Editor's note: When I heard Argentina’s president, Javier Milei, address the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January, I shed tears of joy. I was blown away by his powerful defense of capitalism, his celebration of entrepreneurs as heroes, his incisive criticisms of collectivism and altruism, and his novel ideas on redefining socialism. To my knowledge, this is the greatest speech given by a prominent politician in my lifetime. It is republished below, with minor edits to the WEF translation for clarity. Milei’s speech does evince some substantial errors in his thinking on the topics of rights, abortion, and the nature of government. I have included footnotes indicating my views on these topics and pointing to articles that I hope readers will find useful in thinking clearly about these issues. Nonetheless, these flaws are overwhelmingly outweighed by the general value of Milei’s speech. If even a small fraction of politicians recognized, articulated, and acted on the truths Milei identifies herein, the world would be home to far more freedom and flourishing. —Jon Hersey

Good afternoon. Thank you very much.

Today I’m here to tell you that the Western world is in danger. And it is in danger because those who are supposed to defend the values of the West have been co-opted by a vision of the world that inexorably leads to socialism and thereby to poverty.

Unfortunately, in recent decades, the main leaders of the Western world—some motivated by well-intentioned desires to help others, and others by the desire to belong to a privileged caste—have abandoned the model of freedom for different versions of what we call collectivism. We’re here to tell you that collectivist experiments are never the solution to the problems that afflict the citizens of the world. Rather, they are the root cause. Do believe me: No one is in a better place than us Argentines to testify to these two points.

Thirty-five years after we adopted the model of freedom, back in 1860, we became a leading world power. And when we embraced collectivism over the course of the last hundred years, we saw how our citizens started to become systematically impoverished, and we dropped to spot number 140 globally.1

But before discussing this, it’s important for us to first take a look at the data that demonstrate why free-enterprise capitalism is not just the only possible system to end world poverty, but also that it’s the only morally desirable system to achieve this.

If we look at the history of economic progress, we can see how between the year zero and the year 1800 approximately, world per capita GDP remained practically constant throughout the whole reference  .

If you look at a graph of the evolution of economic growth throughout the history of humanity, you see a hockey-stick graph, which remained constant for 90 percent of the time and then shot up exponentially starting in the 19th century.

The only exception to this history of stagnation was in the late 15th century, with the discovery of the American continent. Besides this exception, throughout the whole period between the year zero and the year 1800, global per capita GDP stagnated.

Now, it’s not only that capitalism brought about an explosion in wealth from the moment it was adopted as an economic system, but also, if you look at the data, what you will see is that this growth continues to accelerate throughout the whole period.

And throughout the whole period between the year zero and the year 1800, the per capita GDP growth rate remains stable at around 0.02 percent annually. So almost no growth. Starting in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution, the compound annual growth rate was 0.66 percent. And at that rate, in order to double per capita GDP, you would need some 107 years.

Now, if you look at the period between the year 1900 and the year 1950, the growth rate accelerated to 1.66 percent a year. So, you no longer need 107 years to double per capita GDP—but sixty-six. And if you take the period between 1950 and the year 2000, you will see that the growth rate was 2.1 percent, which would mean that, in only thirty-three years, we could double the world’s per capita GDP.

This trend, far from stopping, remains alive and well today. . . .

When I heard Argentina’s president, Javier Milei, address the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January, I was blown away by his powerful defense of capitalism, his celebration of entrepreneurs as heroes, and his incisive criticisms of collectivism.
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1. Milei may be referring to Argentina’s ranking on the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index. Argentina ranked 144th on the 2023 report. See “2023 Economic Freedom Index: Argentina,” Heritage Foundation, https://www.heritage.org/index/country/argentina (accessed February 15, 2024).

2. For views on how to fund government noncoercively, see Craig Biddle, “How Would Government Be Funded in a Free Society?,” The Objective Standard 7, no. 2 (Summer 2012), https://theobjectivestandard.com/2012/05/how-would-govt/.

3. As Craig Biddle writes, “Libertarianism is . . . a big-tent ideology that is not concerned with deeper moral or philosophic issues. But this is not a favorable feature of libertarianism; it is a fatal flaw.” For a thorough comparison between libertarianism and a philosophically grounded alternative, see Biddle, “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism,” The Objective Standard 8, no. 4 (Winter 2013), https://theobjectivestandard.com/2013/11/libertarianism-vs-radical-capitalism/.

