In Chile, The Failure Is Not The Model But Its Defenders

Protestors in Chile (el Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, Santiago November 2, 2019 — What happened recently in Chile is not the result of the failure of its development model, but of its success. What has failed is a short-sighted center-right government incapable of managing the profound transformations that model’s success made essential. In short, it is not the model but its defenders who have failed.

Chile’s progress over the past thirty years has been extraordinary, turning Chile from a fairly mediocre country into the brightest star in the region. It has been, by far, the society with the greatest reduction of poverty, generalized increase in welfare, expansion of higher education, expansion of middle classes and social mobility. Even inequality, although still too high, has been reduced.

According to data provided by Michelle Bachelet’s former finance minister, Rodrigo Valdés, the Gini coefficient fell from 0.573 to 0.477 between 1990 and 2015. In that time the disposable income of the poorest increased much faster than that of the richest (the income of the richest ten percent increased by 208% between 1990 and 2015, while that of the bottom ten percent increased by 439%). continue reading

This extraordinary progress has generated a country totally different from the one that existed thirty years ago. Its social composition and standards of living have changed substantially, but also the ways of perceiving what is just and unjust, what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is dignified and unworthy. This has profoundly altered social demands and what until recently defined the aspirations and common sense of society has become obsolete.

President Sebastián Piñera recently used a well-known phrase spread by Mario Benedetti that synthesized what recently happened to the defenders of the model, and even to some of its detractors: “when we thought we had all the answers, suddenly, all the questions changed”.

However, in this case, these events did not occur right away. It became evident as early as 2011, when new qualitative questions about the justice of society were given old quantitative answers about growth rates or the level of GDP per capita. But this gap between new questions and old answers has become even more evident in recent days.

Basically there was, and still is, a deep misunderstanding about what I called already in 2007 the “malaise of success”, which has to do with what in the 1950s was called the “revolution of rising expectations”. Basically there was, and still is, a deep misunderstanding about what I called already in 2007 the “malaise of success”, which has to do with what in the 1950s was called the “revolution of rising expectations”.

This phenomenon is especially prominent in a country like Chile, which left extreme poverty behind in such a short amount of time, saw the emergence of broad middle classes and experienced an unprecedented educational expansion that multiplied the number of students by ten in the span of three decades.

Such a situation puts the country on its head in the face of the paradox of relative poverty, whereby the feeling of poverty can increase at the same time as poverty is drastically reduced. Absolute poverty is about fighting for the most basic things in life, while relative poverty is about everything one could want but not get, and the latter grows exponentially when we can lift our eyes above the most pressing and our horizons are broadened by greater access to education and the media. Frustration and discontent can grow despite our progress, not least when others enjoy what we lack.

At the same time, there is growing anguish at the possibility of losing the social gains recently won, thus giving rise to what the German sociologist Ulrich Beck called a “risk society” (Risikogesellschaft), dominated by the feeling of insecurity and precariousness in the face of an endless number of contingencies that may threaten the foundations of our lives.

Meanwhile, to the extent that the most basic needs are satisfied, there is, especially among young people, a shift in priorities. According to the concepts that Ronald Inglehart coined to understand the European youth revolt of 1968, as welfare increases societies move from “materialistic values”, characteristic of the hard struggle for subsistence, to “post-materialistic values”, where preferences tend to be directed towards “a good life” and personal self-realization. In this way the material conquests previously reached are devalued, or even despised, in order to orient themselves towards the search for a different society, defined as more human, collaborative, altruistic and egalitarian.

Therefore, it represents a confluence of situations and demands of a very varied nature, which in a given moment – the one we are living now, for example – combine to create what Ernesto Laclau has called, in his book on Populist Reason, an “equivalential chain” of discontents and negations, where the repudiation of a series of very dissimilar situations unites and makes a very broad and diverse spectrum of rejection and change wills equivalent. There is no common social project, but there is a common rejection, and it is precisely this that creates the conditions that, added to a “void of representation” on the part of the existing political elites, make a chaotic and open moment such as the one we are experiencing possible.

The emergence of this broad and multifaceted rejection of something diffuse that some call “the (neoliberal) model” or, to put it more concretely, a society of abuse, injustice and insecurity, is the paradoxical result of the progress gained when it coincides with the failure of its defenders to understand the new demands that arise from that progress and to propose, in a vigorous manner, the reforms necessary to structure a new social pact that is equal to the development achieved, especially in terms of inclusion, equity, the fight against abuses, equality of opportunities and solidarity.

As the current government testifies, it is not that some valuable efforts have not been made in that direction, but they have clearly been insufficient. The prolongation of a series of “social emergencies” – such as the generally miserable level of pensions, the high pharmaceutical costs or the brutal impact of “catastrophic diseases” — of blatant abuses — such as automatic TAG (automated toll) hikes or other motorway tolls — or violent price hikes for basic services — such as electricity or transport — have been fatal.

But then there are the more fundamental shortcomings, such as those affecting public health or education, and, more generally, the lack of a social safety net to ensure a minimum of dignity and a safeguard against unforeseen events, especially in view of the neglected demands of the new middle classes.

The dogmatic defense of the current tax rates, particularly for the wealthiest and most income earning sectors, has been a key impediment to progress in this direction. However, so has the anachronistic fixation on a social policy focused on the Chicago School, that is to say, that only points to the needs of the poorest.

