Bari with Argentina’s president Javier Milei. (The Free Press)

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

A sit-down with the world’s first libertarian head of state.

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.

Why? What happened?

Argentina’s new president says it’s simple: socialism.

When Javier Milei took office in December 2023, he became the world’s first libertarian head of state. During his campaign, he made his views clear: “Let it all blow up, let the economy blow up, and take this entire garbage political caste down with it.” In case the chainsaw he wielded on the campaign trail left any question about his intentions, during his victory speech last year, he reiterated his vision: “Argentina’s situation is critical. The changes our country needs are drastic. There is no room for gradualism, no room for lukewarm measures.”

There is nothing gradual about what Milei is now doing.

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 why people voted for him: change. They saw someone who could shake things up in a way that could turn out to be lifesaving for the country—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 doesn’t 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 even quoted a Midrash during our conversation.) 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 that’s all the superficial stuff. What really makes Milei unusual is that he is the ultimate skunk at the garden party. In a world of liberals and conservatives, he doesn’t represent either side. He is ultra-liberal on economics, but right-wing and populist on rhetoric. He is anti-abortion, but favors the legalization of prostitution. He wants to deregulate the gun market and legalize the organ trade. 

He calls himself an anarcho-capitalist, which basically means 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. Or at least, not theoretically.

In January, Milei showed up at Davos, the Alpine mountain resort that hosts the annual World Economic Forum. This is traditionally a place where people who all think the same way go to drink champagne and tell each other how smart they are. Milei arrived, flying commercial, and blew up that comfortable consensus: “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 inexorably leads to socialism and thereby to poverty.” 

All of this is why I was eager to talk to Milei and put some of these questions to him: How long will it take for things to improve 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? 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,” and “donkeys,” for some reason, he agreed to sit down with me.

Watch our conversation in full below, click here to listen to it on our Honestly podcast, or scroll down for an edited transcript.

Note: This interview was conducted in Spanish with the help of a translator.

On Javier Milei’s warning to the West:

Bari Weiss: You just spoke down the road at Stanford University. For months, students at that university have been calling for “intifada.” They’ve been chanting on behalf of groups like Hamas. I wonder how you understand the appeal of such groups and the self-destructive impulse that’s taken hold among so many of the smartest people in this country and across the Western world?

Javier Milei: You may remember when I went to Davos, my address started by saying that the West was in danger. Because basically we are obstructing and torpedoing the values that made the West great. And that has been happening because socialism has won the culture battle. Erroneously, libertarians thought that the fall of the Berlin Wall was the end of history, and we thought that socialism was literally dead. Yet socialism regrouped in the São Paulo Forum and transferred the class struggle originally advocated for by Marxism to other aspects of society. And with a Gramsci-style strategy, it got into the state, into the government, into education and the media and also into culture.

They fought a culture battle, and they won it. Not because their ideas were better than the ideas of freedom. Rather, libertarians didn’t fight the fight.

Today in the United States, you can see how the culture battle was won and they end up defending regimes or groups that are murderers like Hamas. Jewish students are getting persecuted, a situation that could perhaps extend to other Jews and to the rest of Westerners.

This is a consequence of the fact that we libertarians haven’t waged the culture battle. And this is why in Davos I said that the West was in danger. But there are two very positive points. First, you would have thought it was impossible for me to make it to office. I became president of a country which for a hundred years embraced these nefarious socialist ideas, which turned Argentina from being the world’s richest country into country #140. 

The second point is that when I came into office, I didn’t stop with the cultural battle. The things I said in Davos I had already been saying all along. But now as the first libertarian president in history, the reach is much greater. My mic is a lot larger. And a lot of people are awakening. In fact, when I started my political career, I said I wasn’t here to guide sheep, but to awaken lions. So what I am getting to see, fortunately, is that worldwide there are a lot of libertarian lions awakening. So even though the present may look somber, I think the roots of a much better future are flourishing.

On his plan to turn Argentina around: 

BW: You’re sitting in a place with the greatest human capital, arguably, in all of America. The reason that a terrible two-bedroom house here in Palo Alto costs something like $3 million is because people want to be around other brilliant people who are building companies. Because of Argentina’s economic collapse and because of the double-digit inflation over the past decades, your human capital has fled. What are you going to do to bring back the best and the brightest to your country?