4. Although true, the moral justification for capitalism is not that it incentivizes people to serve others. Rather, it is the fact that capitalism, by protecting individual rights, is the sole system compatible with man’s nature as a rational being who must live by the work of his reasoning mind. In Ayn Rand’s words, “The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve ‘the common good.’ It is true that capitalism does—if that catch-phrase has any meaning—but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.” Ayn Rand, “What Is Capitalism?,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, centennial edition (New York: Signet, 1967), 12; also see Andrew Bernstein, “Capitalism in One Lesson: Capitalism Is the Only Practical System Because It Is the Only Moral System,” The Objective Standard 19, no. 1; Martin Hooss, “Ayn Rand vs. Classical Economists,” The Objective Standard 17, no. 2 (Summer 2022), https://theobjectivestandard.com/2022/05/ayn-rand-vs-classical-economists/.

5. See Biddle, “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism.”

6. Of course, as Milei is indicating, this would not be a failure of the market but a consequence of state intervention.

7. In a free market, “concentrated structures” refers to scenarios in which a large portion of consumers voluntarily choose to use the same products or services offered by a small number of companies. A “monopoly” refers to a situation where only one company offers a given product or service—or, more narrowly, that only one company does so in a given geographical area. In a free market, a company can maintain a monopoly only by becoming vastly more efficient than all competitors, enabling it to offer prices so low that anyone trying to match or beat those prices is driven out of business. In a free market, if prices once again rise, creating profit margins sufficient to sustain competitors, those competitors are incentivized to (re)enter the market. There is only one condition that enables companies to raise their prices without fear of being underpriced by competitors: forcible suppression of competition via coercive or legal monopoly. This occurs when the state legally bars competitors from entering a given field, thereby granting one company a legal monopoly on a given product or service in a given area.

8. Rights are not granted by a god, for whom there is no evidence or proof. And to allege that they are is to concede that there is no rational basis for rights. Instead, rights are a recognition of the fact that to live as the type of beings we are, we must be free to act on our judgment so long as we don’t violate the equal rights of others. See Craig Biddle, “Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society,” The Objective Standard 6, no. 3 (Fall 2011), https://theobjectivestandard.com/2011/08/ayn-rand-theory-rights/; Craig Biddle and Carl Barney, “Liberty: What Is It? Why Is It Good? On What Does It Depend?,” The Objective Standard 14, no. 1 (Spring 2019), https://theobjectivestandard.com/2019/02/liberty-what-is-it-why-is-it-good-on-what-does-it-depend-2/.

9. Milei’s opposition to abortion indicates a crucial misunderstanding of how individual rights apply in this context. This problem derives from the more fundamental problem noted earlier: Libertarianism is a political theory lacking a philosophic base; consequently, its advocates often promote ideas or policies in conflict with the actual foundations of liberty and thus in conflict with liberty itself. See Biddle, “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism.” For a clarifying discussion of how rights apply in the context of abortion, see Angelica Walker-Werth, “Does Abortion Violate Rights?,” The Objective Standard 17, no. 4 (Winter 2022), https://theobjectivestandard.com/2022/10/does-abortion-violate-rights/.

10. Milei is a self-described “anarcho-capitalist,” and I put that term in quotes not merely because Milei uses it but also because it is a contradiction in terms. Capitalism is the social system in which the government protects individual rights; anarchism repudiates government as such. “Anarcho-capitalism” proposes to achieve protection for individual rights by obliterating government—the very institution capable of protecting rights by legally banning coercion from social relationships. And when government is eliminated, multiple governments crop up. As the classical liberal statesman Auberon Herbert observed, “Anarchy, in the form in which it is often expounded, seems to us not to understand itself. It is not in reality anarchy or ‘no government.’ When it destroys the central and regularly constituted government, and proposes to leave every group to make its own arrangements for the repression of ordinary crime, it merely decentralizes government to the furthest point, splintering it up into minute fragments of all sizes and shapes. As long as there is ordinary crime, as long as there are aggressions by one man upon the life and property of another man, and as long as the mass of men are resolved to defend life and property, there cannot be anarchy or no government.” See Auberon Herbert, The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State, and Other Essays, ed. Eric Mack (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1978), 173.

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