The Cultural Significance of Milei’s Inauguration
On Sunday, Argentines finally welcomed new President Javier Milei, the first self-described anarcho-capitalist candidate to ever be elected to highest office anywhere in the world. Because he had stopped giving interviews and issuing statements in the past weeks, expectations about the content of his inaugural address were high. And he did not disappoint.
For the first time in their history, Argentines witnessed an inaugural address that focused on describing the country’s grim economic state rather than making impossible, short-sighted promises. Milei told his supporters not only that irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies by the left-wing government of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner caused poverty, inflation and the national debt to increase, but also that the consequences of their mismanagement will be felt in months to come. “No hay plata”, he concluded, which literally translated means “there is no money.”
Even more importantly, and also for the first time in their history, citizens applauded new President Javier Milei as he told them that sacrifices need to be made to get Argentina back in track. “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he added, and he also promised to make the public sector pay for the fiscal adjustment instead of having the private sector suffer through more taxes and regulations. But he explicitly said that there is no alternative but to close the fiscal gap and that avoiding hyperinflation will hurt. When has the world ever seen a newly elected President being applauded for telling his own constituents such a bitter truth?
As Milei turned from diagnosing the problems to his proposed solutions, he took yet another unprecedented step in his speech: He quoted libertarian intellectuals to explain how he will address the crisis. On the one hand, Milei cited Spanish economist Jesús Huerta de Soto’s claim that government handouts cause poverty instead of eradicating it, and that it is through economic liberty that Argentina will prosper once again.
Javier Milei also quoted Alberto Benegas Lynch(s)’s definition of classical liberalism as the “unrestricted respect for one’s neighbor’ life plan based on the non‐aggression principle and the defense of the right to life, liberty, and property”. In an important ideological statement, the new President added that it is this definition which will be the essence of the new ‘social contract’ that Argentines signed by electing him.
In this regard, Milei also praised Julio Argentino Roca, the President who secured economic freedom for Argentina during the country’s 19th century ‘golden era.’ Milei quoted Roca in saying that ‘no big, stable and lasting changes are made in the world when it comes to freedom if they do not come at the cost of supreme effort and painful sacrifices.’ The cultural impact of this quote is significant, given that Roca’s figure had come under severe left-wing criticism in recent years.
It was not just Milei’s speech which signaled that Argentina is entering new times, though. Former President Mauricio Macri, for example, not only attended the transition ceremony and congratulated Milei but also said he would not have made a single change to his speech. Another significant presence was Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: Only two years ago, Argentina’s now former President Fernández was hugging Vladimir Putin and offering the country as Russia’s ‘gateway’ to Latin America.
There was even a major announcement on inauguration day regarding Argentina’s relationship to the world. Indeed, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that the country will join the OECD immediately, in what signals a huge shift in the country’s foreign policy. The Macri administration had taken steps for Argentina to become a member between 2015 and 2019, but these had been stopped by the Fernández administration.
In conclusion, the cultural significance of Milei’s inauguration could not have been higher. By clearly stating the depth of the crisis caused by left-wing policies and that the way out of the crisis is through economic liberalism, the new President has set a high bar for all future successors. Now, it will be time to deliver.
Marcos Falcone is the Project Manager of Fundación Libertad and a regular contributor to Forbes Argentina. His writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, National Review, and Reason, among others. He is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.