Javier Milei took the reins of his administration and sent two clear messages to politicians.
He gave his inaugural speech outside the Legislative Assembly. This was seen as a snub to the congressional blocs, with whom he will soon have to sit down to negotiate his reform package.
At the same time, he also said he wouldn’t be an auditor (nor an avenger) of what responsibility he believes the (now former) “caste” bears in the current crisis. It was a stick and a carrot, which were duly noted.
The second notable feature of his speech was the over-representation of the debacle he must face. A weighty inheritance, but with exaggerated figures, few verifiable numbers, and particular emphasis on the impending catastrophe. A “panic show” with a narrative that was very successful in the campaign.
Milei is a president who didn’t try to sell hope. Quite the opposite, in fact: he annihilated any short and mid-term expectations. But as he aligned pessimism with a solid electoral result, he secured his main political capital to get through the honeymoon period: he based his proposal on austerity.
He said it was going to be bad, he said it was going to be long, he said there’s no other way, and he said that if he doesn’t do exactly as his administration proposes, the consequences will be even worse than the present crisis. That’s how he won. And how he earned a comparative advantage over any regular politician.
If it turns out as he said or not quite as bad, Milei will have enough gas in the tank to see him through to the arrival of the positive results he’s expecting at the end of the road. Social tolerance will be essential, because of something the new president will learn as he goes: austerity always falls on others. It’s never on me.
A great majority believes that the State has become oversized and ineffective at solving economic problems, politicians’ lists of priorities have lost touch with reality, and regulations, taxes and currency controls have proliferated. A smaller number of people assume they will be affected by that austerity, albeit indirectly, which will worsen their already humbled living conditions. And an even smaller number are aware of all of the above, and preparing to endure the hardships in the hope that the country’s economy will experience a rebirth that will benefit them personally. The hardest part for all concerned is calculating how long they can actually endure austerity in its various manifestations. Warning: it will be even less than the believers expect.
In this real-life experiment, in which a theorist like Milei aims to carry out a plan that comes from the most orthodox texts with a theoretical framework that’s a century old, and which Milei himself has described as Argentina’s breaking point, he must understand that in his new role, the word of the president carries a weight that can alter how events unfold. Magnifying problems will no longer be a virtue if other agents in the system act in line with the panic instilled in them.
The first day of the administration also left some evidence of improvisation, which is not promising either. It wasn’t only the departures from protocol or the delayed announcements and government appointments. The circulation of a draft of the first DNU (Decree of Necessity and Urgency) to create ministries, with comments correctly pointing out problems with the wording that would have legal consequences, was quite a surprise. At some point, inexperience is no longer a virtue but a burden that damages Argentina’s institutions.
The government transition did leave a couple of vignettes that were strangely normal in that context. The good atmosphere between Milei and Cristina Kirchner at the ceremony — with some relaxed gestures that were unusual for both leaders — demonstrated something that the outgoing vice president shared with her inner circle: “At the transition I got along better with Milei than with Alberto.” She was talking about the good reception she got while exchanging political gestures with the incoming president. The Senate ecosystem noticed. Alberto Fernandez’s participation, meanwhile, was barely felt, during both the ceremony and his send-off.
Milei balanced the cordial environment in the ceremony with an immediate and effusive greeting to Mauricio Macri, who has been relegated from key administration appointments. “They’ll come looking for us in six months,” the former president has told allies. He pictures himself overhauling Milei’s entire cabinet. His dream is that, perhaps, that will happen even sooner.
Originally published in Ambito.com / Translated by Agustín Mango