What Cues Can South America Take From Europe?


Over the past few years Greece has probably made the news more than ever before. Whether it be protesters in the streets, election results, or the announcement of some new government policy, whatever happens in Greece seems to be written about in all corners of the world. Just recently the fierce rhetoric of a relatively obscure populist left-wing party made international headlines and fueled new speculations about the future of one of the world’s major currencies, if not the world economy and financial markets. The eventual ascent of that same party, Syriza, to Parliament has all eyes both on the Old Continent and across the world focused on its plan of action. Mind you, we are talking here about a country whose GDP represents less than 0.4% of the world economy.

In the meantime, incessant government intervention into the economy has caused major upheaval in several countries in South America. Venezuela is currently experiencing the worst depression in decades, Argentina’s economy is in shambles once again on the heels of its most recent default, and since the World Cup bubble popped Brazil has equally dipped into recession. These countries dwarf Greece in terms of population as well as contribution to world GDP, and some of their resources make them important players in global commodity markets. Yet aside from some news outlets’ reporting on Venezuelans having to stand in line for hours for even the most rudimentary items or the mysterious death of a federal prosecutor in Argentina, major media are hardly paying attention.

The latter, far from being the result of a massive media cover-up, reflects a general sentiment in South America. Here in Chile, for instance, nobody in their right mind would dream up some theory about the aforementioned woes causing a spillover effect that might bring the entire continent to its economic knees. Unlike in Europe, xenophobia has not been on the rise here, nor have there been any incidences of heads of state being compared to blood-thirsty dictators. As much as some populist leaders like to speak of a “Latin American brotherhood”, in truth the misery even in neighboring countries is hardly discussed except in case of any personal ties.

While it would clearly not be a fair comparison to put the South American economy on equal footing with that of Europe, the events that have unfolded in recent decades can certainly serve as valuable lessonsEurope-SouthAmerica for the continent. The mere suggestion that one day, Europe’s economic fate would seemingly come to hinge on the outcome of Greek elections would have seemed outright preposterous as recent as the nineties or even in the early 2000s. Indeed it would be like predicting that two decades from now, all of South America would be trembling at the prospect of a severe recession in Guyana.

Still, a lot more can be drawn from European history than simply a long list of don’ts. Going further back just a few centuries can literally provide a blueprint for sustainable growth and pave the way for prosperity on a continent too long haunted by the destructive and backward forces of socialism. Historians and other scholars have written extensively on “the European miracle” and its foundations. As it turns out, the terminology belies an astonishingly simple recipe; defense of property rights and decentralized power structures limited by competing jurisdictions in their ability to intervene in and expropriate resources out of the market.

Whilst academia and politicians would have us believe economics is an incredibly complex field of study that should be left safely and exclusively in the hands of the “experts”, historical evidence proves them utterly wrong. In fact, the more power is centralized into the hands of these conmen, the lower the odds of the kind of sustainable economic growth that has permanently lifted millions out of poverty, and continues to do so to this day.

Political leaders and their outdated and misplaced allegations of imperialism cannot be allowed to stand in the way of free people and free markets in South America. In the words of Ron Paul: “An idea whose time has come cannot be stopped by any army or any government”!

How Does Healthcare Reform Impact Liberty in Chile?


For more than three decades Chile has had a dual healthcare system consisting of both state-run and private health services, which has provided more Chileans with greater choice and better access to such services. Initially funded by way of a 4 percent tax on income, by the late nineties the public Fondo Nacional de Salud (FONASA) started running deficits as one in four Chileans opted for private insurance instead. Consequently the obligatory contribution was raised to 7 percent, helping force a significant chunk of people back into the old system. Unfortunately government meddling did not stop there.