Ignoring the need to build a modern welfare state, that is, without monopolies and that combines significant levels of redistribution and equality of opportunities with citizen empowerment and freedom of choice and enterprise in the areas of welfare guaranteed for all citizens (as in the case of countries such as Sweden), has been nefarious.

Today we are faced with such a crisis of legitimacy of the prevailing system that the doors are opened to raise, and even accept, all kinds of nonsense, such as chavista assemblyism, plebiscite democracy, public monopolies or fiscal indiscipline.

Today’s panic is spreading among many who did not know how to defend the model of development that has brought us so much progress, instead reforming it in due time and attending to social urgencies in a forceful way.

When the doors to evolution are closed, they can be opened to revolution and disorder. As Arturo Alessandri so often said, it is necessary to advance “without hesitation along the paths of evolution to avoid revolution and upheaval.” This should be the greatest lesson of these dark days.

Mauricio Rojas is a researcher at the Department of Economics and Business of the Universidad del Desarrollo, in Santiago de Chile, and a Senior Fellow of the Fundación para el Progreso.

Translated by: Rafael Osorio


The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. You can help crowdfund a current project to develop an in depth multimedia report on dengue fever in Cuba; the goal is modest, only $2,000. Even small donations by a lot of people will add up fast. Thank you!

From the Left Wave to the Right Tsunami

The Latin American left continues to crumble, in the image above one is still president and another has been able to leave a faithful successor. Left to Right: President Morales (Bolivia) and former presidents Chavez (Venezuela), Castro (Cuba), and Lula (Brazil)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, Santiago de Chile | 23 Marzo 2019 — Ten years ago the Latin American left was in a situation unparalleled in the history of the region: never before had it been as influential or controlled as many governments as it did then.

Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Alan García in Peru, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, Mauricio Funes in El Salvador and Fidel Castro in Cuba were part of a broad and diverse political family that seemed unstoppable.

By that time, very few could have imagined that just a few years later this great family would be in ruins and even less that a true right-wing tsunami could become the most transcendent legacy of the leftist wave.

It’s the economy, stupid

The fundamental explanation of the rise and fall of the Latin American left is relatively simple and can be summarized with the help of Bill Clinton’s famous saying: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The beginning of its meteoric rise was the triumph of Hugo Chávez in the Venezuelan presidential election of December 1998, and its context is given by the difficult times that Latin America experienced from the collapse, at the beginning of the 80s, of the model of “inward-directed development” that the region had followed since the 1930s. continue reading

The successes of the left were consolidated during the first decade of the new millennium with the help of the enormous abundance of resources generated by the export boom that began at the beginning of 2000 and ended during the first half of the decade of 2010. Then came the economic crisis, the scandals of corruption, the great electoral defeats and, in certain cases, like Venezuela, the dictatorial abyss and the humanitarian catastrophe, but also the emergence of leaders, such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, with a political domicile located at the antipodes of 21st century socialism and other variants of Latin American leftism.

The background of the leftist surge must be sought in the 1980s and 1990s, when the region experienced the harsh consequences of the collapse of the type of economy that prevailed for half a century inspired by a development strategy based on import substitution, protectionism and extensive state intervention.

The failure of this strategy, theorized and disseminated in the post-war period by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL by its initials in Spanish), became evident not only because of its inability to meet the demands of progress of the great majorities of the region, but also because of recurrent economic instability and ever greater dependence on traditional exports that increased the vulnerability of a development model that, paradoxically, had the great goal of reducing this dependence and the vulnerability it produced.

The debt crisis in the early 1980s resulted, first, in long economic recessions and then in painful attempts to restructure what were “greenhouse economies” dominated by patronage, privilege and connivance with politics. The consequences were dramatic: poverty increased from 134 to 225 million people between 1980 and 2002. In addition, that year recorded record levels of economic inequality: the regional average of the Gini coefficient reached 0.55 and the richest 10% of Latin Americans had income that was 14.4 times higher than the poorest 10 percent (data from CEPAL).

In Venezuela, to give just one example, per capita income fell by 28% towards the end of the 1980s compared to the level reached a decade earlier. In turn, poverty came to be estimated among more than half of the country’s population, something that is hard to imagine in the country that in the ’50s was not only the richest in Latin America, but one of the richest in the world.

The most visible and dramatic result was the so-called Caracazo, an unprecedented social outbreak that began on February 27, 1989 and lasted for a week throughout Venezuela, leaving hundreds or perhaps thousands dead in its wake, an impressive material devastation. No wonder Moisés Naím has said, referring to February 27 and its impact on the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez and the democracy that Venezuela had experienced since 1958: “That day Pérez fell and democracy fell.” And it can be added that, also that day, the winding road began that led first to the failed coup of then-Lieutenant-Colonel Hugo Chavez in February 1992 and then to his overwhelming electoral victory in December 1998.

From bullets to votes

The statistics and events just referred to give us the context in which the leftist wave emerges, particularly in its more populist and radical versions. The potential demand for leaders and movements that promised a rapid reduction of poverty and inequalities through redistributive policies was great.

In this sense, the charismatic leadership of Hugo Chávez came to give a face to a widespread desire to achieve better living conditions and more social justice without delay. The fact that the “eternal commander” could have practically unlimited resources, thanks to the nationalized oil already in 1976, to carry out his policies made him enormously popular, creating the illusion that it was enough the will of a messianic leader to liberate the poor of their painful condition, without putting the old elites in their place and challenging the power of the United States.

