On a recent visit to Chile, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz claimed that Milton Friedman “had no problem” working with dictator Augusto Pinochet in order to impose his “toxic” ideas on the Chilean people. Friedman, according to Stiglitz, was not just an economist but a “right-wing ideologue” uninterested in facts.
The truth is quite different. Friedman never “worked” with Pinochet and explicitly criticized the lack of political freedom during his regime. Stiglitz, on the other hand, has been an active supporter of some of Latin America’s worst socialist demagogues and dictators.
Chilean president Gabriel Boric is a case in point. Thirty-six-year-old Boric is a self-described Marxist who has declared that his aim is to “bury neo-liberalism.” He has found in Stiglitz an extraordinary ally to give his radical program an aura of credibility. In his visit to Santiago last month, Stiglitz claimed he was “excited” to “be at the funeral of neoliberalism.”
According to Stiglitz, by killing the “failed” free market model — the one introduced by Friedman and the Chicago School of economics, which made Chile the envy of South America — Boric will bring about social justice and progress for the Chilean people. With inflation at a 30-year high, massive capital flight, an economy slumping into recession, and crime at the highest levels since 1990, Boric’s promised post-neoliberal prosperity is nowhere to be found. As a result, since he took office in March, his popularity has collapsed to levels below 30%.
Stiglitz has also developed an enduring relationship with the corrupt Kirchner dynasty in Argentina. In 2005, the Columbia University professor met President Nestor Kirchner in Buenos Aires in order to support the president’s “anti-neoliberal” agenda. Unsurprisingly, Stiglitz became the Kirchnerites’ favorite international economist. For years, he has endorsed their narrative that other entities, especially the International Monetary Fund, are to blame for Argentina’s never-ending economic mess.
Last January, Stiglitz went so far as to proclaim the COVID-era economic policies of the current Fernandez-Kirchner regime to be a “miracle.” This is the same government that will end 2022 with an inflation rate of more than 100% and a poverty rate of nearly 40%.
In 2006, when then-Bolivian president Evo Morales needed a leading international economist to lend credibility to his plans to nationalize gas and oil fields, Stiglitz was more than happy to oblige. After Stiglitz’s visit to Bolivia that year, Morales himself celebrated Stiglitz’s enthusiastic support of his populist policies. Morales’s nationalization programs destroyed any incentive for additional private investment to explore and develop new oil and gas reserves. If no changes are made to Morales’ model within the next 10 years, Bolivia may actually be forced to import gas to meet the needs of its population.
Former Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chavez was also lauded by Stiglitz. In 2007 during a visit to Caracas, Stiglitz praised Chavez’s populist redistribution of oil income, claiming that it was “not a revolutionary but an innovative goal.” Stiglitz said that Chavez appeared to have had “success in bringing health and education to the people in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas.” Needless to say, Chavez’s populist policies proved catastrophic for democracy and economic progress in Venezuela.
But nowhere has Stiglitz’s disregard for truth and liberal democracy been more clearly demonstrated than in his visits to Cuba. During a 2016 stay in Cuba, he reflected upon his 2002 visit, saying that he felt “fascination” when meeting dictator Fidel Castro. Stiglitz also praised Cuba’s “successes” in healthcare and education. Instead of trusting the totalitarian regime’s official propaganda, Stiglitz ought to have visited the schools and hospitals that ordinary Cubans use to see for himself that the policies he praised are in fact not working for the Cuban people.
Then again, a fact-check might hardly seem necessary for someone whose radicalism could even impress Castro himself. On the occasion of Stiglitz’s 2002 visit to Cuba, Castro introduced Stiglitz to Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet, a hardcore communist, saying “he is an economist and an American, but he is the greatest radical I have ever seen. Next to him, I am a moderate.”
Unfortunately for Latin Americans, Stiglitz’s radicalism has given credibility to terrible economic policies and regimes that have ruined the lives of millions of people. If Stiglitz really cared about facts, as he claims, he would cease and desist his toxic ideological activism in the region once and for all.
Axel Kaiser is a senior fellow at the Atlas Center for Latin America and a research fellow at the Archbridge Institute.