(infoshop.org) Chile is considered by some to be one of the economic success stories of the modern world. It can be considered as the first laboratory for neo-liberal economic dogma, first under Pinochet’s dictatorship and later when his regime had been replaced by a more democratic one. It can be considered as the template for the economic vision later applied by Reagan and Thatcher in the West. What happened in Chile was repeated (to some degree) wherever neo-liberal policies were implemented. As such, it makes a good case study to evaluate the benefits of free(r) market capitalism and the claims of capitalist economics.
For the right, Chile was pointed to as a casebook in sound economics and is held up as an example of the benefits of capitalism. Milton Friedman, for example, stated in 1982 that Military Junta “has supported a fully free-market economy as a matter of principle. Chile is an economic miracle.” [quoted by Elton Rayack, Not so Free to Choose, p. 37] Then US President George Bush praised the Chilean economic record in December 1990 when he visited that country, stating Chile deserved its “reputation as an economic model” for others to follow.
However, the reality of the situation is radically different. As Chilean expert Peter Winn argues, “[w]e question whether Chile’s neoliberal boom . . . should be regarded as a miracle. When confronted by such a claim, scholars and students should always ask: a miracle for whom – and at what cost?” [“Introduction”, Peter Winn (ed.), Victims of the Chilean Miracle, p. 12] As we will prove, Chile’s “economic miracle” is very class dependent. For its working class, the neo-liberal reforms of the Pinochet regime have resulted in a worsening of their lives; if you are a capitalist then it has been a miracle. That the likes of Friedman claim the experiment as a “miracle” shows where their sympathies lie — and how firm a grasp they have of reality.
The reason why the Chilean people become the first test case for neo-liberalism is significant. They did not have a choice. General Pinochet was the figure-head of a military coup in 1973 against the democratically elected left-wing government led by President Allende. This coup was the culmination of years of US interference by the US in Chilean politics and was desired by the US beforeAllende took office in November 1970 (“It is the firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup,” as one CIA memo put it in October of that year [quoted by Gregory Palast, “A Marxist threat to cola sales? Pepsi demands a US coup. Goodbye Allende. Hello Pinochet”, The Observer, 8/11/1998]). Then American president Richard Nixon imposed an embargo on Chile and began a covert plan to overturn the Allende government. In the words of the US ambassador to Chile, the Americas “will do all in our power to condemn Chileans to utmost poverty.” [quoted by Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, p. 395]
According to notes taken by CIA director Richard Helms at a 1970 meeting in the Oval Office, his orders were to “make the economy scream.” This was called Project FUBELT and its aims were clear: “The Director [of the CIA] told the group that President Nixon had decided that an Allende regime in Chile was not acceptable to the United States. The President asked the Agency to prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him.” [“Genesis of Project FUBELT” document dated September 16, 1970] Not all aid was cut. During 1972 and 1973 the US increased aid to the military and increased training Chilean military personnel in the United States and Panama. In other words, the coup was helped by US state and various US corporations both directly and indirectly, by undermining the Chilean economy.
Thousands of people were murdered by the forces of “law and order” and Pinochet’s forces “are conservatively estimated to have killed over 11,000 people in his first year in power.” [P. Gunson, A. Thompson, G. Chamberlain, The Dictionary of Contemporary Politics of South America, p. 228] Military units embarked on an operation called the Caravan of Death to hunt down those they considered subversives (i.e. anyone suspected or accused of holding left-wing views or sympathies). Torture and rape were used extensively and when people did not just disappear, their mutilated bodies were jumped in plain view as a warning to others. While the Chilean government’s official truth and reconciliation committee places the number of disappeared at roughly 3,000, church and human rights groups estimate the number is far higher, at over 10,000. Hundreds of thousands fled into exile. Thus ended Allende’s “democratic road to Socialism.” The terror did not end after the coup and dictatorship’s record on human rights was rightly denounced as barbaric.
Friedman, of course, stressed his “disagreement with the authoritarian political system of Chile.” [quoted by Rayack, Op. Cit., p. 61] For the time being we will ignore the obvious contradiction in this “economic miracle”, i.e. why it almost always takes authoritarian/fascistic states to introduce “economic liberty.” Rather we will take the right at its word and concentrate on the economic facts of the free-market capitalism imposed on the Chilean people. They claim it was a free market and given that, for example, Friedman was leading ideologue for capitalism we can assume that the regime approximated the workings of such a system. We will discuss the illogical nature and utter hypocrisy of the right’s position in section D.11, where we also discuss the limited nature of the democratic regime which replaced Pinochet and the real relationship between economic and political liberty.
Faced with an economic crisis, in 1975 Pinochet turned to the ideas of Milton Friedman and a group of Chilean economics who had been taught by him at the University in Chicago. A short meeting between Friedman and Pinochet convinced the dictator to hand economic policy making to Friedman’s acolytes (who became known as “the Chicago Boys” for obvious reasons). These were free-market economists, working on a belief in the efficiency and fairness of the free market and who desired to put the laws of supply and demand back to work. They set out to reduce the role of the state in terms of regulation and social welfare as these, they argued, had restricted Chile’s growth by reducing competition, lowering growth, artificially increasing wages, and leading to inflation. The ultimate goal, Pinochet once said, was to make Chile “not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs.”[quoted by Thomas E. Skidmore and Peter H. Smith, Modern Latin America, p. 137]
The role of the Chicago Boys cannot be understated. They had a close relationship with the military from 1972, and according to one expert had a key role in the coup:
“In August of 1972 a group of ten economists under the leadership of de Castro began to work on the formulation of an economic programme that would replace [Allende's one]. . . In fact, the existence of the plan was essential to any attempt on the part of the armed forces to overthrow Allende as the Chilean armed forces did not have any economic plan of their own.” [Silvia Borzutzky,“The Chicago Boys, social security and welfare in Chile”, The Radical Right and the Welfare State, Howard Glennerster and James Midgley (eds.), p. 88]
This plan also had the backing of certain business interests. Unsurprisingly, immediately after the coup, many of its authors entered key Economic Ministries as advisers. [Rayack, Op. Cit., p. 52] It is also interesting to note that “[a]ccording to the report of the United States Senate on covert actions in Chile, the activities of these economists were financed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).” [Borzutzky, Op. Cit., p. 89] Obviously some forms of state intervention were more acceptable than others.