1314902_99313658In 2005 a fresh round of regulations listed 56 priority health problems that all insurers must cover. Unsurprisingly, premiums spiked across the board that year as well as the following years. Unfazed, the first Bachelet administration expanded the list to cover a total of 80 medical conditions. The result is as predictable as it is inevitable, and the unfortunate thing is it usually leads to more demonization of the market and increased calls for more heavy-handed government intervention. Considering the aforementioned developments it seems as though that process is already playing out.

Needless to say, the selfless crusaders for more equity – be it in healthcare or whatever other area of life – make no mention of inflation, currently estimated at 4.5 percent, that is stealthily yet ceaselessly robbing all Chileans of their purchasing power. Nor is there any mention of the fact that patent laws are artificially propping up drug prices, or that compulsory medical licensing is keeping competition out of the market. Experiences with “free” state-run healthcare and the resulting long waiting lines and other unintended consequences such as in Canada and the UK are equally overlooked if not purposely left out of the debate.

To point the finger to the market as the source of inequality merely reveals one’s intellectual laziness, if not dishonesty. Moreover, it is to deny the fact that free market type policies have made Chile the most prosperous Latin American nation in known history, slashing poverty from 50 to 11 percent while raising per capita income fivefold. In other words, being poor in today’s Chile generally means owning a used sedan rather than a new SUV, whereas just a few decades ago it was the difference between having three meals a day or going hungry.

Extracting wealth from the SUV driver in the name of equality is not only immoral; it has historically never lead to anything but equal misery for everyone, wherever it has been tried. Besides, the case of the United States shows that simply increasing spending on health by no means guarantees a healthy population. After all, when government policies make healthcare more expensive that inevitably leads to more spending, yet as a measure of effectiveness or efficiency that metric is of no use at all. It does, however, achieve the exact opposite of the stated goal of making healthcare more affordable. Where have we heard that before?

Bachelet’s healthcare reform falls squarely into the category of just another excuse for more government intervention to solve the problems created by previous intervention.

The State of Freedom in Chile


Perhaps one would not know it for some of the articles that have appeared on this website, but libertarians have plenty of reason to be optimistic about Chile. The country’s economy consistently ranks as by far the freest in Latin America, reaching tenth place in the world in the most recent ranking. Free market type policies have lifted millions of Chileans out of poverty over a time span of mere decades while making its capital city a major hub for international business. And despite recent allegations of large-scale corruption regarding political campaign contributions, on the whole corruption is virtually unheard of.

FreedomSuch a success story literally sets Chile apart from every other nation on the continent, as evidenced by the fact that it is set to become its first developed country by the end of this decade. Yet its unrivaled success has all but silenced critics. On the contrary, it seems like the very prosperity that made Chile the envy of Latin America has lulled some would-be free market advocates to sleep, while proponents of state intervention are running on all cylinders. “Free” education and healthcare and Keynesian economic stimulus – read: more wealth confiscation – are just some of the talking points among those aiming to perfect society by way of scribbling words on pieces of paper.

Last March an OECD report made the headlines in Chile for categorizing the country as among the most unequal in terms of income distribution. Such reports provide the kind of ammunition used by interventionists to beat the drum for all manner of reforms, including the recently approved educational reforms. Given the relative lack of government meddling in daily Chilean life – at least on the scale people in most developed nations have become accustomed to – some are eager to seize every opportunity to promote the supposed virtues of government planning.

To be fair, much of this sentiment stems from resentment against the iron first with which economic reforms were implemented by Augusto Pinochet’s military junta. Looking to break with the socialist policies pursued by his predecessor Salvador Allende and its disastrous consequences, the commander and his ilk considered “the Chicago Boys” to be the only group of economists worthy of their trust. Taking his cues from them, the policies subsequently introduced succeeded in reversing the downward trend and revived an economy previously characterized by soaring inflation and deficits coupled with plummeting saving and investment rates.