In this way, Chávez was able to occupy the place of redeemer and display the powerful attraction once enjoyed by Fidel Castro. Thus, the radical left could go on the offensive throughout the region, coordinated by the Sao Paulo Forum and financed by the petrodollars that Chávez used at will.

One of the most significant effects of Hugo Chávez’s rapid rise to Latin American left-wing stardom was a change in strategy by the region’s militant left. Instead of considering a guerrilla war or a revolutionary coup as a way to get to power, they now turn to the use of democratic electoral mechanisms. The means change, but the ends are maintained. And the result was undoubtedly much more encouraging than that obtained by Castro’s strategy during the 60s and 70s, at least while maintaining the large flow of income from what would be the largest export boom in the history of Latin America.

The leftist wave initiated by Hugo Chávez would consolidate with a series of important electoral victories. In this way, Lula da Silva and Néstor Kirchner came to the presidency of Brazil and Argentina in 2003, Evo Morales to that of Bolivia in 2006, Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa to that of Nicaragua and Ecuador in 2007, and Mauricio Funes to El Salvador in 2009. To this wave of successes must be added, although they belong to a much more respectable and quiet branch of the leftist family, the victory of Ricardo Lagos in the second round of the Chilean presidential election of January 2000 and the one of Tabaré Vázquez, at the head of Frente Amplio, in Uruguay in November 2004.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

During this time — the first decade of 2000 — the export boom was taking off and poverty decreased throughout the region as a result of the economic growth generated by the export plethora combined with various redistributive policies. For the year 2011, CEPAL statistics report a decrease of 44 million poor compared to the figure for 2002.

In countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, poverty was reduced by half between 2002 and 2012, while in Venezuela the percentage of the poor fell from 49.4% in 1999 to 25.4% in 2012, that is, during the last full year in which Hugo Chávez governed. The distribution of income also became more egalitarian and the Gini coefficient fell below 0.4 in Uruguay and Venezuela, which is something very unusual in the history of Latin America.

The extraordinary magnitude of the export boom was the engine of this rapid but, as it would soon be demonstrated, fragile progress. To look again at the example of Venezuela, it can be pointed out that the value of its exports increased 5.5 times between 1998, the year before Hugo Chávez came to power, and 2012.

This implies that during his 14 years as president Chavez had an income surplus of more than $530 billion compared to the average income of Venezuelan oil exports during the decade prior to his government. This was the abundant manna from the sky that Chávez used to consolidate his increasingly personalistic and authoritarian government, as well as to subsidize the decrepit economy of Cuba and spread the Chavista doctrine, 21st Century Socialism, throughout Latin America.

Then came the fall into the abyss: the value of Venezuelan exports decreased by 75%, some 70 billion dollars between 2012 and 2016. But this fall and the consequent collapse of the Venezuelan economy under the government of Nicolás Maduro was due not only to the reduction of oil prices. Of equal importance was the disastrous economic management that has burdened all sectors of the Venezuelan economy, including the production of oil that today is at pitiful levels.

Among the most dramatic consequences of the economic disaster have been thousands of perfectly preventable deaths, a poverty that according to the latest estimates of the Survey of Living Conditions (Encovi), carried out by three prestigious Venezuelan universities, totals around 90% of the population, and a wave of emigration never before seen in the region that already exceeds 10% of the inhabitants of the country and that, according to the United Nations, could reach 5.3 million people by the end of 2019.

The evolution in other Latin American countries was similar, but without reaching the extremes of Venezuela. In the case of Brazil, the income generated by exports multiplied 5.3 times between 1999 and 2011, and then, between 2011 and 2016, fell by a third. This was enough to lead Brazil to a serious economic crisis that reduced per capita income by 9% in 2015-2016 and put an end to the long cycle of governments of the Workers Party, which continued from the time Lula da Silva assumed power, in 2003, until Dilma Rousseff was deposed in mid-2016. In Argentina something similar happened and in December 2015 ended the long era of the Kirchner spouses that started in 2003.

Other leftist populist leaders, such as Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua — countries that experienced export booms comparable or superior to what happened in Venezuela or Brazil — have refused to relinquish power in the face of growing popular resistance and take the path of turning their countries into open dictatorships. In another case, that of Ecuador, the revolt against the populist authoritarianism of Rafael Correa came from within his own movement, the PAIS Alliance, and was headed by the current president Lenin Moreno, making Correa a fugitive from Ecuadorian justice for abuse of power.

In this sad way, in the midst of deep economic crises, serious corruption scandals and the rise of rampant dictatorships, the democratic path towards authoritarianism exhausted the capacity of the populist left to win elections by distributing donations generously financed by exports. Democracy was no longer useful and to preserve power and stay out of jail, only repression remained.

First comes morality, then food

The Latin American left is today, with few exceptions, in the greatest possible discredit. The kingdom of abundance and social justice it promised vanished when the vast resources of exports were exhausted and none of the great problems of Latin America was solved, quite the contrary. This refers in particular to the already traditional fragility of its institutions, which has been one of the great obstacles to achieving sustainable development. It is about the most basic thing: to be able to trust the authorities, the existence of the rule of law, protection against crime and violence.

