Joseph Stiglitz should stop promoting Latin American demagogues
ODuring a recent visit to Chile, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz claimed that Milton Friedman “had no problem” working with dictator Augusto Pinochet to impose his “toxic” ideas on the Chilean people. Friedman, according to Stiglitz, was not just an economist but a “right-wing ideologue” indifferent to facts.
The truth is quite different. Friedman never “worked” with Pinochet and explicitly criticized the lack of political freedom under his rule. Stiglitz, on the other hand, was an active supporter of some of Latin America’s worst socialist demagogues and dictators.
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Chilean President Gabriel Boric is a good example. Boric, 36, is a self-proclaimed Marxist who has said his aim is “to bury neoliberalism”. He found in Stiglitz an extraordinary ally to give his radical program an aura of credibility. During his visit to Santiago last month, Stiglitz said he was “excited” to “be at the funeral of neoliberalism”.
According to Stiglitz, by killing the ‘failed’ free market model – the one introduced by Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, which made Chile the envy of South America – Boric will bring social justice and progress to the people Chilean. With inflation at its highest level in 30 years, massive capital flight, an economy in recession and crime at its highest level since 1990, the post-neoliberal prosperity promised by Boric is nowhere to be found. As a result, since taking office in March, his popularity has plummeted to levels below 30%.
Stiglitz also developed a lasting relationship with the corrupt Kirchner dynasty in Argentina. In 2005, the Columbia University professor met with President Nestor Kirchner in Buenos Aires to support the president’s “anti-neoliberal” agenda. Unsurprisingly, Stiglitz has become Kirchnerians’ favorite international economist. For years, he has endorsed their narrative that other entities, particularly the International Monetary Fund, are to blame for Argentina’s endless economic mess.
Last January, Stiglitz went so far as to proclaim that the current Fernandez-Kirchner regime’s COVID-era economic policies were a “miracle.” This is the same government that will end 2022 with an inflation rate of over 100% and a poverty rate of nearly 40%.
In 2006, when then-Bolivian President Evo Morales needed a top international economist to lend credibility to his plans to nationalize oil and gas fields, Stiglitz was more than happy to oblige. After Stiglitz’s visit to Bolivia that year, Morales himself famous Stiglitz’s enthusiastic support for his populist policies. Morales’ nationalization programs destroyed any incentive for additional private investment to explore and develop new oil and gas reserves. If no changes are made to Morales’ model in the next 10 years, Bolivia could be forced to import gas to meet the needs of its population.
Former Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chavez was also hailed by Stiglitz. In 2007, during a visit to Caracas, Stiglitz praised Chavez’s populist redistribution of oil revenues, saying it was “not a revolutionary goal but an innovative goal.” Stiglitz said Chavez seemed to have “succeeded in bringing health and education to people in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas.” Needless to say, Chavez’ populist policies have proven catastrophic for democracy and economic progress in Venezuela.
But nowhere was Stiglitz’s contempt for truth and liberal democracy more clearly demonstrated than during his visits to Cuba. While in Cuba in 2016, he thought back to his visit in 2002, saying he had felt “fascination” when meeting dictator Fidel Castro. Stiglitz also hailed Cuba’s “successes” in health and education. Instead of trusting the official propaganda of the totalitarian regime, Stiglitz should have visited the schools and hospitals ordinary Cubans use to see for himself that the policies he praised are in fact not working for the Cuban people. .
Then again, a fact check might not seem necessary to someone whose radicalism might even impress Castro himself. On the occasion of Stiglitz’s visit to Cuba in 2002, Castro introduced Stiglitz to Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet, a die-hard communist, saying “he’s an economist and an American, but he’s the biggest radical that I have ever seen. Next to him, I’m a moderate.
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Unfortunately for Latin Americans, Stiglitz’s radicalism lent credibility to terrible policies and economic regimes that ruined the lives of millions. If Stiglitz really cared about the facts, as he claims, he would cease and desist once and for all from his toxic ideological activism in the region.
Axel Kaiser is a Senior Fellow at the Atlas Center for Latin America and a Fellow at the Archbridge Institute.