Javier Milei: the fringe economist pundit turned presidential frontrunner

The far-right libertarian has risen from obscurity to mark the political playing field — despite the grotesque extremes of his positions

“Do you agree with [legalizing] selling organs?” journalist Jorge Lanata asked presidential hopeful Javier Milei. 

Milei, who at that moment was at the top of the polls, had implied that he would be open to legalizing the sale of human organs in an interview a few days earlier, and the journalist was giving him a chance to retract himself.

“It is just another market,” Milei answered instead. “There is no worse solution than the grip of the state. The best thing is individuals acting freely. Every time there is an intervention the subsequent result is worse than what you had.”

It was June 2023 and Milei was on quite a streak — in that same week, he had also failed to condemn the legalization of “selling” children in an interview where the journalists gave him the possibility to do so five times in a row.

Milei (52) first came to prominence in Argentina in 2015, regularly appearing on TV shows as a  controversial economist, an “anarcho-capitalist” promoting the ultra-individualistic Austrian school of economics. He stood out as an outsider with an inexplicable hairdo and made waves with his interview antics — during his TV arguments Milei would scream insults at his opponents until his face turned red. 

The far-right libertarian retained all of these characteristics after jumping to politics in 2021, when he ran for national deputy for Buenos Aires City in his coalition, La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) — and won with 17% of the votes. 

Milei consistently talks about the “caste,” a term he uses to refer to all politicians. He argues that they feed on taxpayers and are the cause of inflation. His proposals focus on the economy and he calls his program the “chainsaw plan,” referring to the cuts he would make in order to reduce state capacity and center market forces. 

One of his trademark suggestions, which marked pre-electoral discourse, is the abolition of the Central Bank and therefore the Argentine peso. With this, Milei hopes Argentines “can trade in their currency of choice,” according to the text of his program. This would mean a de facto dollarization since a variety of studies show that the U.S. dollar is the Argentines’ preferred currency.

“This way, inflation will end forever in Argentina,” the document said. Argentina’s inflation currently runs at 115.6% year-on-year.

His dollarization proposal has been heavily criticized by economists, politicians, and financial institutions. Argentine Bank Association (ADEBA, by its Spanish acronym) President Javier Bolzico said in June that it “would mean resigning ourselves to the fact that as a country we cannot do things right, to have a reliable currency.”

Some consulting firms have said that, with the loss of monetary policy this measure would cause, the budget’s primary financial result should be balanced — this would imply increasing the tax burden or reducing spending.

Other parts of the “chainsaw plan” include eliminating 11 government ministries, reducing government spending by 15% of the country’s GDP, and privatizing or closing down state companies and agencies, among other austerity measures.

A potential Milei administration would also eliminate free state schools and healthcare, and replace them with a “voucher system” designed to subsidize whoever needs them, according to his government plan.

“El Loco”

Milei had a troublesome upbringing. Juan Luis González, the author of a recently published Milei biography entitled El Loco (Spanish for “The Crazy One”), revealed that his father — a bus driver turned businessman — used to beat him while his sister, Karina, stood up for her brother. She now acts as his campaign manager: Javier publicly calls her El Jefe (the boss) and has said that, if elected, Karina’s role would be that of a “first lady.”

In his teenage years and early twenties, Milei was a goalkeeper for the Chacarita Juniors football club and sang in a Rolling Stones cover band called Everest. However, in an interview, he said that he had decided on a career in economics at age 10, in 1979 — during the “Tablita” crisis (Spanish for the “little table”), a failed plan by the dictatorship intended to schedule a monthly devaluation of the peso.

He went to study economics at Belgrano University but has said that the 1989 hyperinflation crisis shook him out of the Keynesian ideas taught there — his start down the path towards anti-state libertarianism. In 2007, he started to work as a consultant in Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, a company that manages all of Argentina’s airports through a government contract.

Milei’s public views have become increasingly esoteric, calling Pope Francis “the representative of the evil one on Earth, and he has spoken out against certain individual rights such as abortion despite being a self-defined libertarian. His biographer has said that Milei uses a medium to “communicate with his dead dog” — a dog which he got cloned.

Aside from being a university professor at the UBA and UADE, Milei has written books and gives conferences on economy. Once a month, he raffles his deputy salary.

Last month, corruption allegations against Milei arose in the media, as he was accused by former allies of selling positions in the ballots. “There are people who paid US$50,000 for a councillor position,” businessman and politician Juan Carlos Blumberg said in an interview with La Red radio station.

Milei has called those accusations part of a “smear campaign.”

Last week, Milei held the closing event of his political campaign in the Movistar Arena in Buenos Aires where he said that there was an encroachment of “collectivists” against him and urged his supporters to go vote for him.
As always, he closed his speech with a scream that has become a tagline of sorts: “¡Viva la libertad, carajo!” which roughly translates to “Long live freedom, dammit!”

Cover photo: Ámbito


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