The great resources generated by the export boom were used, to a significant extent, to further undermine an already fragile rule of law, distort democratic institutions and pay for the emergence of huge networks of corruption and crime.

These are the circumstances that today decisively mark the political course of Latin America, generating an increasingly broad demand for the restoration of those essential pillars of all civilized life: legality and decent codes of moral conduct. More and more Latin Americans have understood that things are exactly the reverse of Bertold Brecht’s famous phrase of  in the Threepenny Opera: (“Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral”; “First comes food, then morality”); first comes morality and then food. Without respect for basic moral norms or the law, there is no food on the table or any security to stay alive. Law and order is today the popular cry most heard south of the Rio Grande. It is not really about the left or the right, but about something much simpler and more vital: establishing the foundations of a civilized life.

The recent elections of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of Mexico (July 2018), of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (October 2018) and of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador (February 2019) have dealt with it. The rhetoric may have been left or right, but in all these cases their great victories have had a common source: a massive protest against the corrupt elites and a desperate demand for protection in the face of the dramatic escalation of violence, illegality and crime these three countries experience. Triumphant candidates have been seen as outsiders uncontaminated by the existing corruption, and their great promise has been to restore order and the foundations of civility. Everything else has been less important.

Of course, it is not the first time that an outsider comes to power in Latin America through major electoral victories and promises to put the house in order and end the corruption of political or economic elites. It is about the classic ingredients of the figure of the populist leader: presenting himself as the true voice of the people who stands up against the selfish and dishonest elite. This has been the case, just to mention some examples, of Juan Perón in Argentina in 1946, Alberto Fujimori in Peru in 1990, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998 and Jimmy Morales in Guatemala in 2015.

Now, the result of the exercise of power by these outsiders has not been at all encouraging, tending towards an authoritarian personalism that has seriously damaged or simply made democracy disappear. In the end, the remedy has been worse than the disease and in the present cases nobody should underestimate the risk of something similar happening. We will see what happens with time, but there is no doubt that Latin America is living more and more in the era of desperate hope or, to put it another way, in the era of the electoral lottery where no one knows for sure what he is choosing or what it will mean for the country.

From the left populist wave to the right tsunami

The most surprising thing in this context is the emergence, as a reaction to the economic and institutional devastation produced by the wave of the populist left, of a radical right led by an outsider who learned to use populist rhetoric against the populists and does so with total disregard for the prevailing political correctness. This is the new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who comes to give a continental resonance to the political style of Donald Trump and who will have, given the enormous weight of Brazil, a decisive influence on the future of South America.

What has remained evident after the disastrous left-wing populist experience is the total collapse of the moral superiority and democratic legitimacy that the Latin American left achieved as a result of the violence and human rights violations of the region’s right-wing military dictatorships against whom they prevailed during the final decades of the Cold War. Today this is history.

The pro democracy and human rights farce has been unmasked by the dictatorial violence exerted by the leftist regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua with the active or passive complicity of almost all the rest of the Latin American left. Today it is evident to all that they were against the dictatorship and against human rights violations as long as they were not themselves the ones who exercised violence in the name of socialism.

Moreover, the corruption scandals that have resulted in many of their great leaders ending up in prison or at the prison gates do nothing but complete the picture of a complete moral and political debacle. Behind the masks of populist rhetoric and the fiery proclamations of the Forum of Sao Paulo was hidden a multitude of despicable tyrants and thieves. They deservedly won generalized opprobrium and it only remains to hope that they do not cause even more damage than they already have, and leave the peoples of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia to live in freedom.

At the end of the day, the result of the leftist wave seems to be one of those clever stories that Hegel told us that lead to an outcome that is the absolute opposite of that imagined by its protagonists. In this case, the most important legacy of the leftist wave initiated by Hugo Chavez in 1998 can end up being a tsunami of continental magnitude of a new radical right.


Mauricio Rojas is a researcher at the Faculty of Economics and Business at Chile’s Universidad del Desarrollo and a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Progress

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Marx, Human Rights And Freedom / 14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas

The issue of human rights is comprehensive and explicitly developed by Marx in his essay 'On the Jewish Question'. (CC)
The issue of human rights is comprehensive and explicitly developed by Marx in his essay ‘On the Jewish Question’. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, Santiago de Chile, 2 November 2016 — Recently I sent a tweet that surprised some people. In it I said: “G[uillermo] Teillier, president of the PC [Communist Party], criticizes defense of human rights in Venezuela. Nothing unusual. Marx wanted to abolish them for their selfishness and opposition to the collective.” The surprising thing was not, by the way, the part about Guillermo Teillier, acknowledged admirer of dictatorships such as North Korea and Cuba, but about Marx. Thus, I would like to expand on this issue, a key to understanding Marxism, in a way that the brevity of Twitter did not allow me to do.

The issue of human rights is broadly and explicitly developed by Marx in his essay On the Jewish Question (Zur Judenfrage), published in early 1844 in the Franco-German Annals. In this text, Marx directed harsh criticism at the beginning of the significance of human rights such as those embodied in the celebrated American and French declarations of the same. These rights are criticized for being, in his judgment, the expression of man as a selfish being, the quintessential superior right of the individual versus the collective or society. continue reading

Marx’s words, in this regard, deserve to be quoted at some length because we are in the presence, here, of the anti-liberal essence of the paradigm that will form the nucleus itself of the future Marxist ideology:

“Above all, we note the fact that the so-called rights of man, the droits de l’homme as distinct from the droits du citoyen, are nothing but the rights of a member of civil society – i.e., the rights of egoistic man, of man separated from other men and from the community. […]None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoistic man, beyond man as a member of civil society – that is, an individual withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and private caprice, and separated from the community. In the rights of man, he is far from being conceived as a species-being; on the contrary, species-life itself, society, appears as a framework external to the individuals, as a restriction of their original independence.”