JM: That wonderful human capital which has left the country did so because it was systematically attacked by the state, by government. It was systematically attacked by inflation. 

In the last ten years, Argentina’s per capita GDP fell by approximately 15 percent. If you look at the history of the past 100 years, it’s a true catastrophe. The wealthiest nation, or one of the five wealthiest nations, is now 140th. We have 55 percent poor and 15 percent extreme poor, so it’s become a very aggressive place for anyone. And this disgusting, abhorrent idea of “social justice” actually works against human capital because if you study, work, try hard, and you do well, the state will come along and steal your money and give it to someone who hasn’t done anything. And that is a mechanism to expel talent. 

We are now in the process of reversing a hundred years of history. We want to replicate the miracle of Ireland, which went from being the poorest country in Europe but today has per capita GDP 50 percent higher than the United States. I would like to be like Switzerland or Luxembourg or Australia or New Zealand. 

We are highly optimistic. It’s not just that we are fighting the battle on the economic front and on the political front. We haven’t abandoned the culture battle, and all of this will create a situation where Argentina will again experience robust growth. And one thing we’re also aiming at is getting Argentina to become one of the world’s four AI hubs. So we are proposing that these great businesses come to Argentina, and not just the Argentines that left will come back, but also other talented people from around the world will come to Argentina because we will make Argentina a paradise. 

On the people in Argentina struggling to survive as Milei executes his “fiscal shock therapy”:

BW: There are a few numbers I want to read to you. Last year the price of milk went up 186 percent in your country. The price of eggs increased by 280 percent. For comparison, eggs increased by 30 percent in America, and people lost their minds. You warned people when you were running for office that this is what it was going to look like. You called it “fiscal shock therapy,” and things were going to get worse before they got better. But now people in your country are saying, “I can’t afford milk, I can’t afford eggs, I can’t afford meat.” What do you say to the people who are so far away from the economic vision you’re heralding?

JM: We should be clear as to what the situation was when we took office. When a country has fiscal and external deficits amounting to 4 percent of GDP, when your deficit is 8 percent percent of GDP, it’s heading toward a great crisis. We inherited 17 percent GDP points in terms of deficit. You just can’t get your head around the extent of the problem we inherited. When we took office in December, wholesale inflation was 54 percent a month. If annualized, the figure is 17,000 percent. So Argentina was heading toward hyperinflation, which would leave 95 percent poor and 60 percent extreme poor. That was what we were facing. As a result, we decided to make a fiscal adjustment and pursue a shock therapy for a number of reasons. First, because all shock therapy adjustments except for the one in 1959 in Argentina were successful, and all gradual adjustments ended in failure. Secondly, in order to make a gradual fiscal adjustment you need financing, and Argentina had lost IMF financing.

It’s true that Argentina has gone through a profound recession, but it’s also true that April and May data exhibit signs of recovery, and wholesale inflation, which had started at 54 percent monthly and has gone down to 3.5 percent. And inflation continues to come down. So it’s true the snapshot looks dismal, but the whole movie is great. In fact, when we took office, 85 percent of people said that they were poorly off. Today, 65 percent of the people said that they’re badly off. It’s a horrible figure, but it’s gone down by 20 points in only five months. It’s miraculous. So I understand that the situation is bad, but going forward it’s better. The alternative was to carry on as always and we would have blown up.

BW: But I’m asking you an emotional question—

JM: Well, I don’t need to deal with emotions. I just talk about figures and reality. Not about emotions.

BW: But for the family that says, “I can’t afford food,” and you give them extremely sophisticated economic explanations full of data and they say to you, “I can’t afford food. When am I going to be able to?”

JM: First, today 15 percent of the people are “extreme poor,” so they can’t meet their basic needs. If we had pursued the things that were being done, there would be 60 percent “extreme poor” today, which would have been a true catastrophe. Therefore, you can’t fall into the fallacy of paradise. If you’re going to compare me with a paradise, well, of course, life will always be horrible. Second, today inflation for food is way below the evolution of wages, so in terms of food, salaries are rising tremendously.

This is the first time in 25 years that the majority of people believe that inflation will come down, and some even say that there will be a deflation. So it’s working. People can see that.

