The Chicago Boys and Chilean Politics

The clash of political philosophies is an ongoing human saga. History is filled with the good, the bad and the ugly when opposing views collide. The writers of history can shape opinion and even alter the significance of the past.

The story of the Chicago Boys and their rise to fame from the University of Chicago circa 1957 to Chilean politics in the 70′s and 80′s is an extraordinary one. However, the story gets muddled because of the tactics used by Augusto Pinochet to turn a country around. Shamefully, it also gives some historians an opening to blame the applied economic principles for much of the subsequent strife that took place during Pinochet’s rule. The “Miracle of Chile”, though, lives on as one of the bright spots in Chile’s rise to economic success.

Let’s first go back in time, way before this group of Chilean students were under the tutelage of Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger at the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago. Political philosophy can shape entire nations and Augusto Pinochet, although widely criticized as a dictator, was fond of American-style freedom. His political outlook was influenced by a fellow Chilean statesman back in the 1800′s by the name of Diego Portales, who believed in a strong republican form of government. Portales wrote to a friend in 1822: “Politics doesn’t interest me, but as a good citizen I feel free to express my opinions and to censure the government. Democracy, which is so loudly proclaimed by the deluded, is an absurdity in our countries, flooded as they are with vices and with their citizens lacking all sense of civic virtue, the prerequisite to establishing a real Republic. But monarchy is not the American ideal either; if we get out of one terrible government just to jump headlong into another, what will we have gained? The Republican system is the one which we must adopt, but do you know how I interpret it for our countries? A strong central government whose representatives will be men of true virtue and patriotism, and who thus can direct the citizens along the path of order and progress.” In many of Pinochet’s words, he edified this sentiment during a time when Marxism was running rampant throughout South America. He stood strong against communism and its economic destruction. He took over rule of Chile in 1974 after his military junta overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende. Pinochet then swung the door wide open for the economic ideas proposed by the Chicago Boys.

Here’s where the clash of ideologies ignited into tragic human drama. Many of those opposing Pinochet were dealt with harshly and, although great economic principles of freedom were moving an entire country closer to prosperity, an iron-fisted military approach to dissenters became Pinochet’s black eye. It is important to note here that the freer the economy is from governmental control the better. It’s unfortunate those fundamental ideals of economic freedom were so virulently rejected by those opposed to Pinochet. While I’m not advocating his methods, eradicating communism was his noble goal. Although government plays a role in securing our freedoms, even contrasting ideas should be recognized as a freedom worth protecting. Unless lawlessness and violence take root, the state must restrain from using force. Under Augusto Pinochet, there were no holds barred.

This raises some questions on political thought and civil society. At what point do dissenters become enemies of the state? Who is to judge if the people protesting the government or those in power are to blame? Snuffing out people with evil ideas doesn’t always translate to political victory, but protecting good citizens from violent mobs is warranted. There seems to be no end to hard line leftists and those complicit with their horrible ideas. The tragedy is when they become destructive to Liberty or are in places of power in government.

So, what’s the answer? Well first, remember elections have consequences; so find good candidates and help them get elected. But the real key is easily found in true American principles and values. Virtue and knowledge, being necessary for Liberty, must be dispensed among the public. We just need to educate future generations of our American miracle and teach them to protect Liberty at all hazards.

In Liberty,