April 1975 saw the Chicago Boys assume “what was in effect dictatorial control over economic policy . . . The monetarists were now in a commanding position to put in place Friedman’s recommendations, and they didn’t hesitate.” The actual results of the free market policies introduced by the dictatorship were far less than the “miracle” claimed by Friedman and a host of other right-wingers. The initial effects of introducing free market policies was a shock-induced depression which resulted in GDP dropping by 12.9% year “shock treatment” was imposed saw the GDP fall by 12.9% (Latin America saw a 3.8% rise), real wages fell to 64.9% of their 1970 level and unemployment rising to 20 percent. Even Pinochet “had to concede that the social cost of the shock treatment was greater than he expected.” [Rayack, Op. Cit., p. 56, p. 41 and p. 57] For Friedman, his “only concern” with the plan was “whether it would be pushed long enough and hard enough.” [quoted by Joseph Collins and John Lear, Chile’s Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look, p. 29] Unsurprisingly, the “rigorous imposition of the neoliberal economic model after 1975 soon threatened [workers] job security too” and they “bore the brunt” of the changes in terms of “lost jobs and raised work norms.”[Winn, “No Miracle for Us,” Peter Winn (ed.), Op. Cit., p. 131]
After the depression of 1975, the economic started to grow again. This is the source of claim of an “economic miracle.” Friedman, for example, used 1976 as his base-line, so excluding the depression year of 1975 which his recommended shock treatment deepened. This is dishonest as it fails to take into account not only the impact of neo-liberal policies but also that a deep recession often produces a vigorous upsurge:
“By taking 1975, a recession year in which the Chilean economy declined by 13 percent, as the starting point of their analysis, the Chicago Boys obscured the fact that their ‘boom’ was more a recovery from the deep recession than a new economic expansion. From 1974 to 1981, the Chilean economy grew at a modest 1.4 percent a year on average. Even at the height of the ‘boom’ in 1980, effective unemployment was so high — 17 percent — that 5 percent of the workforce were in government make-work programs, a confession of failure for neoliberals who believe in the market as self-correcting and who abhor government welfare programs. Nor did the Chicago Boys call attention to the extreme concentration of capital, precipitous fall in real wages and negative redistribution of income that their policies promoted, or their disincentives to productive investment.” [Peter Winn, “The Pinochet Era”, Op. Cit., pp. 28-9]
Between 1975 and 1982, the regime implemented numerous economic reforms based on the suggestions of the Chicago Boys and their intellectual gurus Friedman and von Hayek. They privatised numerous state owned industries and resources and, as would be expected, the privatisations were carried out in such a way as to profit the wealthy. “The denationalisation process,” notes Rayack,“was carried out under conditions that were extremely advantageous for the new owners . . . the enterprises were sold at sharply undervalues prices.” Only large conglomerates could afford them, so capital became even more concentrated. [Op. Cit., p. 67] When it privatised its interests in the forestry processing plants in the country the government followed the privatisation of other areas of the economy and they “were sold at a discount, according to one estimate, at least 20 per cent below their value.” Thus“the privatisations were bargain sell-offs of public assets,” which amounted to a “subsidy from the national treasury to the buyers of 27 to 69 percent” and so “[c]ontrol of the common wealth of the entire nation passed to a handful of national and foreign interests that captured most of the subsidy implicit in the rock bottom prices.” [Joseph Collins and John Lear, Chile’s Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look, p. 206, p. 54 and p. 59]
By 1978, the Chicago Boys “were pressing for new laws that would bring labour relations in line with the neoliberal economic model in which the market, not the state, would regulate factors of production.” [Winn, “The Pinochet Era”, Winn (ed.), Op. Cit., p. 31] According to Pinochet’s Minister of Labour (1978-81), the Labour relations had been “modernised” and that “politicised” labour leaders and their “privileged fiefdoms” had been eliminated, with workers no longer having “monopolies” on job positions. Rather than government intervention, negotiation between capital and labour was now left to “individual responsibility and the discipline of the market.” The stated aim was to “introduce democracy into the world of Chilean unions and resolve problems that for decades had been obstacles for the progress of workers.” [quoted by Joseph Collins and John Lear, “Working in Chile’s Free Market”, pp. 10-29, Latin American Perspectives, vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 10-11 and p. 16] The hypocrisy of a technocratic bureaucrat appointed by a military dictatorship talking about introducing democracy into unions is obvious. The price of labour, it was claimed, now found its correct level as set by the “free” market.
All of which explains Friedman’s 1991 comment that the “real miracle of Chile” was that Pinochet “support[ed] a free market regime designed by principled believers in a free market.” [Economic Freedom, Human Freedom, Political Freedom] As to be expected with Friedman, the actual experience of implementing his dogmas refuted both them and his assertions on capitalism. Moreover, working class paid the price.
The advent of the “free market” led to reduced barriers to imports “on the ground the quotas and tariffs protected inefficient industries and kept prices artificially high. The result was that many local firms lost out to multinational corporations. The Chilean business community, which strongly supported the coup in 1973, was badly affected.” [Skidmore and Smith, Op. Cit., p. 138] The decline of domestic industry cost thousands of better-paying jobs. Looking at the textile sector, firms survived because of “lowered labour costs and increased productivity.” The sector has “low real wages, which dramatically altered” its international competitiveness. In other words, the Chilean textile industry “had restructured itself on the back of its workers.” [Peter Winn, “No Miracle for Us”, Winn (ed.), Op. Cit., p. 130] The mines were “enormously profitable after 1973 because of increased labour discipline, the reduction in costs due to the contraction of real wages, and an increase in production based on expansion programs initiated during the late 1960s.” [Thomas Miller Klubock, “Class, Community, and Neoliberalism in Chile”, Op. Cit., p. 241] This was the real basis of the 1976 to 1981 “economic miracle” Friedman praised in 1982.
As with most neo-liberal experiments, the post-1975 “miracle” was built on sand. It was “a speculative bubble that was hailed as an ‘economic miracle’ until it burst in the 1981-82 bank crash that brought the deregulated Chilean economy down in its wake.” It was“largely short-term speculative capital . . . producing a bubble in stock market and real estate values” and “by 1982 the economy was in shambles and Chile in the throes of its worse economic crisis since the depression of the 1930s. A year later, massive social protests defied Pinochet’s security forces.” [Winn, Op. Cit., p. 38] Thus “the bottom fell out of the economy” and Chile’s GDP fell 14% in one year. In the textile industry alone, an estimated 35 to 45% of companies failed. [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., p. 15]
So after 7 years of free(r) market capitalism, Chile faced yet another economic crisis which, in terms of unemployment and falling GDP was even greater than that experienced during the terrible shock treatment of 1975. Real wages dropped sharply, falling in 1983 to 14% below what they had been in 1970. Bankruptcies skyrocketed, as did foreign debt and unemployment. [Rayack, Op. Cit., p. 69] Chile’s GNP “fell by more than 15 percent, while its real disposable GNP declined by 19 percent. The industrial sector contracted by more than 21 percent and construction by more than 23 percent. Bankruptcies tripled . . . It was a crisis comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s, which affected Chile more severely than any other country in the world.” The same can be said of this crisis, for while GNP in Chile feel 14% during 1982-3, the rest of Latin America experienced 3.5% drop as whole. [Winn, Op. Cit., p. 41 and p. 66] By 1983, the Chilean economy was devastated and it was only by the end of 1986 that Gross Domestic Product per capita (barely) equalled that of 1970. Unemployment (including those on government make-work programmes) had risen to a third of the labour force by mid-1983. By 1986, per capita consumption was actually 11% lower than the 1970 level. [Skidmore and Smith, Op. Cit., p. 138]
Faced with this massive economic collapse (a collapse that somehow slipped Friedman’s mind when he was evaluating the Chilean experiment in 1991), the regime organised a massive bailout. The “Chicago Boys” resisted this measure, arguing with dogmatic arrogance that there was no need for government intervention or policy changes because they believed in the self-correcting mechanisms of the market would resolve any economic problem. However, they were applying a simplistic textbook version of the economy to a complex reality which was spectacularly different from their assumptions. When that reality refused to respond in the way predicted by their ideological musing, the state stepped in simply because the situation had become so critical it could not avoid it.