Since its return to democracy in 1990 Chile has almost exclusively seen left-wing administrations. For the better part of this era, however, economic policies have generally favored the free market over central planning. It is precisely this trend that is a thorn in the side of those who wish to see more top-down decision making, their main spokesperson being Michelle Bachelet. Fortunately their rhetoric does not go so far as to demonize international trade or private property, but it does tend to blame the free market for inequality in just about every aspect of life. This flawed line of thinking is most prominently and frequently used to justify more state control of healthcare, education and the labor market.

The latter, of course, can hardly be said to be a uniquely Chilean phenomenon. Still, it is imperative to the cause of freedom to promote this understanding of the philosophy of liberty; that rather than foster inequality, voluntary trade has historically been – and still is – the most powerful force against it. Not to mention the fact that trade, not coercion, is simply the morally preferable thing to do.

Lessons Unlearned From Brazil’s Recession


As she was sworn in for her second term last week Dilma Rousseff publicly stated government spending would have to be cut. Yes, you read that right; the leader of the Workers’ Party just said her own administration is spending too much taxpayer money. It might be a day late and a few billion dollars short, but could it be Brazil’s president just had her Eureka moment?

ReaisYears of spending billions of dollars on stadiums and infrastructure for a 4-week event has left the Brazilian government with little to brag about. While the world has moved on to other things the World Cup’s relics lie mostly unoccupied in a land of poverty, police corruption and gang violence. After the artificial boom created by said event the bubble has definitively burst. Yet to hear one of South America’s most adamant cheerleaders of government intervention admit to it is remarkable to say the least.

Government figures show Brazil’s economy had already fallen into a recession before the World Cup even got underway. This year the central bank expects the economy to grow by a dismal 0.38 percent while inflation hovers north of 6.5 percent, well above the 4.5 percent target rate. Industrial production is forecast to expand by no more than 0.7 percent, with the country’s current account deficit widening to $78 billion. Predictable though the downturn may be, its sheer magnitude is forcing the Dilma administration to consider some rather uncharacteristic measures. Or is it?

The budgets of a few dozen ministries and some secretariats may be cut by one-third, reportedly amounting to some $700 million in savings, the new Finance Minister Joaquim Levy was quick to add expenses listed in the constitution will be unaffected – a constitution about as thick as Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, by the way. In addition taxes on imports, credit, cosmetics and fuel are set to be raised. To make matters worse, an income tax reduction already approved by Congress was recently vetoed by Dilma herself.

Naturally, the fact that Brazil’s tax burden of 36% of GDP is far higher than that of other middle-income countries cannot be allowed to keep failed economic policies from going full steam ahead. The logic on which excise taxes or protective tariffs on imported goods rest, i.e. that raising prices of certain goods discourages their consumption, suddenly loses all its validity when it comes to such activities as human labor or investment. Can Brazilians really be expected to keep working just as hard despite essentially working two out of five business days just to sustain a giant bureaucracy? Can a society really be expected to achieve any sort of meaningful growth when forty percent of its productivity is sucked out of it?

It is obviously too late to take all of the resources spent on the aforementioned projects and redirect them into the private sector, where they would have contributed to sustainable economic growth. It is not too late, however, to reverse the trend and stop adding fuel to the fire. Besides, imagine how much more expensive that fire will be considering rising fuel taxes!

As the famous quote attributed to Thomas Edison goes, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that will not work.” The latter can also be said for the idea of taxing and spending one’s way to prosperity. Edison’s point, however, was that making mistakes can be useful if one learns from them. Unfortunately that message does not seem to have reached Brasilia.

Pentagate Corruption Scandal Rocks Chile


According to Transparency International´s Corruption Perceptions Index Chile ranks as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, ahead of the likes of Austria and France and similar to the United States and Ireland. The World Bank’s governance indicators suggest corruption in 2013 was under better control in Chile than in the U.S. and neared that of the United Kingdom and Canada. Note that we are talking about a country in Latin-America, a continent whose governments are not exactly known for their incorruptible politicians. Consistent free-market policies have made Chile the rare exception.