If the media can’t see that, if they lie about what we’re doing, that’s a problem of the media, who are telling stories because they no longer have government money. But reality hits them in the face all of the time. I understand that I am hideous for the mass media because I have taken away government money from them. I do really believe in the free press, and when the press gets money from the government, it’s not free. It’s enslaved by the state. So we have taken away government-paid advertising, and this is why they tell lies. 

On joining a government system he despises:

BW: You describe yourself as an anarcho-capitalist: someone who thinks centralized states should be abolished, that private corporations should fulfill all of the state’s current duties like schooling, defense, and building roads. Are there certain things, though, that the state must do? And what are those things?

JM: Philosophically, I am an anarcho-capitalist, and I consider the state a criminal organization. Are you in favor of theft?

BW: No.

JM: Nor am I. Yet, you don’t pay taxes voluntarily. If you don’t pay your taxes, you go to jail. This is institutionalized violence. There are licensed thieves—government, the state—and there are unlicensed thieves. But you could actually get a gang of thieves, and if they self-proclaim as the state, there would be no difference vis-à-vis the state. That is one thing that we anarcho-capitalists and libertarians understand: that the state is a violent organization that lives from a coercive source, which is taxes. Taxes are not a friendly thing. In fact, they’re a leftover from slavery.

But that’s an ideal world, and I understand it’s an ideal world, and that’s the ideal I am aiming for. 

In the real world there are many complications, and in fact, in real life I’m a minarchist. But what I’m saying is that you need to design policies to achieve freedom. I think it’s a truly stupid position on the part of some libertarians who say, “Hold on. We need to stay out.” Because the system is changed from within, not from the outside.

Let me give you a more straightforward example. In Argentina, when you go to a football [soccer] stadium, it’s a beautiful spectacle. Lots of people on the stands. People chant lovely songs. But if you put the ball in the middle of the football field, no matter how the people may cheer and wave the flags and so on, the ball will not move. If you want to win the game, you need the players. The Argentina national team goals are scored by Messi. You need someone to score the goals. So the idea that from the stands you can change something is foolish. The only way to change this is by getting into the system and disputing power. Otherwise, you won’t be able to change it.

On libertarians’ failure to win political office in the U.S.:

BW: Why do you think libertarians in America are such losers? What I mean is that they never win anything. They have no influence. And yet some of the most brilliant people I know are libertarians. I’m picking up on what you’re saying, that libertarians in general tend to be critics from the stands and not in the arena. Is there something about libertarian ideology that creates that phenomenon?

JM: Of course, because we hate the state. But some of us believe that we need to step up to the plate and step onto the political arena. I’m making the greatest fiscal adjustment in the history of Argentina and of the world. We slashed the number of ministries by half. We keep dismissing civil servants every month. We continue to do away with regulations. We are also doing away with a lot of corruption. 

This is something you can’t do from the outside. Of course, you can criticize a lot. And if I were to have a ridiculously purist libertarian position, I wouldn’t be able to change anything at all, and I would basically be giving up everything to socialists. You need to understand that power is a zero-sum game, and if those of us who are on the right don’t have it, then the left will have it. So libertarians who only criticize are cowards because they never wanted to really get into the mud that politics is. 

On being the skunk at the garden party:

BW: Do you like being the skunk at the garden party?

JM: I love it. I love it. I love being the mole in the state. I’m the one who destroys the state from within. It’s like having infiltrated enemy lines. States’ reform needs to be undertaken by someone who hates the state. And I hate the state so much that I’m willing to endure all of the defamation, the calumny, the insults against me, against my most loved ones, my sisters, my dogs, my parents, as long as I can get to destroy the state. I’m the king of moles.

On his worldview:

BW: Can you explain why you think economic libertarianism and anti-wokeism—for lack of a better term—go together? Because for many people here in the States, that’s not a natural pairing.

JM: The way people have been educated has not been for full freedom. The world I’m proposing is a more free world. This is why the culture battle is so important. The culture battle is part of showing the world that for many years, it was mistaken. In fact, what is today politically correct is an abhorrent world because it has loads of socialism. The tendency will always be toward socialism, and that’s the big battle. This is why it is said that the cost of freedom is constant surveillance.