The regime did do some things to help the unemployed, with 14% of the labour force enrolled in two government make-work programs that paid less than the minimum wage by October 1983. However, aid for the capitalist class was far more substantial. The IMF offered loans to Chile to help it out of mess its economic policies had helped create, but under strict conditions (such as making the Chilean public responsible for paying the billions in foreign loans contracted by private banks and firms). The total bailout cost 3% of Chile’s GNP for three years, a cost which was passed on to the population (this “socialisation of private debts were both striking and unequal”). This follows the usual pattern of “free market” capitalism — market discipline for the working class, state aid for the elite. During the “miracle,” the economic gains had been privatised; during the crash the burden for repayment was socialised. In fact, the regime’s intervention into the economy was so extensive that, “[w]ith understandable irony, critics lampooned the ‘Chicago road to socialism.’” [Winn, Op. Cit., p. 66 and p. 40]
Significantly, of the 19 banks that the government had privatised, all but five failed. These along with the other bankrupt firms fell back into government hands, a fact the regime sought to downplay by failing to classify them as public companies. Once the debts had been “assumed by the public,” their “assets were sold to private interests.” Significantly, the “one bank that had not been privatised and the other publicly owned companies survived the crisis in relatively good shape” and almost all of them were “turning a profit, generating for the government in profits and taxes 25 percent of its total revenues . . . Thus the public companies that had escaped the Chicago Boy’s privatisations . . . enabled a financially strapped government to resuscitate the failed private banks and companies.” [Collins and Lear, Chile’s Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look, pp. 51-2]
Needless to say, the recovery (like the illusionary boom) was paid for by the working class. The 1982 crash meant that “something had to give, and the Chicago Boys decided that it would be wages. Wages, they explained, should be allowed to find their natural level.” An 1982 decree “transferred much of the burden of recovery and profitability to workers and became central to Chile’s economic recovery throughout the rest of the decade.” [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., p. 20 and p. 19] For the miners, between late 1973 and May 1983, real average wages dropped by 32.6% and workers’ benefits were reduced (for example, the free medical attention and health care that had been won in the 1920s were dropped). [Thomas Miller Klubock, “Class, Community, and Neoliberalism in Chile,” Winn (ed.), Op. Cit., p. 217] As Peter Winn summarises:
“Chile’s workers, who had paid the social costs of the illusory neoliberal ‘miracle,’ now paid as well the highest price for the errors of their nation’s military rulers and Chicago Boy technocrats and the imprudence of their country’s capitalists. Plant closing and layoffs drove the effective unemployment rate above 30 percent, while real wages for those lucky enough to retain their jobs fell by nearly 11 percent in 1979-82 and by some 20 percent during the 1980s. In addition, inflation jumped to over 20 percent in both 1982 and 1983, and the budget surplus gave way to a deficit equal to 3 percent of the GNP by 1983. By then, Chile’s foreign debt was 13 percent higher than its GNP . . . Chile’s economy contracted 400 percent more in 1982-83 than the rest of Latin America.” [“The Pinochet Era”, Winn (ed.), Op. Cit., pp. 41-2]
Unsurprisingly, for the capitalist class things were somewhat different. Private banks “were bailed out by the government, which spent $6 billion in subsidies during 1983-85 (equal to 30 percent of the GNP!) but were made subject to strict government regulation designed to assure their solvency. Controls were also placed on flows of foreign capital.” [Winn, Op. Cit., p. 42] The government also raised tariffs from 10% to between 20 and 35% and the peso was drastically devalued. [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., p. 15] Pinochet’s state took a more active role in promoting economic activity. For example, it developed new export industries which “benefited from a series of subsidies, privatisations, and deregulations that allowed for unrestricted exploitation of natural resources of limited renewability. Equally important were low wages, great flexibility of employers vis-à-vis workers, and high levels of unemployment.” [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., p. 20] The forestry sector was marked by government hand-outs to the already rich. Joseph Collins and John Lear argue that the neoliberals’ “stated goals were to curtail sharply the direct role of government in forestry and to let market mechanisms determine the prices and direct the use of resources. Yet government intervention and subsidies were in fact central to reorienting the benefits of forestry production away from the rural population towards a handful of national and foreign companies.” [Op. Cit., p. 205]
By 1986, the economy had stabilised and the crisis was over. However, the recovery was paid for by the working class as “wages stayed low” even as the economy began to recover. Low wages were key to the celebrated ‘miracle’ recovery. From 1984 to 1989 the gross national product grew an average of 6 percent annually. By 1987 Chile had recovered the production levels of 1981, and by 1989 production levels exceeded 1981 levels by 10 percent. The average wage, by contrast, was 5 percent lower at the end of the decade than it had been in 1981 — almost 10 percent lower than the average 1970 wage. The drop in the minimum wage “was even more drastic.” Public unrest during the economic crisis made it politically difficult to eliminate, so it “was allowed to erode steadily in the face of inflation. By 1988, it was 40 percent lower in real terms than it had been in 1981 . . . In that year 32 percent of the workers in Santiago earned the minimum wage or less.” Thus, “recovery and expansion after 1985 depended on two ingredients that are unsustainable over the long term and in a democratic society,” namely “an intensified exploitation of the labour force” and “the unregulated exploitation of nonrenewable natural resources such as native forests and fishing areas, which amounted to a one-time subsidy to domestic conglomerates and multinationals.” [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., Op. Cit., p. 83, p. 84 and p. 35]
In summary, “the experiment has been an economic disaster.” [Rayack, Op. Cit., p. 72]
Given that Chile was hardly an “economic miracle,” the question arises why it was termed so by people like Friedman. To answer that question, we need to ask who actually benefited from the neo-liberalism Pinochet imposed. To do this we need to recognise that capitalism is a class system and these classes have different interests. We would expect any policies which benefit the ruling elite to be classed as an “economic miracle” regardless of how adversely they affect the general population (and vice versa). In the case of Chile, this is precisely what happened.
