Monday, November 16, 2009

Milton Friedman and the Destruction of Argentina

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

It is just as important to study Milton Friedman as Leo Strauss, in understanding Canada's neoconservative movement.

Friedman is one of the authors of the "shock therapy" economic system, where disasters are created or exploited, by the corporate sector. Free Marketeers will call it progress. Others see it as shocking and inhumane.

Because in order for the U.S. to control a foreign nation's economy, an authoritarian is needed, and that authoritarian is often a ruthless dictator. Case in point, Augustus Pinochet in Chile.

If you read Lawrence Martin's Harperland, or Christian Nadeau's Rogue in Power, you'll see how Stephen Harper took control, using ruthless means, and is now in a position to implement Friedman's policies. A bloodless coup.

Argentina's Shock Therapy

In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher says of Argentina:
Whatever the Argentineans thought about it at the time ... the Falklands War provided a shock which brought first democracy and more recently, under President Menem, the economic benefits of free-market policies. Inflation has been brought down and a far-reaching privatization programme has been undertaken. Subsidies, regulation and tariffs have all been cut. Economic growth has sharply accelerated.
A little "shock" was good for them, says the lady who once declared that there was "no such thing as society".

In their book Commanding Heights, Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, provide a bit of insight into the pre-coup Argentina, and what Thatcher called a "black economy".
Argentina had long been an economic paradox. How did a country that was one of the world's richest in the first decades of the twentieth century, end up in such economic disorder? A good part of the answer rested with Juan Peron. He is now best remembered, of course, as the husband of Evita, but in the years after World War II he was the embodiment of populism with an almost fascist tinge. Building on the prewar popularity of fascist ideas, Peron turned Argentina into a corporatist country, with powerful organized interest groups, big business, labor unions, military, farmers—that negotiated with the state and with each other for position and resources. He incited nationalist passions, stoked pretensions of grandeur, and pursued stridently anti-American policies. He nationalized large parts of the economy and put up trade barriers to defend them. He cut Argentina's links to the world economy which had been one of its great sources of wealth—embedded inflation in the society, and destroyed the foundations of sound economic growth. (2)
Viewed through a free-market lens, Peron would have been a disaster. So many opportunities for profit going to waste.

Peron was no saint, but according to Namomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine, life for Argentines was not as bad as suggested. Protectionism made many things unaffordable ($2000 just to install a phone), but the welfare state was alive and well. And like Chile, before their U.S. financed coup, the country had just undergone an intellectual revolution, where the arts thrived.

By the 1950s, Argentina had the largest middle class on the continent. Juan Peron had introduced Keynesian style economics "pouring public money into infrastructure projects such as highways and steel plants, giving local businesses generous subsidies to build their new factories, churning out cars and washing machines, and keeping out foreign imports with forbiddingly high tariffs." (3)

Naturally, this was anathema to the free marketeers, and when Peron died and his widow Isabel named leader, they sprang into action. From Henry Kissinger's records, recently made public, we learn that the U.S. were behind the 1976 coup that initiated the Argentine shock therapy.

Wages fell to 40% of what they had been and poverty became the norm.

But worse, was the wave of terror, under the planted dictator, General Jorge Videla, that followed the Chilean blueprint, to the Milton Friedman letter. According to Klein's Shock Doctrine:
When someone was targeted to be eliminated, a fleet of military vehicles showed up at that person's home or workplace and cordoned off the block, often with a helicopter buzzing overhead. In broad daylight and in full view of the neighbours, police or soldiers battered down the door and dragged out the victim, who often shouted his or her name before disappearing into a waiting Ford Falcon, in the hope that news of the event would reach the family.

Some "covert" operations were even more brazen: police were known to board crowded city buses and drag passengers off by their hair. In the city of Santa Fe, a couple was kidnapped right at the altar on their wedding day in front of a church filled with people."

The public character of terror did not stop with the initial capture. Once in custody, prisoners in Argentina were taken to one of more than three hundred torture camps across the country. Many of them were located in densely populated residential areas; one of the most notorious in a former athletic club on a busy street in Buenos Aires, another in a schoolhouse in central Bahia Blanca and yet another in a wing of a working hospital. At these torture centres, military vehicles sped in and out at odd hours, screams could be heard through the badly insulated walls and strange, body-shaped parcels were spotted being carried in and out, all silently registered by the nearby residents.

The Argentine junta was particularly sloppy about disposing of its victims. A country walk could end in horror because mass graves were barely concealed. Bodies would show up in public garbage bins, missing fingers and teeth (much as they do today in Iraq), or they would wash ashore on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, sometimes half a dozen at a time, after one of the junta's "death flights." On occasion, they even rained down from helicopters into farmers' fields."

All Argentines were in some way enlisted as witnesses to the erasure of their fellow citizens, yet most people claimed not to know what was going on. (much like Nazi Germany). There is a phrase Argentines use to describe the paradox of wide-eyed knowing and eyes-closed terror that was the dominant state of mind in those years: "We did not know what nobody could deny." (4)
As Canada is now in the throes of its own shock therapy, the need for torture chambers are not necessary.

We have our authoritarian leader in Stephen Harper, who allows no dissent. Witch hunts are now the norm, and while people don't disappear, their careers are ruined or threatened, if they dare to challenge.

The G-20 saw the worst human rights abuses and mass arrests in Canadian history; and police brutality at protests like the one over the Prison Farm closures, saw no age barrier. Those from 14 to 88 were victimized.

We are now part of the Shock Doctrine under the Harper regime, and what is happening in our country is just as shocking to many, as they were in places like Chile and Argentina.

And "the paradox of wide-eyed knowing and eyes-closed terror", was evident, when despite the horrors of the G-20, many Canadians simply shrugged and said "you should have stayed home".


1. The Path to Power, By Margaret Thatcher, Harper Collins, 1995, ISBN: 0-06-017270-3, Pg. 583

2. The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy, By Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, Touchstone, 2002, ISBN: 0-684-82975-4, Pg. 242

3. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, By Naomi Klein, Vintage Canada, 2007, ISBN: 978-0-676-97801-8, Pg. 63

4. Klein, 2007, Pg. 106-107

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