For Marx the only important rights are political rights, that is, those of the citizens in their capacity as such. In this way, and like Hegel, man ceases to exist in himself, to be reduced to a member of the State (or the politically organized community) and the rights that are recognized are as a citizen. That is why Marx can not understand how the French could create a kind of rights that are only obstacles to collective political will, rights that create a sphere that is beyond politics or the collective:

“It is puzzling enough that a people which is just beginning to liberate itself, to tear down all the barriers between its various sections, and to establish a political community, that such a people solemnly proclaims (Declaration of 1791) the rights of egoistic man separated from his fellow men and from the community.”

What Marx wants is the total society, encompassing everything without barriers – that is without individual rights that impose limits – between man and the social collective represented by the state. That is, exactly, the essence of the original definition of the concepts of the totalitarian state and totalitarianism, as Mussolini had already used it in the 1920s: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

It is precisely this totalitarian way of seeing things that makes Marx manifest a particular distaste for the idea of freedom, as individual freedom, as expressed in the French Constitution of 1793 where it says (Article 6, which is just a repetition of the famous declaration of 1791, that “freedom is the power of man to do anything that does not prejudice the rights of another.” In the face of this, Marx says:

” Liberty, therefore, is the right to do everything that harms no one else. The limits within which anyone can act without harming someone else are defined by law, just as the boundary between two fields is determined by a boundary post. It is a question of the liberty of man as an isolated monad, withdrawn into himself.”

For this very classic freedom, which is the essence of liberalism, neither Marx nor the Marxists have the slightest sympathy. Nor will other totalitarians such as the Italian fascists, the German Nazis or the Islamic fundamentalists.

The obvious continuity between Hegel and Marx in this area should not, however, hide the important difference between the conservative realism of totalitarian thinking of Hegel and revolutionary utopian totalitarianism of Marx.

The totality of Hegel is a heterogeneous, differentiated and hierarchically organized society, i.e. social diversity organized as an organic whole within the “rational State.” Individuals continue to be different and therefore unequal, according to the social role and their place in this totality.

Marx cannot accept this solution, which for him does nothing but keep the divisions of the past. His totalitarianism is radically leveling and is expressed by him and the idea of a future society in which the abolition of all difference and heterogeneity is achieved. It is about, in other words, the dream of a “homogenous society,” to use the expression that the Italian philosopher Lucio Colletti used to describe Marx’s Utopia, that is a society without classes, hierarchies or interest groups, in which State and civil society are reunified like the collective and individuals. This totalitarian and egalitarian Utopia is, apparently, the framework of the communist dream of Marx and his followers.

Marx, however, goes beyond the pure idea of the emergence of a homogeneous mass society. He also raises the idea of renewal of the human being and the birth of a new man, to use the expression popularized Che Guevara. In a manner reminiscent of medieval messianic mysticism he raises the emergence of what we might call the “man-kind”, that is, a man amalgamated with the human species, with the collective of men. This is the radical disappearance of the individual as a unique and irreducible reality. Thus, disappearing the individual will disappear individualism and with it, all social division. His words deserve, for all they say about the mystical-religious essence of Marxism, to be carefully meditated on:

“Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognized and organized his “own powers” as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.”

To achieve the goal of definitively emancipating man from all alienation and creating this new man who is the “man-species” for Marx there is not other option but to eliminate the true essence of modern society that is none other than private interest and profit motive, and its base is the power of private property and money. This is what Marx at this point in his evolution designated with the expression Judenthum (Judaism), since according to him the very essence of Judaism is none other than this capitalist attitude taken to its extreme. His words, which seem straight out of a Nazi anti-Semitic pamphlet, are strong (the emphases are Marx):

“Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.”

That is why, in his view, the suppression of all this will involve the final elimination of Judaism:

” Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time. An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible.”

With this, according to Marx, the Jewish religion itself would end with this change as “[The Jew’s] religious consciousness would be dissipated like a thin haze in the real, vital air of society.”

In the final paragraphs of On the Jewish Question all the ends are tied up. The idea of the end of the Jew as such merges with the idea of the end of the individual in what would be the grand finale of the divided and troubled life of the human species and the emergence of the man-species (emphasis Marx):

“Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished.”

These are the ideas that will be reflected in the proposal communist of Marx and his followers, and this is why they despise democracy. In his view, this political system, with its diversity of parties and its competitive elections, is nothing but an expression of “bourgeois society” in which individualist selfishness reigns and opposes various classes and interests. They speak, therefore, disparagingly of “bourgeois democracy” and confronting it will rise the Utopia of the society-community, society of comradeship, altruism, the new man and the only party, as in Cuba or North Korea.


Editor ‘s note: this analysis has previously been published in the online journal El Líbero. It is reproduced with the permission of the author. Mauricio Rojas is director of the Adam Smith Chair of the University of Development (Chile).

Translator’s note: Translations of Marx are taken from this site.