However, a major political scandal that broke last week is threatening that status. Known as Pentagate the campaign finance scandal currently making headlines in Chile allegedly involved dozens of politicians from across the political spectrum, although the majority are said to be members of the Independent Palacio-de-JusticiaDemocratic Union (UDI) party. Some of the more prominent individuals being investigated include former Finance Minister Andrés Velasco, who served one term under current president Michelle Bachelet during her first four years in office, officials of the previous Sebastián Piñera administration, as well as several former presidential candidates.

It was the privatization of state corporations after the fall of the Pinochet military dictatorship in 1989 that gave birth to the Penta Group. Formerly known as the Instituto de Seguros del Estado the insurance company was bought by two investors – Carlos Alberto Délano y Carlos Eugenio Lavín – who incidentally both used to work for the government during the regime. The former is known as a big political donor and a friend of former president Piñera, while the latter tends to keep a lower profile. Last August their holding company came under investigation by Chilean authorities for tax fraud, which besides several arrests lead to the laying off of the Group’s director. And while many a libertarian may not raise any moral objections to these sorts of practices, it now seems the increased scrutiny of the Carlos duo has brought other, more reprehensible facts to light.

While the revelations may have shocked some Chileans, for proponents of the free market there is arguably a very bright side to the story. After all, what better libertarian arrows could one possibly wish to have in his quiver than the sort of widespread political scandal that reads like a novel? Besides, if this is what is happening in a country whose government is regarded across the continent as the most effective and efficient, just imagine what is going on in all those other countries!

Admittedly some on the left will seize the opportunity to espouse the supposed virtues of government-run enterprise as compared to the greedy capitalists only out to make a buck. Yet this argument is easily refuted; since few people are in favor of a completely centralized economy all they need to be convinced of is that interventionism invariably leads an economy down that very path – two prominent and current examples being Venezuela and Argentina.

The better alternative, then, is to start from the premise that a government big enough to “regulate” an industry is a government big enough to award the well-connected within that industry special favors. It should be concluded that privatizing some industries is not sufficient to achieve a free society. So long as government is allowed to drive the economic bus, it will always determine who gets to sit in the front and who is relegated to the back – before ultimately driving over a cliff.

[N.B. Some of you may have noticed I (unexpectedly) took a bit of a hiatus at the end of last year. If you missed seeing regular articles on here rest assured things are back up and running, so be sure to look for those weekly posts again in 2015!]

For School Choice, in Chile and Elsewhere!


In her second term as president of Chile Michelle Bachelet is set to impose significant educational reforms to further her socialist agenda. An estimated increase of 1.5-2 percent of GDP on top of existing spending is supposed to improve the quality of and access to (higher) education and thereby reduce the problems of inequality and segregation.

Bachelet’s plan to provide “free” college education to all Chileans exposes her ignorance of the effect of such policies in other countries. It is a statist’s’ knee-jerk reaction: once we’ve identified a problem naturally all we need to do is throw a bunch of money at it and have the government point guns at people, and the rest will take care of itself! After all, the Danish taxpayer is forced to pay for everyone’s college tuition, and they are prospering!

Chile_EducationThis sort of simplistic stance on education completely ignores historical and empirical evidence that shows that the voluntary system in existence before the dawn of compulsory schooling already met the existing needs for education, or that modern public schooling is a lot more likely to increase social segregation. The latter is confirmed by Chilean figures correlating people’s addresses, incomes and test scores. Besides, we already know that putting more power into the hands of bureaucrats in faraway government buildings, where we can be sure their views and policies will be heavily influenced by special interest groups, will invariably reduce transparency, accountability and quality.

In the United States, for instance, this has lead to a ballooning student loan debt that now stands at $1.2 trillion or some $30,000 per student. In three decades tuition fees have risen by 1,120 percent, meaning that the same college degree today costs 12 times as much as in 1978. The total bill ranked up on behalf of the American taxpayer stands at $22 billion per year, much of which can be traced back to the government programs championed by Lyndon B. Johnson in the sixties as part of his “Great Society”.