The state exists because humans have failed to live together in peace. And this is why the state government exists. These problems are something that technology could fix. So this is very important because the real world may start to look more like the anarcho-capitalist ideal as technological progress evolves. This is why I’m trying to foster and showcase all technological matters in Argentina, because that will accelerate the progress of freedom. But even economists have not been educated to understand this. 

For now, it seems to be going very well, but what’s quite clear to me is that I will die fighting. I will not surrender.

On the U.S. presidential election:

BW: You may have heard we have an election coming up in this country. Many people on the right, many people who have a worldview similar to yours, see it as a battle between the old establishment against a populist insurgency. Do you see it that way?

JM: I shouldn’t meddle with U.S. politics. I have a responsibility as a head of state. And I have decided to be a partner of the United States whether the presidency is Republican or Democrat, regardless of my ex ante preferences. I have a responsibility as president. I’ve decided my allies around the world are the United States and Israel.

On whether the U.S. should be the world’s policeman:

BW: There’s a big debate going on right now in America about whether or not this country should still be the world’s policeman. Do you think the world is a safer place when America plays that role in the world?

JM: The thing is, I would love to have a libertarian world. I would love to have the anarcho-capitalist paradise. The trouble is, if I move forward with the anarcho-capitalist solution but another country does not, they may end up enslaving us because they haven’t espoused those ideas. So you get a problem, basically, related to what you would call the prisoner’s dilemma and not due to a violent intervention, where no negotiation is allowed; it’s just the fact that some countries don’t advance on others because they’re afraid of the response on the other side. Unfortunately, that’s the world we have. And I can tell you that if you get the United States out of the role of the world’s policeman, the world would be even worse. Is it ideal? No. But in a world where others play by different rules, if you remove the United States and its role, you will end up encountering a much worse world.

On choosing freedom and Moses:

BW: Perhaps you’ve heard this quote from the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “Human nature is full of riddles. And one of these riddles is this: how is it that people who have been crushed by the sheer weight of slavery and cast to the bottom of the pit can nevertheless find strength to rise up and free themselves, first in spirit, then in body, while those who soar unhampered over the peaks of freedom suddenly appear to lose the taste for freedom, lose the will to defend it, and, hopelessly confused and lost, almost begin to crave slavery.”

Why is it that the people who have benefited the most from freedom, the most from the enlightenment, the most from the progress of the West, take it for granted? And is there a way for us, short of catastrophe, to recover the hunger that you so clearly feel for freedom?

JM: For the first part of the answer, I will shift toward the history of the Jewish people. One of the reasons why I’m a great admirer of Moses is because he’s history’s greatest liberator. The feat of the Jewish people was about an enslaved people that faced the equivalent of the United States, Russia, and China, just to give you an idea of the magnitude. But when they left Egypt, only one out of five actually left Egypt. 

So the first point is that you can probably embrace freedom and achieve it sooner or later if you have the conviction. The second point is that some people prefer to surrender the freedom in exchange for free fish.

Socialism is very skillful when it comes to working on the lowest values of human beings. Socialism is based on hatred, on resentment, on unequal treatment before the law, and even on murder. This said, when societies begin to make progress to advance, what socialism does is instill the virus of envy, of resentment.

Let’s suppose we go to a race. There’s 20 of us running. How many people can win the race? Only one. So what does socialism do? It works on the remaining 19, talking about a plot that someone won and is submitting the others to. And then it harbors and fosters resentment and hatred. It’s easier to believe there was a conspiracy rather than accepting that the other one was better. And that’s what the culture battle is about: demonstrating that those moral values are disgusting and that they lead to horrible institutions, and that when those institutions are implemented, countries collapse and fall into misery.

If you want a good example for this, it’s Argentina, which embraced the ideas of freedom in 1860, having been a country of barbarians, and in 35 years, it became the world’s richest nation. And then in the early twentieth century, it espoused the ideas of socialism and became a miserable country that produces food for 400 million people with a tax burden of 70 percent in that sector. That’s the rubbish that socialism is. And how did they do this? By inoculating the idea of “social justice” based on hatred, unequal treatment before the law, and theft. And that deterioration in moral values is what leads to decadence. So we need to fight the battle on the economic front, on the political front, and on the culture front. 

And if you fail on any of those counts, socialism will creep in and triumph. 

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