The Alternative To Socialism: A Solidarity Market Economy / 14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas

Some children observe their homes in the commune of Peñalol east of Santiago de Chile. (EFE)
Some children observe their homes in the commune of Peñalol east of Santiago de Chile. (EFE)

Chile uneasy with success

14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, Santiago de Chile, 9 September 2016 — Since 2011 the Chilean left has launched a search for “another model,” an alternative to the social market economy that has led the country to remarkable economic and social successes over the last thirty years. Much ink has been spilled on the “inhumanity” of a model that, paradoxically, has lifted millions of Chileans out of poverty and transformed Chile into a middle-class country with the highest per capita income in Latin America.

However, concrete proposals on the make-up of this “other model” were conspicuous by their absence. Earlier, its supporters had bluntly advocated a socialist planned economy as an alternative, but the historical evidence has been responsible for demolishing that option. The closest thing to an alternative is that raised by Fernando Atria and others in the book The Other Model: eliminating private initiative in the areas of welfare services or the sphere of “social rights” (healthcare, education, pensions, housing), as they call them. continue reading

This would be a social democratic statist model which is not only an anachronism and has been abandoned by the most modern social democracies of northern Europe, but it is facing a growing repudiation by the Chilean people, as shown by the collapse in the polls of President Michelle Bachelet, whose approval rating is barely 15%, a drop from the 50% at the beginning of her term in March 2014.

This realization doesn’t mean that those of us who defend full respect for the social market economy shouldn’t concern ourselves with its specific forms of operation and its capacity to respond to the always changing demands of the citizens. This is the key in Chile today, where as a result of the free economic model and the tremendous progress already achieved, there are new concerns and demands about the quality, sustainability and, not least, the equity of the progress achieved.

This “uneasiness with success,” that was spectacularly demonstrated in 2011 and was initially channeled by the left, will continue to be present and will determine the Chilean political horizon for a long time. The latest massive demonstrations demanding better pensions and opposed to the system of pensions based on individual capitalization show it very clearly.

This means that those of us who want Chile to continue on its path of success cannot turn a deaf ear to these new concerns and demands, We must make them ours and channel them, but not towards a destructive questioning of the social market economy model, but toward its deepening and improvement.

In the current Chilean case this corresponds, in my view, to putting a clear accent on the social aspect of the social market economy. It doesn’t imply ceasing to question the market, especially considering the strong questioning that day by day does the same and the situations of abuse constantly reiterated. In this sense, I believe there are very interesting viewpoints among British thinkers like Jesse Norman and Phillip Blond, who speak about the need to “moralize the market” in order to make it more efficient and ethically defendable. Leaving aside this issue to concentrate on what, it seems to me, should today be the focal point of a discussion on the social market economy: the social aspect.

Social in this case refers specifically to the need to undertake policy interventions of a redistributive character to correct the spontaneous result of market mechanisms in order to expand the resource base and opportunities available to a significant part of our society. It is, in short, about increasing equality of opportunity and I would like to give three reasons in support of the pressing need for this: the first refers to efficiency, the second to the ethics and the third to policy.


The market is undoubtedly a highly efficient distributor of existing productive resources. However, without corrective intervention may tend to underutilize potential resources, particularly those related to human capital and the talents of the population. We are facing a situation of potential “waste” or “internal brain drain” to use the expression that Sebastian Pinera used in 1976 in one of the essays that formed his doctoral thesis.

This implies that the lack of adequate conditions for its development means that a part of the productive and creative potential of society is never realized and never arrives on “the market” to be efficiently distributed. Clearly, the market creates incentives for the development of the human capital of the population, but its corrective capacity for the “disadvantages of birth” and lack of resources that limit opportunities for many is far from optimal, particularly in countries where large segments of the population lack the minimum conditions to realize their potential and contribute fully to the process of development.

This is obviously the case both in today’s Chile and in Latin America in general, and that is why this point is so important. This is, in short, a huge social waste and, not least, a tragedy for each affected person.

A little history

Economic history abounds with examples that illustrate the key importance of basic equality of opportunities for dynamic and sustainable economic growth over time. The specific content of equal opportunities has varied from era to era and was traditionally strongly related to access to land. Owning land gives the workers the ability to retain for their own benefit an important part of the benefit of its production, which could then be invested in direct productive improvements such as enhancing the education of their children, providing them with increased human capital.

The case of the United States is, in this respect, paradigmatic. The great northern nation achieved world hegemony thanks in large part to the widespread access of immigrants to land, a fact that was decisively reinforced by laws passed during the Civil War known as the Homestead Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862. This created not only a very stable society of landowners and a large domestic market, but also comparatively optimal conditions for the development of their potential talents. It was the society with the greatest equality of opportunities for its time and therefore also the most prosperous and democratic.

Such examples could easily be multiplied and we would see, almost without exception, that where land was more equally distributed, as in the Scandinavian countries, further progress was generated, and where were the large estates there was, and sometimes still is, poverty. Suffice it to compare, among other cases, the north and south of Italy or Catalonia and the Basque Country with Andalusia and Extremadura in the case of Spain.

This brief reference also tells us something very important about the historical failure of Latin America to achieve development. Large inequalities inherited from the colonial era excluded a large majority of its population from full social participation, thereby burdening the chances to reach, despite the extraordinary export boom of the late nineteenth century, lasting progress.

