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Argentina's President Javier Milei Loves Being the Skunk at the Garden Party

At the start of the twentieth century, Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The capital, Buenos Aires, was known as “the Paris of South America.” A lot can…

At the start of the twentieth century, Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The capital, Buenos Aires, was known as “the Paris of South America.”

A lot can happen in a hundred years. Argentina today is in grave crisis. It has defaulted on its sovereign debt three times since 2001, and a few months ago it faced an annualized inflation rate of over 200 percentone of the highest in the world. What happened?

Today's guest, Argentina’s new president, says it’s pretty simple: socialism.

When Javier Milei took office in December 2023, he became the world’s first libertarian head of state—and maybe its most eccentric. During his campaign he made his intentions clear: “The [political] caste is trembling!” “Let it all blow up, let the economy blow up, and take this entire garbage political caste down with it.” Which is exactly what he’s doing now. He’s eliminating government ministries and services, cutting regulations, privatizing state-run companies, and purposely creating a recession to curb the out of control inflation.

This is also why people voted for him: change. They saw someone who could shake things up in a way that could turn out to be lifesaving—even if it meant short-term economic pain. But will it work? Not all Argentines think so. And not everyone is willing or able to wait for things to improve. In April, with food prices rising and poverty up 10 percent, tens of thousands of Argentines took to the streets to protest Milei’s aggressive austerity measures.

Milei is a strange and idiosyncratic creature. There are the obvious things: he says he doesn’t comb his hair (and he doesnt appear to). He has four cloned mastiffs that he refers to as his “four-legged children,” and which he’s named for his favorite free-market economists. He was raised Catholic but studies the Torah. He used to play in a Rolling Stones cover band. And he has been known since grade school in the ’80s as El Loco, on account of his animated outbursts, which would later bring him stardom as a TV, radio, and social media celebrity.

But what really makes him unusual is that he is the ultimate skunk at the garden party. In a world of liberals and conservatives, he is neither. He has ultra-liberal economic views but right-wing, populist rhetoric. He is anti-abortion but pro-legalization of sex work. He wants to deregulate the gun market and legalize organ trade. 

He calls himself an anarcho-capitalist, which basically means that he believes the state, as he told me, is “a violent organization that lives from a coercive source which is taxes.” Essentially. . . he’s a head of state who really doesn’t believe in states. A few months ago Milei showed up at Davos, the Alpine mountain resort that hosts the annual World Economic Forum. This is a place where, historically, people who all think the same way go to drink champagne and tell each other how smart they are. Milei arrives, flying commercial, and blows all that up: “Today, I’m here to tell you that the Western world is in danger. And it is in danger because those who are supposed to have defended the values of the West are co-opted by a vision of the world that inevitably leads to socialism and thereby to poverty.” 

All of this is why we were eager to talk to Milei—and put some of these questions to him: How long will it take for things to look up in Argentina? Why does he believe the Western world is in danger? What’s the difference between social justice and socialism? Can the free market really solve all of our civic problems? What is the state actually important for? And how does he feel about being the skunk at the garden party? (Spoiler: he loves it.)

And despite having called journalists “extortionists,” “liars,” “imbeciles,” “freeloaders,” “donkeys,” and “ignorant”—for some reason, he agreed to sit down with us.

Note: The interview was conducted in Spanish with the help of a translator. Watch the video version of this interview at thefp.com

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