Rather than benefit everyone, neo-liberalism harmed the majority. Overall, by far the hardest group hit was the working class, particularly the urban working class. By 1976, the third year of Junta rule, real wages had fallen to 35% below their 1970 level. It was only by 1981 that they has risen to 97.3% of the 1970 level, only to fall again to 86.7% by 1983. Unemployment, excluding those on state make-work programmes, was 14.8% in 1976, falling to 11.8% by 1980 (this is still double the average 1960s level) only to rise to 20.3% by 1982. [Rayack, Op. Cit., p. 65] Between 1980 and 1988, the real value of wages grew only 1.2 percent while the real value of the minimum wage declined by 28.5 percent. During this period, urban unemployment averaged 15.3 percent per year. [Silvia Borzutzky, Op. Cit., p. 96] Even by 1989 the unemployment rate was still at 10% (the rate in 1970 was 5.7%) and the real wage was still 8% lower than in 1970. Between 1975 and 1989, unemployment averaged 16.7%. In other words, after nearly 15 years of free market capitalism, real wages had still not exceeded their 1970 levels and unemployment was still higher. As would be expected in such circumstances the share of wages in national income fell from 42.7% in 1970 to 33.9% in 1993. Given that high unemployment is often attributed by the right to strong unions and other labour market “imperfections,” these figures are doubly significant as the Chilean regime, as noted above, reformed the labour market to improve its “competitiveness.”
After 1982, “stagnant wages and the unequal distribution of income severely curtailed buying power for most Chileans, who would not recover 1970 consumption levels until 1989.” [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., p. 25] By 1988, “the average real wage had returned to 1980 levels, but it was still well below 1970 levels. Moreover, in 1986, some 37 percent of the labour force worked in the informal sector, where wages were lower and benefits often nonexistent. Many worked for minimum wage which in 1988 provided only half of what an average family required to live decently — and a fifth of the workers didn’t even earn that. A survey . . . concluded that nearly half of Chileans lived in poverty.” [Winn, “The Pinochet Era”, Op. Cit., p. 48] This was far more in absolute and relative terms than at any time in the in the preceding three decades. [Collins and Lear, “Working in Chile’s Free Market”, Op. Cit., p. 26]
Per capita consumption fell by 23% from 1972-87. The proportion of the population below the poverty line (the minimum income required for basic food and housing) increased from 20% to 44.4% between 1970 and 1987. Per capita health care spending was more than halved from 1973 to 1985, setting off explosive growth in poverty-related diseases such as typhoid, diabetes and viral hepatitis. On the other hand, while consumption for the poorest 20% of the population of Santiago dropped by 30%, it rose by 15% for the richest 20%. [Noam Chomsky, Year 501, pp. 190-191] The percentage of Chileans without adequate housing increased from 27 to 40 percent between 1972 and 1988, despite the claims of the government that it would solve homelessness via market friendly policies.
So after two decades of neoliberalism, the Chilean worker can look forward to “a job that offers little stability and low wages, usually a temporary one or one in the informal economy . . . Much of the growth in jobs after the 1982-1983 crash came in economic sectors characterised by seasonal employment . . . [and are] notorious for their low pay, long hours, and high turnover.” In 1989, over 30% of jobs were in the formal sector in the Santiago metropolitan area with incomes less than half the average of those in the formal sector. For those with jobs, “the work pace intensified and the work day lengthened . . . Many Chileans worked far longer than the legal maximum work week of 48 hours without being paid for the extra hours. Even free-market celebrants . . . admit that extra unpaid hours remain a serious problem” in 1989. In fact, it is “commonly assumed that employees work overtime without pay or else” and, unsurprisingly, the “pattern resembles the European production systems of the mid-19th century.” [Collins and Lear,Op. Cit., p. 22 pp. 22-3, p. 23, p. 24 and p. 25] Unsurprisingly, as in neo-liberal America, wages have become divorced from productivity growth. Even in the 1990s, “there is evidence that productivity growth outpaced real wage growth by as much as a ratio 3:1 in 1993 and 5:1 in 1997.” [Volker Frank, “Politics without Policy”, Op. Cit., p. 73]
Similar comments are possible in regards to the privatised pension system, regarded by many right-wingers as a success and a model for other countries. However, on closer inspection this system shows its weaknesses — indeed, it can be argued that the system is only a success for those companies making extensive profits from it (administration costs of the Chilean system are almost 30% of revenues, compared to 1% for the U.S. Social Security system [Doug Henwood, Wall Street, p. 305]). For working people, it is a disaster. According to SAFP, the government agency which regulates the system, 96% of the known workforce were enrolled in February 1995, but 43.4% of these were not adding to their funds. Perhaps as many as 60% do not contribute regularly (given the nature of the labour market, this is unsurprising). Unfortunately, regular contributions are required to receive full benefits. Critics argue that only 20% of contributors will actually receive good pensions.
Workers need to find money for health care as their “remuneration has been reduced to the wage, ending most benefits that workers had gained over the years [before the coup]. Moreover, the privatisation of such social services as health care and retirement security . . . [has meant] the costs were now taken entirely from employee earnings.” Unsurprisingly, “[l]onger work days and a stepped-up pace of work increased the likelihood of accidents and illness. From 1982 to 1985 the number of reported workplace accident almost doubled. Public health experts estimate, however, that over three-quarters of workplace accidents went unreported, in part because over half of the workforce is without any kind of accident insurance.” [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., p. 20 and p. 25]
It is interesting to note that when this programme was introduced, the armed forces and police were allowed to keep their own generous public plans. If the plans were are as good as their supporters claim, you would think that those introducing them would have joined them. Obviously what was good enough for the masses were not suitable for the rulers and the holders of the guns they depended upon. Given the subsequent fate of that scheme, it is understandable that the ruling elite and its minions did not want middle-men to make money off their savings and did not trust their pensions to the fluctuations of the stock market. Their subjects, however, were less lucky. All in all, Chile’s privatised social security system “transferred worker savings in the form of social security contributions from the public to the private sector, making them available to the country’s economic groups for investment. Given the oligopic concentration of wealth and corporate control under Pinochet, this meant handing the forced savings of workers over to Chile’s most powerful capitalists.” That is, “to shore up capital markets through its transfer of worker savings to Chile’s business elites.” [Winn, “The Pinochet Era”, Op. Cit., p. 64 and p. 31]
The same applies to the health system, with the armed forces and national police and their dependants having their own public health care system. This means that they avoid the privatised health system which the wealthy use and the run-down public system which the majority have access to. The market ensures that for most people, “the actual determining factor is not ‘choice,’ but one’s ability to pay.” By 1990, only 15% of Chileans were in the private system (of these, nearly 75% are form the top 30% of the population by income). This means that there are three medical systems in Chile. The well-funded public one for armed forces and police, a good to excellent private system for the elite few and a “grossly under-funded, rundown, over-burdened” one “for some 70% of Chileans.” Most “pay more and receive less.” [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., p. 99 and p. 246]
The impact on individuals extended beyond purely financial considerations, with the Chilean labour force “once accustomed to secure, unionised jobs [before Pinochet] . . . [being turned] into a nation of anxious individualists . . . [with] over half of all visits to Chile’s public health system involv[ing] psychological ailments, mainly depression. ‘The repression isn’t physical any more, it’s economic – feeding your family, educating your child,’ says Maria Pena, who works in a fishmeal factory in Concepcion. ‘I feel real anxiety about the future’, she adds, ‘They can chuck us out at any time. You can’t think five years ahead. If you’ve got money you can get an education and health care; money is everything here now.’” Little wonder, then, that “adjustment has created an atomised society, where increased stress and individualism have damaged its traditionally strong and caring community life. . . suicides have increased threefold between 1970 and 1991 and the number of alcoholics has quadrupled in the last 30 years . . . [and] family breakdowns are increasing, while opinion polls show the current crime wave to be the most widely condemned aspect of life in the new Chile. ‘Relationships are changing,’ says Betty Bizamar, a 26-year-old trade union leader. ‘People use each other, spend less time with their family. All they talk about is money, things. True friendship is difficult now.’” [Duncan Green, Op. Cit., p. 96 and p. 166]
The experiment with free market capitalism also had serious impacts for Chile’s environment. The capital city of Santiago became one of the most polluted cities in the world due the free reign of market forces. With no environmental regulation there is general environmental ruin and water supplies have severe pollution problems. [Noam Chomsky, Year 501, p. 190] With the bulk of the country’s experts being based on the extraction and low processing of natural resources, eco-systems and the environment have been plundered in the name of profit and property. The depletion of natural resources, particularly in forestry and fishing, is accelerating due to the self-interested behaviour of a few large firms looking for short term profit.
