Monday, June 10, 2013

DeLong's Law

I would like to propose DeLong's Law, a corollary of Godwin's Law: In any blog thread mentioning Hayek or Friedman, the probability of Chile/Pinochet being cited approaches one, as time passes.
Posted by: George Zachar on July 10, 2003 05:08 AM
The above was posted, as a reminder, to Brad DeLong's 'obituary' of Milton Friedman of January 2012.  One of the odd aspects of DeLong's personality being that, at the same time that he censors opinions that contradict his on his blog, he is capable of an objective analysis of Friedman's work.  Even though he and Friedman voted differently--DeLong served under Lloyd Bentsen in Bill Clinton's Treasury Dept.--he admired Friedman both as an economist and as a man:
Thinking as hard as he could until he got to the root of the issues was his most powerful skill. ....
His world-view began with a bedrock faith in people, in their ability to make judgments for themselves, and thus an imperative to maximize individual freedom. On top of that was layered a deep faith and conviction that free markets were almost always the best and most magical way of coordinating every conceivable task. On top of that was layered a powerful conviction that a look at the empirical facts--a marking-to-market of your beliefs to reality--would generate the right conclusions. And on top of that was layered a fear and suspicion of government as an easily-captured tool for the enrichment of cynical and selfish interests that sought to grab whatever they could. Suffusing all was a faith in the power of argument and the utility of reason. He was an optimist: people could be taught the truths of economics, and if they were properly taught then institutions could be built to protect all against the corruption and overreach of the government.
Which many of DeLong's acolytes absolutely can't stand to see.  For example:
thomas said...
Meanwhile, to Chileans, he represents privatization, dismantlement of social safety nets and grinding poverty. Friedman may have been smart, but he was a useful idiot for not only for dictators and their public relations but more importantly for multinational corporations. 
Which is pretty much what Jamie Galbraith had to say, just weeks ago. 'thomas' doesn't give a source for what he says 'Chileans' think about Friedman, nor why, but with the recent publication of James Rolph Edwards' Painful Birth: How Chile Became a Free and Prosperous Society, it's getting increasingly silly for such sentiments to be expressed in supposedly respectable intellectual venues. Not that that will prevent it continuing.

What Prof. Edwards has managed to do, in a mere 69 pages, is destroy the argument that Augusto Pinochet was, in any way, a net negative for the overwhelming majority of Chileans.  Whatever role Milton Friedman played in Pinochet's thinking--they once met for 40 minutes in Santiago, and Friedman wrote him a follow-up letter on his advice, given through interpreters, about how to control the savage inflation devastating Chile in 1975.  Advice that Friedman also gave to Communists in Yugoslavia, Russia and China.

As has been related on this blog in several earlier posts, Chile, in 1973, was in chaos.  A Castro-ite ideologue, Salvador Allende, was attempting to, with no legal justification whatsoever, transform the country into a Marxist dictatorship.  Understandably, the people of Chile objected, and when Allende defied them, the military acted. Rock...hard place.

Either a permanent Marxist dictatorship supported by Fidel Castro--who'd sent his agent Manuel Piñeiro to Chile to help Allende organize his security and intelligence services--or the military junta headed by Pinochet, were the stark choices. Constitutional democracy was no longer available--in fact Allende had a plan to abolish the Chilean legislature and replace it with "a people's assembly". He'd already created torture chambers to be used against his enemies (that later were used against his supporters). The Chamber of Deputies in Santiago had voted to censure President Allende in August of '73 for acting unconstitutionally, and called for the military to act against him.

They got Pinochet...and...eventually a free and prosperous society. By the standards of Latin America, at a very low cost.  Yes, there was some excess brutality as the Pinochet regime fought the armed militias left behind by the suicide Allende, but since over 700 military and policemen lost their lives in the firefights that occurred, it's hard to show that any other tactics would have worked as well.  Allende had established a guerrilla warfare training camp in southern Chile stocked with weapons from Cuba and the Soviet Union. Pinochet's forces fought to defeat those forces for years (in 1976 1,200 guerrillas attempted to infiltrate from Argentina.  In 1986 they killed 5 of Pinochet's bodyguards and almost killed Pinochet, with a rocket attack on his motorcade).

Yet, Pinochet allowed a plebiscite on his regime to go forward in 1988, and when he lost that vote, he voluntarily stepped down. Unlike any other dictator in Latin American history.  Fidel and Raul Castro still rule Cuba as dictators.

More will follow (from Prof. Edwards) about just how Pinochet accomplished the transformation, in a later posting.

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