Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gangster Rulz

There is always something appealing about the outlaw - the person unconstrained by law or morality. We envy that impunity with which they can act out without seeming fear of consequence.

There is an element of that in the American (and not just American) Right wing's frequent flirtations with fascist dictatorship. Hitler and Musollini had their American sympathizers, among them Joseph P. Kennedy and Charles Lindberg. The Walker and Bush dynasties, working with Averell Harriman and Percy Rockefeller made big bucks banking for Hitler (see, for example, American Dynasty, by Kevin Phillips). Long after World War II, William Buckley was deploying his mannered preciosity, and the National Review's to support Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and American racism.

The Chilean dictator Auguste Pinochet is a more recent entry to the rogues gallery of thugs that wingnut's love. His claim to wingnut affection is based on two actions: He overthrew a democratically elected, Marxist oriented President (Salvador Allende) and turned the "Chicago Boys," a group of conservative economists, loose on his economy. It's claimed that their work had "been a spectacular success" - with apologies to Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Others have a less charitable judgement, based on the fact that Pinochet destroyed one of the most established democracies in South America, instituted a reign of terror in which he murdered thousands of his fellow citizens, tortured tens of thousands, and looted the country to line his own pockets.

What about the claim for the success of the "Chicago boys?" Luboš Motl has a mixed review of Pinochet which buys into the idea of Chilean economic success built upon the coup. While there is little doubt that some of the market reforms were useful, they were exaggerated (the key mineral industries like copper, which Allende nationalized were not privatized), and the "Chicago boys" made key mistakes, causing a serious recession, and Chile's economy didn't really take off until after democracy was restored. Chile was not an especially poor country before Allende (1970), but by 1973 the combined effects of Allende's economics and a determined campaign of economic sabotage by Nixon and his CIA had produced a lot of economic disorganization and severe inflation, which served as an excuse for Pinochet's coup.

If you look at the gapminder 1975-2000 data cited by Motl, note the far more spectacular progress of it's demographically nearest neighbor, Korea. Note also how much much of Chile's progress came in the post Pinochet (1988 + ) era.

A far more dramatic example of the benefits of state mandated desocialization, combined with rigid control on population, is provided by China. I don't see Chicago claiming all the glory there.