So, in summary, Chile’s workers “were central target’s of [Pinochet's] political repression and suffered greatly from his state terror. They also paid a disproportionate share of the costs of his regime’s regressive social policies. Workers and their organisations were also the primary targets of Pinochet’s labour laws and among the biggest losers from his policies of privatisation and deindustrialisation.” [Winn, “Introduction”, Op. Cit., p. 10]
Given that the majority of Chile’s people where harmed by the economic policies of the regime, how can it be termed a “miracle”? The answer can be found in another consequence of Pinochet’s neo-classical monetarist policies, namely “a contraction of demand, since workers and their families could afford to purchase fewer goods. The reduction in the market further threatened the business community, which started producing more goods for export and less for local consumption. This posed yet another obstacle to economic growth and led to increased concentration of income and wealth in the hands of a small elite.” [Skidmore and Smith, Op. Cit., p. 138]
It is the increased wealth of the elite that we see the true “miracle” of Chile. When the leader of the Christian Democratic Party returned from exile in 1989 he said that economic growth that benefited the top 10% of the population had been achieved (Pinochet’s official institutions agreed). [Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, p. 231] This is more than confirmed by other sources. According to one expert in the Latin American neo-liberal revolutions, the elite “had become massively wealthy under Pinochet.” [Duncan Green, The Silent Revolution, p. 216] In 1980, the richest 10% of the population took 36.5% of the national income. By 1989, this had risen to 46.8%. By contrast, the bottom 50% of income earners saw their share fall from 20.4% to 16.8% over the same period. Household consumption followed the same pattern. In 1970, the top 20% of households had 44.5% of consumption. This rose to 51% in 1980 and to 54.6% in 1989. Between 1970 and 1989, the share going to the other 80% fell. The poorest 20% of households saw their share fall from 7.6% in 1970 to 4.4% in 1989. The next 20% saw their share fall from 11.8% to 8.2%, and middle 20% share fell from 15.6% to 12.7%. The next 20% saw their share of consumption fall from 20.5% to 20.1%. In other words, “at least 60 percent of the population was relatively, if not absolutely, worse off.” [James Petras and Fernando Ignacio Leiva, Democracy and Poverty in Chile, p. 39 and p. 34]
In summary, “the distribution of income in Chile in 1988, after a decade of free-market policies, was markedly regressive. Between 1978 and 1988 the richest 10 percent of Chileans increased their share of national income from 37 to 47 percent, while the next 30 percent saw their share shrink from 23 to 18%. The income share of the poorest fifth of the population dropped from 5 to 4 percent.” [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., p. 26] In the last years of Pinochet’s dictatorship, the richest 10% of the rural population saw their income rise by 90% between 1987 and 1990. The share of the poorest 25% fell from 11% to 7%. The legacy of Pinochet’s social inequality could still be found in 1993, with a two-tier health care system within which infant mortality is 7 per 1000 births for the richest fifth of the population and 40 per 1000 for the poorest fifth. [Duncan Green, Op. Cit., p. 108 and p. 101] Between 1970 and 1989, labour’s share of the national income fell from 52.3% to 30.7% (it was 62.8% in 1972). Real wages in 1987 were still 81.2% of their 1980-1 level. [Petras and Leiva, Op. Cit., p. 34, p. 25 and p. 170]
Thus Chile has been a “miracle” for the capitalist class, with its successes being “enjoyed primarily (and in many areas, exclusively) by the economic and political elites. In any society shot through with enormous inequalities in wealth and income, the market . . . works to concentrate wealth and income.” There has been “a clear trend toward more concentrated control over economic resources . . . Economic concentration is now greater than at any other time in Chile’s history” with multinational corporations reaping “rich rewards from Chile’s free-market policies” (“not surprisingly, they enthusiastically applaud the model and push to implant it everywhere”). Ultimately, it is “unconscionable to consider any economic and social project successful when the percentage of those impoverished . . . more than doubled.” [Collins and Lear, Chile’s Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look, p. 252 and p. 253]
Thus the wealth created by the Chilean economy in during the Pinochet years did not “trickle down” to the working class (as claimed would happen by “free market” capitalist dogma) but instead accumulated in the hands of the rich. As in the UK and the USA, with the application of “trickle down economics” there was a vast skewing of income distribution in favour of the already-rich. That is, there has been a ‘trickle-up’ (or rather, a flood upwards). Which is hardly surprising, as exchanges between the strong and weak will favour the former (which is why anarchists support working class organisation and collective action to make us stronger than the capitalists and why Pinochet repressed them).
Overall, “in 1972, Chile was the second most equal country in Latin America; by 2002 it was the second most unequal country in the region.” [Winn, “The Pinochet Era”, Op. Cit., p. 56] Significantly, this refutes Friedman’s 1962 assertion that “capitalism leads to less inequality . . . inequality appears to be less . . . the more highly capitalist the country is.” [Capitalism and Freedom, p. 169] As with other countries which applied Friedman’s ideas (such as the UK and US), inequality soared in Chile. Ironically, in this as in so many cases, implementing his ideas refuted his own assertions.
