perspective of our own activities. One thing that surprised was how many of the Free Market Road Showspeakers were there as well. Matt Kibbe, who has recently left FreedomWorks to concentrate all his efforts on Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, Richard Rahn, John Fund, Dan Mitchell, Mark Klugmann, among others. Both the FreedomFest and the Free Market Road Show are massive events. It’s very stimulating that libertarian groups around the globe are able to organize such big things.
Speaking of Mark Klugmann, he did a great job moderating the panel. And he’s an American who truly knows the Americas. Mark is currently running the ZEDEs project in Honduras, which will create places for work and investment that go beyond the so-called special economic zones.
In any case, the theme of the panel was: “Has Latin America Finally Rejected Marxism?” The views on the matter varied. Personally, I believe the question was anachronic. There’re a lot of problem in Latin America and great threats to Freedom, but Marxism is probably not one of them.
As I see it, the biggest threat to liberty nowadays is populism and illiberal democracy. Populism, in a nutshell, is a reactionary political system which has massive support. One of the most relevant theorist of Populism is Ernesto Laclau (1935–2014). I find very interesting about Mr. Laclau that, although Argentinean, he lived most of his life in the United Kingdom. He preached populism from the heart of what every Latin American populist considers to be one of the most “imperialist” countries of all times. Perhaps he was trying to undermine England from within…
Influenced by the Nazi intellectual Carl Schmitt, Mr. Laclau proposed that societies must be divided following the logic of “friends and foes.” Thus, the concept of the “people” will not mean exactly the whole of the society. There will always be an “anti-people”, an oligarchy whose interests are opposite to the ones of the people. The will and voice of the people is incarnated by the charismatic leader. “Bourgeois” institutions such as parliaments or checks and balances are despised by the populist ideologues — who consider them an obstacle for the fulfillment of the people’s needs.
Populism can be left-wing or right-wing depending of the circumstances. Juan José Sebreli highlights the incredible similarities between right-winger Viktor Orban (Hungary) and left-winger Néstor Kirchner (Argentina) governments. Both populist leaders broke with the International Monetary Fund as a way of showing “independence”, nationalized pension funds, diminished the power of the legislative and judiciary branches of government, intervened the Central Bank, harassed the press, and attacked the opposition.
Populism has never a clear economic agenda but usually tends to favor the internal market and is against trade and competitive markets. Crony capitalists and unproductive entrepreneurs can easily accommodate under a populist leader. The economic decline of the nation due to the populist regime always contrasts with amazing enrichment of the populist “elite.”
Anyway, the bulk of my talk dealt with my beloved Argentina. To explain the tragedy of my country I use a very graphic metaphor. In 1945 Japan was bombed with two nukes. The Japanese people could overcome that. In 1946 Juan Perón and Evita Perón landed in our government. We have not yet been able to recover from that. Peronism, it seems, is more destructive than two nuclear bombs.
Argentina has suffered from decades of decay and social and political unrest. Nonetheless, I’m moderately optimistic for her future. I’m planning to write a full article on that so I’ll only say that there’re some signs which point in the direction of the end of populism.
The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.
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