Why Javier Milei is different

The new Argentine president, Javier Milei, is neither left nor right. But can he succeed?

BUENOS AIRES ARGENTINA SEPTEMBER 25 Presidential candidate Javier Milei of La Libertad Avanza lifts a chainsaw next to Buenos Aires province governor candidate Carolina Piparo of La Libertad Avanza during a rally on September 25 2023 in San Martin Buenos Aires Argentina Photo by Tomas CuestaGetty Images
(Image credit: Tomas Cuesta/Getty Images)

The mainstream press has totally misunderstood Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei. We pay attention to Argentina. Partly because we have an office in Buenos Aires and investments in Salta Province, and partly because we learn from it.

When it comes to politics and finance, there is no goofy, absurd and counterproductive trick the Argentines haven’t tried at least once. We study their trip over the last 120 years – from king of the road, and then, down into the gutter. And now we get to watch as they try to tow themselves back on the highway. (We even played a small part in Milei’s election. The New York Times says an endorsement from former president Mauricio Macri helped put Milei over the top. Our office down there put Milei and Macri together.)

But just look at the press coverage. Every publication from The Washington Post to Reuters reports has him down as a “far right” extremist. The Post says his election marks “the sharpest turn to the right in four decades of democracy in the country”. Turn to the right? Do these reporters know their left from their right?

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The New York Times, meanwhile, wanted to make it even clearer what we were dealing with. It called Milei a “mini-Trump”. Even Trump himself seems to believe it. It falls to us to fact-check. And what we find is that the only thing Milei and Trump have in common is their enemies.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, the establishment, the press, academia, the politicians and bureaucrats – none welcomes a fake reformer… and certainly not a real one. The earnest professors, weapons suppliers, columnists and up-and-coming reporters, newly elected members of Congress, Wall Street honchos – all have a keen interest in “what is”. They are the ones who shape public policies. They are the chief, and maybe the only, beneficiaries.

“What isn’t” – a world in which the chips fall where they may, not necessarily where the elite want them; that is, a world with less government – is unwelcome. In the world that is, they see government as the source of wealth and power. The only question is: where does it go? To the left, poorly represented by Joe Biden? Or to the right, poorly represented by Donald Trump?

On the left, Biden promises more of the same – more rules, more regulations, more deficits and more debt. He will continue spending on favoured projects, boosting asset prices, giving generous pay-offs for lobbyists and insiders, and more profits for cherished industries. If any of these things are threatened – say, by a “debt ceiling” or a recession – Team Biden will do whatever is necessary to protect them.

Trump, on the right, is another matter. Generally despised and distrusted by the great and the good, he is the perfect foil for the elite left – a fake and incompetent reformer.

Both Biden and Trump believe that “the people” can’t be allowed to err and stray like lost sheep. They need direction, and they will give it to them – at the barrel of a gun, if necessary.

This is what makes Milei different. He is neither right nor left. For him, the enemies are those in the “political caste”. He aims to clear them out – the profiteers, hangers-on, lobbyists, consultants, think tank “experts”, parasites, bureaucrats and other freeloaders – and let “the people” decide for themselves what to do with their own money. 

Will he succeed? Not likely, but we will keep our eyes open.

This article was first published in MoneyWeek's magazine and all information was correct at the time of writing. Enjoy exclusive early access to news, opinion and analysis from our team of financial experts with a MoneyWeek subscription.

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Bill Bonner is an American author of books and articles on economic and financial subjects. He is the founder of Agora Financial, as well as a co-founder of Bonner & Partners publishing.