There are two conclusions which can be drawn. Firstly, that Chile is now less capitalist after applying Friedman’s dogmas. Secondly, that Friedman did not know what he was talking about. The second option Seems the most likely, although for some defenders of the faith Chile’s neo-liberal experiment may not have been “pure” enough. However, this kind of assertion will only convince the true believer.
Given the actual results of the experiment, there are only two areas left to claim an “economic miracle.” These are combating inflation and increasing economic growth. Neither can be said to be “miraculous.”
As far as inflation goes, the Pinochet regime did reduce it, eventually. At the time of the time of the CIA-backed coup it was around 500% (given that the US undermined the Chilean economy – “make the economy scream”, Richard Helms, the director of the CIA — high inflation would be expected). By 1982 it was 10% and between 1983 to 1987, it fluctuated between 20 and 31%. It took eight years for the Chicago Boys to control inflation and, significantly, this involved “the failure of several stabilisation programmes at an elevated social cost . . . In other words, the stabilisation programs they prescribed not only were not miraculous — they were not successful.” [Winn, “The Pinochet Era”, Op. Cit., p. 63] In reality, inflation was not controlled by means of Friedman’s Monetarism but rather by state repression as left-wing Keynesian Nicholas Kaldor points out:
“The rate of growth of the money supply was reduced from 570 per cent in 1973 . . . to 130 per cent in 1977. But this did not succeed in moderating the growth of the money GNP or of the rise in prices, because — lo and behold! — no sooner did they succeed in moderating the growth of the money supply down, than the velocity of circulation shot up, and inflation was greater with a lower rate of growth of the money supply . . . they have managed to bring down the rate of growth of prices . . . And how? By the method well tried by Fascist dictatorships. It is a kind of incomes policy. It is a prohibition of wage increases with concentration camps for those who disobey and, of course, the prohibition of trade union activity and so on. And so it was not monetarism that brought the Chilean inflation down . . . [It was based on] methods which by-passed the price mechanism.” [The Economic Consequences of Mrs Thatcher, p. 45]
Inflation was controlled by means of state repression and high unemployment, a combination of the incomes policy of Hitler and Mussolini and Karl Marx (i.e., Friedman’s “natural rate of unemployment” we debunked in section C.9). In other words, Monetarism and “free market” capitalism did not reduce inflation (as was the case with Thatcher and Reagan was well).
Which leaves growth, the only line of defence possible for the claim of a Chilean “Miracle.” As we discussed in section C.10, the right argue that relative shares of wealth are not important, it is the absolute level which counts. While the share of the economic pie may have dropped for most Chileans, the right argue that the high economic growth of the economy meant that they were receiving a smaller share of a bigger pie. We will ignore the well documented facts that the level of inequality, rather than absolute levels of standards of living, has most effect on the health of a population and that ill-health is inversely correlated with income (i.e. the poor have worse health that the rich). We will also ignore other issues related to the distribution of wealth, and so power, in a society (such as the free market re-enforcing and increasing inequalities via “free exchange” between strong and weak parties, as the terms of any exchange will be skewed in favour of the stronger party, an analysis which the Chilean experience provides extensive evidence for with its “competitive” and “flexible” labour market). In other words, growth without equality can have damaging effects which are not, and cannot be, indicated in growth figures.
So we will consider the claim that the Pinochet regime’s record on growth makes it a “miracle” (as nothing else could). However, when we look at the regime’s growth record we find that it is hardly a “miracle” at all — the celebrated economic growth of the 1980s must be viewed in the light of the two catastrophic recessions which Chile suffered in 1975 and 1982. As Edward Herman points out, this growth was “regularly exaggerated by measurements from inappropriate bases (like the 1982 trough).” [The Economics of the Rich]
This point is essential to understand the actual nature of Chile’s “miracle” growth. For example, supporters of the “miracle” pointed to the period 1978 to 1981 (when the economy grew at 6.6 percent a year) or the post 1982-84 recession up-swing. However, this is a case of “lies, damn lies, and statistics” as it does not take into account the catching up an economy goes through as it leaves a recession. During a recovery, laid-off workers go back to work and the economy experiences an increase in growth due to this. This means that the deeper the recession, the higher the subsequent growth in the up-turn. So to see if Chile’s economic growth was a miracle and worth the decrease in income for the many, we need to look at whole business cycle, rather than for the upturn. If we do this we find that Chile had the second worse rate of growth in Latin America between 1975 and 1980. The average growth in GDP was 1.5% per year between 1974 and 1982, which was lower than the average Latin American growth rate of 4.3% and lower than the 4.5% of Chile in the 1960′s. [Rayack, Op. Cit., p. 64]
This meant that, in per capita terms, Chile’s GDP only increased by 1.5% per year between 1974-80. This was considerably less than the 2.3% achieved in the 1960′s. The average growth in GDP was 1.5% per year between 1974 and 1982, which was lower than the average Latin American growth rate of 4.3% and lower than the 4.5% of Chile in the 1960s. Between 1970 and 1980, per capita GDP grew by only 8%, while for Latin America as a whole, it increased by 40%. Between the years 1980 and 1982 during which all of Latin America was adversely affected by depression conditions, per capita GDP fell by 12.9 percent, compared to a fall of 4.3 percent for Latin America as a whole. [Rayack, Op. Cit., p. 57 and p. 64]
Thus, between 1970 and 1989, Chile’s GDP “grew at a slow pace (relative to the 1960s and to other Latin American countries over the same period) with an average rate of 1.8-2.0 per cent. On a per capita basis . . . GDP [grew] at a rate (0.1-0.2 per cent) well below the Latin American average . . . [B]y 1989 the GDP was still 6.1 per cent below the 1981 level, not having recovered the level reached in 1970. For the entire period of military rule (1974-1989) only five Latin American countries had a worse record. Some miracle!” [Petras and Leiva, Op. Cit., p. 32]
Thus the growth “miracles” refer to recoveries from depression-like collapses, collapses that can be attributed in large part to the free-market policies imposed on Chile! Overall, the growth “miracle” under Pinochet turns out to be non-existent. The full time frame illustrates Chile’s lack of significant economic and social process between 1975 and 1989. Indeed, the economy was characterised by instability rather than real growth. The high levels of growth during the boom periods (pointed to by the right as evidence of the “miracle”) barely made up for the losses during the bust periods.
All in all, the experience of Chile under Pinochet and its “economic miracle” indicates that the costs involved in creating a free market capitalist regime are heavy, at least for the majority. Rather than being transitional, these problems have proven to be structural and enduring in nature, as the social, environmental, economic and political costs become embedded into society. The murky side of the Chilean “miracle” is simply not reflected in the impressive macroeconomic indictors used to market “free market” capitalism, indicators themselves subject to manipulation as we have seen.
No. Despite claims by the likes of Friedman, Chile’s neo-liberal experiment was no “economic miracle” and, in fact, refuted many of the key dogmas of capitalist economics. We can show this by comparing the actual performance of “economic liberty” with Friedman’s predictions about it.
