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The Election of Javier Milei: What Argentina needs or a terrifying shift towards far-right extremism?

Written by Isabello Ferro for the South America Section.



By taking economic and social factors into consideration, this article examines the possible impacts of Milei's policy, the good and the bad. Read on to learn how Milei's election will impact the most vulnerable of Argentina's society...


A little context

Before even discussing why Argentina may have chosen to vote for Milei of all people, it is necessary to understand the situation the country is undergoing. As of September 2023, 29.6% of all homes are living in poverty, equating to 40% of the population (around 11.8 million people).[1] Furthermore, 6.8% of all homes making up 2.7 million people (9.3% of the population) are living in situations of extreme poverty.[2] These rates have increased significantly since 2022; 1.2 million more people are living in poverty and 100 thousand more are in conditions of extreme poverty.[3] Additionally, as of October 2023, Argentina’s inflation rate has reached a whopping 142.7%.[4] For comparison, the UK’s inflation rate as of October 2023 is 5.6%.[5] While Argentina’s inflation problem is nothing new, this year it has got worse, reaching its highest levels since 1991.[6]

 

Why does this matter in the context of Milei’s election? Well, his opponent, Sergio Massa, has been Argentina’s Minister of Economy since August 2022.[7]

 

Suddenly, when this information is revealed, Argentina’s 2023 election becomes one of fascism vs incompetence (with strong ties to corruption)[8], and when 40% of a country’s population is living in poverty caused in part by Massa’s economic policy, it’s not hard to see why Milei won.

 

What has Milei promised?

Poverty, desperation, and uncertainty are the ideal conditions for extremism to thrive, and for Milei it was no different. Especially given the country’s political history of corruption, people are enraged with the preachings of the left and the current order, leaving them to look to Milei for what he’s promised to be a real, meaningful change to their life and Argentina’s future.[9]

 

But what is it that Milei wants to do? Officially a libertarian, yet characterising himself as an ‘anarcho-capitalist’, Milei has put forward some controversial policies.[10] For one, he wants to reduce public spending to 15% of the GDP and plans to do that by getting rid of 10 out of 18 ministries, including labour and social security, education (‘indoctrination’) and health.[11] He pretty much wants to remove any type of social policy the current government has in place in a move towards privatisation.[12] Milei has also been a firm advocate of a change of the official currency of Argentina from the Argentine peso to the US dollar, as well as the closure of the Central Bank.[13]

 

Moreover, Milei is firmly opposed to abortion and has discussed repealing the 2020 law that guarantees abortion as a right. He is also against gender identity and sexuality education in public schools.[14] 

 

Even more controversially, Milei has also mentioned legalizing the sale of firearms as a measure to combat insecurity and wants to allow for the sale of human organs in the country.[15]

 

Should we be scared?

To analyse the possible effects of Milei’s policies, it’s easier to divide them between social and economic effects.

 

Starting with economic effects, it’s necessary to recognize that privatisation can have its benefits and may improve the efficiency and quality of public industries (especially when there’s a history of government officials embezzling money).[16] Moreover, the move away from the Argentine peso can be the saving grace of the Argentinian economy, helping to reduce inflation, bring external investment, and provide stability, as it has already done with other countries in the region.[17] As for the abolition of the Central Bank, which Milei blames for Argentina’s current situation, this is not necessarily a bad thing.[18] Part of the reason why Argentina’s inflation is this bad is that the Central Bank continues to employ monetary policy to fight the cost of living crisis, however, by printing more money, they depreciate it, worsening inflation even more; this is not something exclusive to the current government, but has been done in Argentina historically as well.[19] The abolition of the Central Bank combined with dollarization takes away the power from Argentina to employ monetary policy, and as such, eradicates the possibility that it may be used as irresponsibly as it has been.

 

Yet, Milei’s policies are bound to have detrimental social impacts.

 

Beginning with the social effects of the economic policies mentioned above, they are bound to take a toll on those most vulnerable in society. Privatisation makes human rights inaccessible, and in this case, the 40% of people who are currently living in poverty would struggle to access basic human rights such as education and healthcare.[20] Moreover, investment in social capital through public spending in sectors such as education is critical to creating long-term economic growth and prosperity, as well as for combating poverty.[21]

 

Furthermore, some measures that he’s proposing are bound to worsen the cost of living crisis and poverty in the short term. The main downside of dollarization is that, in the short term, it will take a toll on the Argentinian people. Currently, the exchange rate from Argentine pesos to US dollars is 0.0028 USD, meaning that in the change from the peso to the dollar, people will inevitably lose money, especially their savings.[22]

 

Moving on, in terms of the smaller things he has proposed, these should be cause for concern. It doesn’t take much work to figure out that allowing people to purchase organs would open the floodgates to many other issues. For one, allowing people to purchase organs to move up the transplant list undoubtedly will make these procedures inaccessible to those who simply cannot afford to purchase said organs on top of their healthcare bills (now that it will be privatised). Moreover, giving people the option to sell body parts in order to make money and sustain their families surely raises some ethical questions, doesn’t it? It sounds almost dystopian.

 

Additionally, allowing people to purchase guns as a measure to combat insecurity is absolutely nonsensical. Combating violence with violence does not create peace, and can lead to horrifying incidents, as it has with the United States’ ‘stand your ground’ laws.[23]

 

Lastly, in terms of abortion, Argentina’s 2020 law was an incredible move for feminism and women’s reproductive rights, and repealing it would only open the door to unsafe abortions and maternal deaths.[24]

 

So…

Although it is clear why Milei got elected, is this stirring Argentina in the right direction? Many of his policies will have detrimental social effects, so was it the right choice? There’s no way to know until his government actually plays out.