This is equally important in understanding the history of Chile. By the late nineteenth century the country experienced a spectacular economic boom resulting from the incorporation of the nitrate provinces of Norte Grande. In fact, between 1870 and 1910 there were very few countries whose economic growth exceeded Chile’s. In 1910 it even managed to match or exceed the per capita income of France and Sweden, not to mention Italy or Spain, but this did not lead to Chile to development, but to a frustrating and contentious twentieth century.

The reason is simple: Chile was a rich country with too much poverty and inequality and it paid dearly for the consequences of this. The manna

from the north, the saltpeter, fell on a deeply unequal society, with its great masses of “pawns,” “farmhands,” “day laborers,” “bums,” or “broken,” who remained prey to poverty, lack of educational possibilities, subordination, exclusion and social and racial contempt.

In the early twentieth century, almost two-thirds of the adult population was illiterate and unable to make a productive contribution that went beyond the basics. Their talent potential was never realized, tying so many Chileans to inherited poverty and condemning the country to underdevelopment. This is the hard lesson for us in our history and it would be very sad were we to stumble again over the same stone.


I start from the point of view that efficiency is important, but even more so are the ethical considerations about the need for corrective policy intervention in market mechanisms. From the point of view of the ideas of freedom and equal dignity of human beings, freedom cannot be the privilege of a few, but must be a real right of all. This is the fundamental ethical budget of a free society and will remain so even if a society of free men was not the most efficient alternative in economic terms.

However, the actual exercise of freedom requires conditions that have directly to do with our access to resources and basic security, without which freedom is reduced to a mere empty promise. The freedom to read books is more a mockery than a possibility for those who never had the opportunity to learn to read, freedom of information is reduced to very little when you do not have the minimum training required to process it, and the freedom of movement is nothing more than a travesty when crime takes over our streets or lack of adequate transport facilities make it, in fact, impossible or extremely costly.

In addition, the use of freedom requires, as pointed out by the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, simultaneous access to certain rights, capabilities and resources. Therefore the ethics of freedom coincides with the perspective that emphasizes the importance of basic equality of opportunities.

The capacity and resources necessary to exercise freedom will increase with the advance of progress. It is therefore important not to remain tied to an absolute concept of poverty, but also to consider it from a relative point of view, that is, as that threshold defining the exclusion of social development. This relative poverty that impedes or curtails social participation was rightly emphasized by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations and is the same as that which limits the realization of our abilities or talents. In this sense, real freedom and basic equal opportunities are two absolutely complementary terms that define the ethical view that, in my judgment, should inspire our political efforts.


The political reasons to put the emphasis on basic equal opportunities seem obvious today. Stability and social cohesion depend on the existence of a widespread sense of justice about the established order. However, the sense of what is right and therefore legitimate has evolved considerably. There was a time when hereditary inequality and hierarchies were considered legitimate, as was the power of absolute monarchs by divine grace or the limitation of freedom or political rights to a minority of the population.

All this is part of the pre-modern social universe, one that was finally subverted by the Declaration of Independence of the United States of 1776 which proclaimed, as founding principles of the legitimacy of the political order, equality as well as the respect for the lives and freedom of all (“all men are created equal … endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights … among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”).

The political history of modernity is about how to get along and to realize these values: equality, not to destroy but to strengthen the freedom, and freedom, so that does not become indifference and a lack of solidarity with others. And that is precisely the great challenge in our Chile at the end of 2014. Only by committing ourselves unambiguously to an equality that extends and strengthens freedom, that is, the basic equality of opportunities, we can successfully fight the socialist idea that seeks to homogenize us, undermine our natural diversity and sow envy.

The political legitimacy of the social order of freedom will only be solid when the overwhelming majority of Chileans feels that they had a fair opportunity to realize their potential and achieve their dreams, and that their children will as well. A just political order cannot rely on the lottery of birth, but on our common responsibility that no one lacks the basic conditions for the exercise of freedom.

In addition, only under those conditions can the greater success and wealth of some be legitimized. That is why in the United States there has been not only acceptance, but even a culture of success and the legitimate enrichment. It is a culture based on the history that has already been discussed, in this equality of opportunities that American society brings to so many and precisely for that reason, allowed it to found the “American dream” on the solid rock of “the land of opportunity.”

In this perspective, it is understood that the current troubling orientation of United States politics with the emergence of populist leaders like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is directly linked to the weakening of the “American dream” and the emergence of a broad pessimism in various strata of the US population.

In any case, the historical contrast to what happened in Latin America could not be stronger and more instructive. In our countries, success and fortune are almost always placed under suspicion and it comes from a history of lacerating inequality, where opportunities have been denied to many and where fortune was often built on the basis of violence, with its exponent paradigm in the conquest of America, the connivance with political power, privilege, negotiated or abuse. All this hampers us and urges us to create a more just, and therefore more free, society.

Equal opportunities and State solidarity

Several times I have named the basic concept of equality of opportunity, but without defining it more specifically in our current context. It referred to the historical importance of access to land, but it is clear that today it is no longer about this. In my view, and without detailing each point, it is about these four aspects: education, healthcare, public safety and infrastructure.

It is around these four aspects that we must focus our corrective interventions on the spontaneous effects of the market, committing ourselves to all Chileans have access to those conditions without which the exercise of freedom and the realization of their potentialities become largely illusory.

