Pinochet vs. the Free Market

I haven’t been posting much to this blog lately, for obvious reasons. However, I did involve myself in a discussion in response to another blog’s post recently.

To make a long(ish) story short(ish), Glenn Greenwald was disturbed to see the Washington Post praising recently deceased Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet. He drew parallels between US support for Pinochet’s foreign lawlessness back then and support for domestic lawlessness today (note that he did not draw explicit parallels between Bush and Pinochet – he’s not dumb, and he’s not dishonest [Greenwald, not Bush or Pinochet]). I felt that the Post’s editorial was less awful than Greenwald felt it was, and I posted a comment to that effect.

I argued that, as a historical case study (as opposed to a model on which to base one’s own plans), Pinochet’s ‘free-market’ economic policies are distinct from the violent poitical oppression of his regime. I made some facile comparisons between Castro and Pinochet and argued that the relative stability of Chile over the years was due, at least in part, to Pinochet’s economic policies.

Others shot back that Pinochet’s economic policies weren’t even that beneficial, that they don’t justify the political oppression (which I explicitly agreed with, even before this ‘objection’ was made to my argument), that welfare states ‘just work’, that laissez faire capitalism is equivalent to Dicken’s London, and that I am a lying Nazi-sympathizer (way to respect the level of discourse that Glenn studiously maintains, ‘truth machine’!).

I don’t actually know that much about Pinochet’s economic policies. It may well be the case that they were not good for Chile. It does seem to be the case that Chile has been more economically stable, and more economically healthy, than most other Latin American countries for much longer, but I’m happy to admit that this could be for reasons independent of Pinochet’s economics. I remain unconvinced that welfare states ‘just work’ and that laissez faire capitalism is a bad idea. In addition, I value honesty very highly and, for what it’s worth, I’m not a big fan of the Nazis.

All that said, it’s kind of embarrassing to admit that this morning – a full two days after getting into the discussion at Unclaimed Territory – it occurred to me that Pinochet’s economics and politics are not, in fact, separate. I am pro free market primarily because I don’t like the idea of someone else making my decisions for me. It seems to me that no government official, whether democratically elected or installed from abroad, has the wisdom to plan an economy better than the mass of humanity participating in a market can. There’s certainly no reason to think that any government officials are better suited than individuals are to make day to day decisions about who to associate with, what to buy, what to sell, or how hard to work. I think everyone would be better off, at least in the long run, if they had the opportunities afforded them by free markets.

It should have been obvious to me on Tuesday that imprisoning, torturing, and murdering political opponents is 100% antithetical to these values. It is as clear as day (today anyway) that Pinochet’s political oppression of Chileans represents an utter lack of respect for private property, a crucial underpinning of any truly free market. After all, if a person’s self is not owned by that person, then what is?

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