References

[1] Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos, Condiciones de vida (Vol. 7, n° 16, Ministerio de Economía, 2023) 3.

[2] Ibid 3.

[3] Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos, Condiciones de vida (Vol. 6, n°12, Ministerio de Economía, 2022) 3-4.

[4] Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos, Índices de precios (Vol. 7, n° 35, Ministerio de Economía, 2023) 4.

[5] David Beckett, ‘Consumer price inflation, UK: October 2023’ (Office for National Statistics, 15 November 2023) <https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/bulletins/consumerpriceinflation/october2023#:~:text=The%20CPIH%20inflation%20rate%20is,in%20the%20constructed%20historical%20series.>  accessed 26 November 2023.

[6] Miguel Lo Bianco and Jorge Otaola, ‘Argentina inflation hits 124% as cost-of-living crisis sharpens’ (Reuters, 14 September 2023) <https://www.reuters.com/markets/argentine-shoppers-face-daily-race-deals-inflation-soars-above-100-2023-09-13/> accessed 26 November 2023.

[7] Iván Pérez Sarmenti, ‘¿Quién es Sergio Massa, candidato presidencial en las elecciones de Argentina 2023?’ (CNN, 17 November 2023) <https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2023/11/17/quien-es-sergio-massa-candidato-elecciones-argentinas-orix-arg/> accessed 26 November 2023. 

[8] For more information on Massa’s ties with corruption, see El Observador Editors, ‘Primer respaldo del núcleo duro del Kichnernismo a Sergio Massa’ (El Observador, 28 June 2023) <https://www.elobservador.com.uy/nota/primer-respaldo-del-nucleo-duro-del-kirchnerismo-a-sergio-massa-2023628123641> and Equipo Redacción, ‘Sergio Massa vs. Javier Milei: el "superministro" centrista y el economista libertario que este domingo se disputan la presidencia de Argentina’ (BBC News Mundo, 19 November 2023) <https://www.bbc.com/mundo/articles/c72qn7yyp51o> and for more information on the party’s corruption scandals see Jonathan Gilbert, ‘Los casos de corrupción manchan al kirchnerismo y enfurecen a los argentinos’ (The New York Times, 10 August 2016) <https://www.nytimes.com/es/2016/08/10/espanol/america-latina/una-atmosfera-de-corrupcion-envuelve-al-gobierno-saliente-y-enfurece-a-los-argentinos.html>

[9] Lautaro Grinspan, ‘How young Argentines helped put a far-right libertarian into power’ (Vox, 20 November 2023) <https://www.vox.com/world-politics/2023/10/21/23925549/argentina-election-javier-milei-right-youth> accessed 30 November 2023 .

[10] Gerardo Lissardy, ‘Cuán factible es que Milei lleve a cabo las propuestas con que promete transformar Argentina’ (BBC News Mundo, 20 November 2023) <https://www.bbc.com/mundo/articles/c889dj5my89o> accessed 30 November 2023.

[11] Ibid; To hear it for yourself, see Javier Milei, ‘¿Qué ministerios planea eliminar Milei si llega a la presidencia?’ (14 August 2023) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJFqjiB0GW0> accessed 30 November 2023.

[12] Javier Milei, ‘Javier Milei: "Todo lo que se pueda privatizar, lo vamos a privatizar"’ (27 November 2023) 13:25 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ew3oL2eRs0E> accessed 30 November 2023.

[13] Lissardy (n 10).

[14] Equipo Redacción, ‘Quién es Javier Milei y cuáles son las radicales propuestas con las que ganó las primarias en Argentina’ (BBC News Mundo, 14 August 2023) <https://www.bbc.com/mundo/articles/c7202q20g27o> accessed 30 November 2023. 

[15] Ibid.

[17] See Ecuador’s case study Ana María Roura, ‘20 años de la dolarización en Ecuador: ¿por qué es tan popular la dolarización entre los ecuatorianos? (y cuál es su lado oscuro)’ (BBC News Mundo, 9 January 2020) <https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-50916554> accessed 30 November 2023.

[18] Equipo Redacción, ‘Quién es Javier Milei y cuáles son las radicales propuestas con las que ganó las primarias en Argentina’ (n 14).

[19] Anusha Rathi, ‘Argentina’s Economic Crisis Never Went Away’ (Foreign Policy, 15 August 2022) <https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/08/15/argentina-imf-debt-massa-fernandez/> accessed 30 November 2023.

[20] John B. Goodman and Gary W. Loveman, ‘Does Privatization Serve the Public Interest?’ (Harvard Business Review, 1991) <https://hbr.org/1991/11/does-privatization-serve-the-public-interest> accessed 30 November 2023; See the United States’ case study Terri Williams, ‘Don’t Have Health Insurance? What’s the Worst That Could Happen?’ (Investopedia, 27 September 2023) <https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/120815/dont-have-health-insurance-whats-worst-could-happen.asp#:~:text=Americans%20are%20no%20longer%20taxed,out%2Dof%2Dpocket%20expenses.>

[21] World Bank, ‘Education’ (The World Bank, 11 October 2023) <https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/education/overview> accessed 30 November 2023.

[22] Roura (n 17).

[23] For the hundreds of deaths stemming from the ‘stand your ground’ law, see Jamal Andress, ‘'Stand your ground' law now associated with more deaths from guns’ (Scripps News, 14 July 2023) <https://scrippsnews.com/stories/stand-your-ground-law-now-associated-with-more-deaths-from-guns/#:~:text=The%20law%20is%20now%20associated%20with%20over%20700%20deaths.&text=Ten%20years%20ago%2C%20George%20Zimmerman,had%20heard%20of%20the%20law.>  

[24] For the dangers of unsafe abortion see World Health Organization, ‘Abortion’ (World Health Organization, 25 November 2021) <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/abortion>

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