This does not exclude other interventions, such as those to do with the situation of the greater population, but it centers the discussion on the topic of this essay: a more even distribution of opportunities and the conditions that make them possible.

That should be our great political commitment, but this does not mean at all that we propose a type of welfare state in the style of the current Chilean government, that is, where the State assumes not only the responsibility that no one lacks these resources, but also seeks to monopolize their financing and management. That is something we strongly reject.

Our conception of the welfare state must remain subsidiary to with respect to what civil society can undertake, which should be the focus of our attention. Our interventions must strengthen it, empowering citizens directly and not the State or the politicians. That is the option of solidarity with freedom or, as I have called it in another context, the solidarity State, which is diametrically opposed to State-patron of socialist ideology.

In conclusion, I propose a change in our vocabulary that serves to emphasize strongly the importance we give to the social or solidarity aspect of the market economy. Perhaps we could, instead of the word “social,” which is a little imprecise and overused, use the word “solidarity.” So, instead of a social market economy we could say solidarity market economy.

Mario Vargas Llosa: The Liberal Rebel / 14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas

The writer Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. (EFE)
The writer Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. (EFE)

14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, 17 April 2016 — On 28 March Mario Vargas Llosa turned 80 and wanted to celebrate with a brief reflection on his political thinking and, in particular, his form of being a liberal. For this I want to start from two great French thinkers who played a key role in his intellectual development: Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.

Sarte, who was a great cultural hero for the young Vargas Llosa, did not stand the test of time. His dialectical artifices were not, in the end, capable of justifying the unjustifiable, that is, the supposed distinction between “progressive oppression,” undertaken in the name of a future paradise on earth, and oppression, plain and simple. However, Sarte did survive in the idea of a writer committed to his time, who takes sides, who is not silent, who doesn’t look away. Nothing is more foreign to Mario Vargas Llosa than indifference to his world. continue reading

This attitude has been a touchstone in a life in which politics has never been absent. This does not mean confusing politics with literature, essentially different activities, which Vargas Llosa himself never tires of explaining: the writer, the artist in general, starts from the sovereignty of his imagination to forge “real unrealities,” fictions so convincing that we experience them, for a moment, as reality. Those who engage in politics, on the other hand, should take care not to fall into political-fiction and do great damage, starting always from the sovereignty of what is really possible.

I now turn to Albert Camus. I associate him with that rebellious streak that, in my opinion, makes Vargas Llosa who he has always been. Rebellious in the sense of Camus, that is, one who does not accept indignity, injustice, oppression. Who says no and stands up to tyrants of every kind. The rebel is not a revolutionary who dreams of earthly paradises or new men. No, the rebel acts for the men we are, that imperfect and limited being, like all of human society that we can construct. But it no case does he resign himself to what we are versus what we can and must be: dignified, respected, free.

Vargas Llosa’s rebellious streak has resulted in what has been his most constant struggle, his true existential predicament from childhood: his strong, visceral opposition to authoritarianism, tyranny, dictatorship. He himself has expressed it better than anyone on several occasions. As an example I took some of his words from a conversation with Enrique Krauze:

“If there is anything I hate, that disgusts me deeply, that outrages me, it is a dictatorship. It is not only a political conviction, a moral principal: it is a gut feeling, a visceral attitude, perhaps because I have suffered many dictatorships in my own country, perhaps because from early childhood I experienced first hand this authority that imposes itself with brutality.”

I think I do not exaggerate when I say that very little in the life of Mario Vargas Llosa would be comprehensible if we don’t consider this aspect. To write, as he reminds us in his memoir A Fish in the Water, was also an act of rebellion before “this authority that imposes itself with brutality,” a vital act of resistance facing, in this case, the violence of his father in demanding that dignity and freedom that we are owed and that we owe every human being.

Hence, an absolute repulsion toward all tyrants. From General Odría, the Peruvian dictator whose regime marked Vargas Llosa’s youth, to the dictators and caudillos of the left and right who have marked our time, be they Brezhnev or Pinochet, Castro or Batista, Chavez, Khomeini or Qaddafi.

This consideration allows us to address the very nature of Vargas Llosa’s liberal thought, what he has called “integral liberalism.” This is something absolutely fundamental, as it distinguishes and denounces the suicidal temptation of a certain “liberalism,” not uncommon in Latin American, to reduce that expansive tree that is freedom to economic issues.

This does not mean that Vargas Llosa devalues the fundamental importance of an economy based on freedom, one that has allowed, as it has recently been extended across almost the entire planet, a higher standard of living for human beings in a way never before seen. This is clear, and provokes the ire of those who believe that, at least with regards to the economy, freedom is not our best option. But this does not mean transforming this freedom into the only thing worth defending, or into a kind of superior freedom before which other freedoms must prostrate themselves.

Taking this position has led Vargas Llosa to define liberalism in a way that reminds us of the most original, Hispanic, sense of what it means to be liberal, that which Octavio Paz recalled in 1981 on receiving the Cervantes Prize: “The word liberal appears early in our literature. Not as an idea or a philosophy, but as a temple and an encouragement; more than ideology, it was a virtue.”

This virtue, this form of being liberal with which we identify ourselves, as Vargas Llosa said in a text where he reclaims the intellectual heritage of Ortega y Gasset, is “based on tolerance and respect, in a love for culture, a desire for coexistence with others, with the other, with others, and a firm defense of freedom as a supreme value.”