The modern school system is largely based on a foundation laid by Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the late 19th century, with the aim of supplying his military with soldiers willing to follow orders unquestioningly. Should we be surprised, then, that our schools don’t produce critical thinkers and enterprising individuals? Is it any wonder how pervasive statism is in our society? If we were all forced to go to universities funded and run by Coca-Cola could we reasonably expect anyone to be critical of Coca-Cola?

In recent debates about education here in Chile we have heard some shockingly uneducated (pun intended) statements from officials, stating “we don’t know if for-profit education, selection or shared finance of schools and universities actually affect quality” and that “there is no recipe for quality”. The fact that these people are not only engaged in the debate but likely to exert If an objectively written book was ever published on the State’s involvement in schooling our children it might be titled “Government schooling: making every student equally miserable since the 1870s”. Should the Bachelet administration succeed in stripping away school choice the educational system will likely go down that very path.

As Murray Rothbard pointed out: “It is clear that the suppression of free instruction should be regarded with even greater horror than suppression of free press, since here the unformed minds of children are involved.” Chilean libertarians have their work cut out for them.

Who Will Be Hurt Most By Chile’s Carbon Tax?


As part of the tax reform put into law last month, Chile now has the “honor” of calling itself the first South American country to impose a carbon tax. Starting in 2018 Michelle Bachelet’s center-left government will attach a price tag of $5 to every ton of carbon emissions produced by the country’s large electricity generators. The law will apply to any thermal generators with a capacity of at least 50 megawatts – though biomass plants are exempt – and will reportedly extract $160 million out of the economy.

Coincidentally the year the new carbon tax takes effect is the same year Chile is expected to officially become the first developed nation on the continent. The adoption of free market policies in recent decades – the Fraser Institute now ranks the Chilean economy as the 10th freest in the world – has made Chile a model for other South American nations to emulate. Squarely in line with her socialist philosophy, though, Bachelet aims to mold Chilean society according to her wishes. Unfortunately for Chilean citizens, especially the poor whose lots Bachelet claims to want to improve, this includes taxing electricity.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Considering that some 30 percent of the country’s energy production stands to be affected, the carbon tax will likely have a serious impact on prices. Naturally those hit hardest by such price hikes are those spending the highest share of their income on energy, i.e. the poor. Enter the schizophrenia of left-environmentalism: advocating for forced wealth transfers to help the needy while simultaneously adopting policies that raise the prices those same people pay for some of the most basic necessities.

Besides the obvious truth that a tax levied on any product or service raises its price, there is empirical evidence on environmental taxes we can point to and learn lessons from. Studies estimate that the carbon tax burden may be as high as 3.5% for low-income households compared to less than 1 percent for the highest income range. In the UK, for instance, a carbon price floor introduced last year added $8 to household bills, and official estimates predict that surcharge rising to as much as $80 by 2020. More uplifting news comes from Australia, where the recent repeal of the carbon tax is estimated to save households on average between $175 and $230.

In addition, it is worth asking ourselves where this $5 number comes from. The same ton of carbon dioxide is taxed at some $9 in British Columbia, $15 in Britain, nearly $20 in Australia, and as much as $150 in Sweden. Such a wide range seems hardly scientific, and it begs the question if perhaps politicians are just making it up as they go along, hoping to strike the right balance between satisfying special interests while keeping their cushy government jobs. In the Chilean context it is worth noting that the mining industry, a vital part of the Chilean economy, represents approximately one third of the nation’s energy consumption.

Whether one subscribes to the theory of anthropogenic global warming or not, climate policies’ impact on our daily lives is undeniable. As with any kind of government intervention it is imperative for us honest skeptics of centralized power to represent the voices of reason, especially in a highly politicized debate. Chilean households have yet to see the likely devastating effects of such (over)ambitious policies, but there are still a few years left to stop it in its tracks.