The first thing to note is that neo-liberal Chile hardly supports the claim that the free market is stable. In fact, it was marked by deep recessions followed by periods of high growth as the economic recovered. This resulted in overall (at best) mediocre growth rates (see last section).
Then there is the fact that the Chilean experiment refutes key neo-classical dogmas about the labour market. In Capitalist and Freedom, Friedman was at pains to attack trade unions and the idea that they defended the worker from coercion by the boss. Nonsense, he asserted, the “employee is protected from coercion by the employer because of other employers for whom he can work.” [pp. 14-5] Thus collective action in the form of, say, unions is both unnecessary and, in fact, harmful. The ability of workers to change jobs is sufficient and the desire of capitalist economists is always to make the real labour market become more like the ideal market of perfect competition — lots of atomised individuals who are price takers, not price setters. While big business gets ignored, unions are demonised.
The problem is that such “perfect” labour markets are hard to create outside of dictatorships. Pinochet’s reign of terror created such a market. Faced with the possibility of death and torture if they stood up for their rights, the only real alternative most workers had was that of finding a new job. So while the labour market was far from being an expression of “economic liberty,” Chile’s dictatorship did produce a labour market which almost perfectly reflected the neo-classical (and Austrian) ideal. Workers become atomised individuals as state terror forced them to eschew acting as trade unionists and seeking collective solutions to their (individual and collective) problems. Workers had no choice but to seek a new employer if they felt they were being mistreated or under-valued. Terror created the preconditions for the workings of an ideal capitalist labour market. Friedman’s talk of “economic liberty” in Chile suggests that Friedman thought that a “free market” in labour would work “as if” it were subject to death squads. In other words, that capitalism needs an atomised workforce which is too scared to stand up for themselves. Undoubtedly, he would prefer such fear to be imposed by purely “economic” means (unemployment playing its usual role) but as his work on the “natural rate of unemployment” suggests, he is not above appealing to the state to maintain it.
Unfortunately for capitalist ideology, Chile refuted that notion, with its workers subject to the autocratic power of the boss and having to give concession after concession simply to remain in work. Thus the “total overhaul of the labour law system [which] took place between 1979 and 1981 . . . aimed at creating a perfect labour market, eliminating collective bargaining, allowing massive dismissal of workers, increasing the daily working hours up to twelve hours and eliminating the labour courts.” [Silvia Borzutzky,Op. Cit., p. 91] In reality, the Labour code simply reflected the power property owners have over their wage slaves and “was solidly probusiness. It was intended to maximise the flexibility of management’s use of labour and to keep any eventual elected government from intervening on behalf of labour in negotiations between employers and workers.” This was hidden, of course, by“populist rhetoric.” [Collins and Lear, Op. Cit., p. 16] In fact, the Plan Laboral “was intended to definitely shift the balance of power in labour relations in favour of business and to weaken the workers and unions that formed the central political base of the Left.”[Winn, “The Pinochet Era”, Op. Cit., p. 31]
Unsurprisingly, “workers . . . have not received a fair share of the benefits from the economic growth and productivity increases that their labour has produced and that they have had to bear a disproportionate share of the costs of this restructuring in their wages, working conditions, job quality, and labour relations.” [Winn, “Introduction”, Op. Cit., p. 10]
Chile, yet again, refuted another of Friedman’s assertions about capitalism. In 1975, he wrongly predicted that the unemployed caused by the Monetarist recession would quickly find work, telling a Santiago audience that they would “be surprised how fast people would be absorbed by a growing private-sector economy.” [quoted by Rayack, Op. Cit., p. 57] Unemployment reached record levels for decades, as the free market regime “has been slow to create jobs. During the 1960s unemployment hovered around 6 percent; by contrast, the unemployment level for the years 1974 to 1987 averaged 20 percent of the workforce. Even in the best years of the boom (1980-1981) it stayed as high as 18 percent. In the years immediately following the 1982 crash, unemployment — including government emergency work programs — peaked at 35 percent of the workforce.” Unsurprisingly, the “most important rationalisation” made by Chilean industry “was the lowering of labour costs. This was accomplished through massive layoffs, intensifying the work of remaining workers, and pushing wage levels well below historic levels.” This was aided by unemployment levels which “officially averaged 20 percent from 1974 to 1987. Chronic high levels of unemployment afforded employers considerable leverage in setting working conditions and wage levels . . . Not surprisingly, workers who managed to hold onto their jobs were willing to make repeated concessions to employers, and in order to get jobs employees often submitted to onerous terms.”Between 1979 and 1982, more than a fifth of manufacturing companies failed and employment in the sector fell by over a quarter. In the decade before 1981, out of every 26 workers, 13 became unemployed, 5 joined the urban informal sector and 8 were on a government emergency employment program. It should be stressed that official statistics “underestimate the real level of unemployment” as they exclude people who worked just one day in the previous week. A respected church-sponsored institute on employment found that in 1988, unemployment in Santiago was as high as 21%. [Lear and Collins, Op. Cit., p. 22, p. 15, p. 16, p. 15 and p. 22]
The standard free-market argument is that unemployment is solved by subjecting the wage level to the rigours of the market. While wages will be lower, more people will be employed. As we discussed in section C.9, the logic and evidence for such claims is spurious. Needless to say, Friedman never revised his claims in the light of the empirical evidence produced by the application of his ideas.
Given the fact that “labour” (i.e., an individual) is not produced for the market in the first place, you can expect it to react differently from other “commodities.” For example, a cut in its price will generally increase supply, not decrease it, simply because people have to eat, pay the rent and so forth. Cutting wages will see partners and children sent to work, plus the acceptance of longer hours by those who remain in work. As such, the idea that unemployment is caused by wages being too high has always been a specious and self-serving argument, one refuted not only by logic but that bane of economics, empirical evidence. This was the case with Chile’s “economic miracle,” where declining wages forced families to seek multiple incomes in order to survive: “The single salary that could support a family was beyond the reach of most workers; the norm, in fact, was for spouses and children to take on temporary and informal jobs . . . Even with multiple incomes, many families were hard-pressed to survive.” [Lear and Collins, Op. Cit., p. 23] Which, of course, refutes “free market” capitalist claim that the labour market is like any other market. In reality, it is not and so it is hardly surprising that a drop in the price of labour increased supply nor that the demand for labour did not increase to in response to the drop in its real wage.
Lastly, there is the notion that collective action in the market by the state or trade unions harms the general population, particularly the poor. For neo-classical and Austrian economists, labour is the source of all of capitalism’s problems (and any government silly enough to pander to the economically illiterate masses). Pinochet’s regime allowed them to prove this was the case. Again Chile refuted them.
