Joseph Stiglitz must stop promoting Latin American demagogues

aOn a recent visit to Chile, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz claimed that Milton Friedman had “no problem” working with dictator Augusto Pinochet in order to impose his “poisonous” ideas on the Chilean people. Friedman, according to Stiglitz, was not just an economist but a “right-wing ideologue” unconcerned with facts.

The truth is completely different. Friedman never “worked” with Pinochet and openly criticized the lack of political freedom during his regime. On the other hand, Stiglitz was an active supporter of some of the worst demagogues and socialist demagogues in Latin America.

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A prime example of this is Chilean President Gabriel Boric. Thirty-six-year-old Borik is a self-described Marxist who has declared that his goal is to “bury neoliberalism”. In Stiglitz he found an extraordinary ally to give his radical program an aura of credibility. On his visit to Santiago last month, Stiglitz claimed he was “excited” to “attend the funeral of neoliberalism.”

According to Stiglitz, by killing the “failed” free-market model—the model advanced by Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, which made Chile the envy of South Americans—Borek would achieve social justice and progress for the Chilean people. With inflation at a 30-year high, massive capital flight, an economy tipping into recession, and crime at the highest levels since 1990, the post-neoliberal boom promised for Borik is nowhere to be found. As a result, since he took office in March, his popularity has collapsed to levels of less than 30%.

Stiglitz also developed a lasting relationship with the corrupt Kirchner dynasty in Argentina. In 2005, a Columbia University professor met with President Nestor Kirchner in Buenos Aires in order to support the president’s “anti-neoliberal” agenda. Unsurprisingly, Stiglitz became the Kirchnerites’ favorite international economist. For years, he supported their narrative that other entities, especially the International Monetary Fund, were responsible for Argentina’s never-ending economic chaos.

This past January, Stiglitz went so far as to declare the COVID-era economic policies of the current Fernandez-Kirchner regime 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 leading international economist to lend credence to his plans to nationalize the gas and oil fields, Stiglitz was more than happy to oblige. After Stiglitz’s visit to Bolivia that year, Morales himself celebrate 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 over the next 10 years, Bolivia may actually have to import gas to meet the needs of its population.

Stiglitz also paid tribute to former Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chávez. In 2007 during a visit to Caracas, Stiglitz praised Chávez’s populist redistribution of oil income, claiming that it was “not a revolutionary goal but an innovation”. Chávez appears to have had “success in providing health and education to people in the slums of Caracas,” Stiglitz said. Needless to say, Chávez’s populist policies have proven disastrous for democracy and economic progress in Venezuela.

But nowhere was Stiglitz’s disregard for truth and liberal democracy more evident than in his visits to Cuba. During his stay in Cuba in 2016, he reflected on his 2002 visit, saying he felt “dazzled” when he met dictator Fidel Castro. Stiglitz also praised Cuba’s “successes” in healthcare and education. Instead of trusting the official propaganda of the totalitarian regime, Stiglitz had to visit the schools and hospitals used by ordinary Cubans to see for himself that the policies he praised were not actually working for the Cuban people.

Then again, fact-checking might hardly seem necessary to someone whose radicalism Castro himself could be excited about. On the occasion of Stiglitz’s 2002 visit to Cuba, Castro introduced Stiglitz to the Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonete, a militant communist, saying “He is an economist and an American, but he is the greatest radical I have ever seen. Next to him I am a moderate.”

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Unfortunately for Latin Americans, Stiglitz’s radicalism gave credence to horrible economic policies and systems that ruined the lives of millions of people. If Stiglitz really cared about the facts, as he claims, he would stop and stop his toxic ideological activity in the region once and for all.
Axel Kaiser is a senior fellow at the Atlas Center for Latin America and a research fellow at the Archbridge Institute.

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