The “Chicago Boys” had no illusions that fascism was required to create free market capitalism. According to Sergio de Castro, the architect of the economic programme Pinochet imposed, fascism was required to introduce “economic liberty” because “it provided a lasting regime; it gave the authorities a degree of efficiency that it was not possible to obtain in a democratic regime; and it made possible the application of a model developed by experts and that did not depend upon the social reactions produced by its implementation.” [quoted by Silvia Borzutzky, “The Chicago Boys, social security and welfare in Chile”, The Radical Right and the Welfare State, Howard Glennerster and James Midgley (eds.), p. 90] They affirmed that “in a democracy we could not have done one-fifth of what we did.” [quoted by Winn, “The Pinochet Era”, Winn (ed.), Op. Cit., p. 28]
Given the individualistic assumptions of neo-classical and Austrian economics, it is not hard to conclude that creating a police state in order to control industrial disputes, social protest, unions, political associations, and so on, is what is required to introduce the ground rules the capitalist market requires for its operation. As socialist Brian Barry argues in relation to the Thatcher regime in Britain which was also heavily influenced by the ideas of “free market” capitalists like Milton Friedman and Frederick von Hayek:
“Some observers claim to have found something paradoxical in the fact that the Thatcher regime combines liberal individualist rhetoric with authoritarian action. But there is no paradox at all. Even under the most repressive conditions . . . people seek to act collectively in order to improve things for themselves, and it requires an enormous exercise of brutal power to fragment these efforts at organisation and to force people to pursue their interests individually. . . left to themselves, people will inevitably tend to pursue their interests through collective action — in trade unions, tenants’ associations, community organisations and local government. Only the pretty ruthless exercise of central power can defeat these tendencies: hence the common association between individualism and authoritarianism, well exemplified in the fact that the countries held up as models by the free-marketers are, without exception, authoritarian regimes.” [“The Continuing Relevance of Socialism”, Robert Skidelsky (ed.), Thatcherism, p. 146]
Little wonder, then, that Pinochet’s regime was marked by authoritarianism, terror and rule by savants. Indeed, “[t]he Chicago-trained economists emphasised the scientific nature of their programme and the need to replace politics by economics and the politicians by economists. Thus, the decisions made were not the result of the will of the authority, but they were determined by their scientific knowledge. The use of the scientific knowledge, in turn, would reduce the power of government since decisions will be made by technocrats and by the individuals in the private sector.” [Silvia Borzutzky, Op. Cit., p. 90] However, as Winn points out:
“Although the Chicago Boys justified their policies with a discourse of liberty, they were not troubled by the contradiction of basing the economic freedom they promoted on the most dictatorial regime in Chilean history — or in denying workers the freedom to strike or bargain collectively. At bottom, the only freedom that they cared about was the economic liberty of those Chileans and foreigners with capital to invest and consume, and that ‘freedom,’ de Castro believed, was best assured by an authoritarian government and a passive labour force. In short, their notions of freedom were both selective and self-serving.” [Op. Cit., p. 28]
Of course, turning authority over to technocrats and private power does not change its nature — only who has it. Pinochet’s regime saw a marked shift of governmental power away from protection of individual rights to a protection of capital and property rather than an abolition of that power altogether. As would be expected, only the wealthy benefited. The working class were subjected to attempts to create a “perfect labour market” — and only terror can turn people into the atomised commodities such a market requires. Perhaps when looking over the nightmare of Pinochet’s regime we should ponder these words of Bakunin in which he indicates the negative effects of running society by means of science books and “experts”:
“human science is always and necessarily imperfect. . . were we to force the practical life of men — collective as well as individual — into rigorous and exclusive conformity with the latest data of science, we would thus condemn society as well as individuals to suffer martyrdom on a Procrustean bed, which would soon dislocate and stifle them, since life is always an infinitely greater thing than science.” [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 79]
The Chilean experience of rule by free market ideologues prove Bakunin’s points beyond doubt. Chilean society was forced onto the Procrustean bed by the use of terror and life was forced to conform to the assumptions found in economics textbooks. And as we proved above, only those with power or wealth did well out of the experiment. From an anarchist perspective, the results were all too sadly predictable. The only surprising thing is that the right point to the experiment as a success story.
Since Chile has become (mostly) a democracy (with the armed forces still holding considerable influence) the post-Pinochet governments have made minor reforms. For example, “tax increases targeted for social spending for the poor” allowed them to“halve the 1988 45 percent poverty rate bequeathed by Pinochet.” In fact, the “bulk of this spending” was aimed at “the poorest of the poor, the 25 percent of the population classified as destitute in 1988.” [Winn, “The Pinochet Era,” Op. Cit., p. 50, p. 52 and p. 55]
However, while this “curtailed absolute poverty, they did not reduce inequality . . . From 1990 to 1996 the share of the national income of the poorest 20 percent of the population stagnated beneath 4 percent, while that of the richest 20 percent inched up from 56 percent to 57 percent . . . the distribution of income was one of the most unequal in the world. In Latin America, only Brazil was worse.” [Paul W Drake, “Foreword”, Winn (ed.), Op. Cit., p. xi] The new government raised the minimum wage in 1990 by 17% in real terms, with another rise of approximately 15% two years later. This had a significant on income as “a substantial number of the Chilean labour force receives wages and salaries that are only slightly above the minimum wage.” [Volker Frank, “Politics without Policy”, Winn (ed.), Op. Cit., p. 73 and p. 76] In stark contrast to the claims of neo-classical economics, the rise in the minimum wage did not increase unemployment. In fact, it dropped to 4.4%, in 1992, the lowest since the early 1970s.
Overall, increased social spending on health, education and poverty relief has occurred since the end of the dictatorship and has lifted over a million Chileans out of poverty between 1987 and 1992 (the poverty rate has dropped from 44.6% in 1987 to 23.2% in 1996, although this is still higher than in 1970). However, inequality is still a major problem as are other legacies from the Pinochet era, such as the nature of the labour market, income insecurity, family separations, alcoholism, and so on. Yet while “both unemployment and poverty decreased, in part because of programs targeted at the poorest sectors of the population by centre-left governments with greater social concern than the Pinochet dictatorship,” many problems remain such as “a work week that was among the longest in the world.” [Winn, “Introduction”, Op. Cit., p. 4]
Chile has moved away from Pinochet’s “free-market” model in other ways to. In 1991, Chile introduced a range of controls over capital, including a provision for 30% of all non-equity capital entering Chile to be deposited without interest at the central bank for one year. This reserve requirement – known locally as the encaje – amounts to a tax on capital flows that is higher the shorter the term of the loan. As William Greider points out, Chile “has managed in the last decade to achieve rapid economic growth by abandoning the pure free-market theory taught by American economists and emulating major elements of the Asian strategy, including forced savings and the purposeful control of capital. The Chilean government tells foreign investors where they may invest, keeps them out of certain financial assets and prohibits them from withdrawing their capital rapidly.” [One World, Ready or Not, p. 280]
Needless to say, while state aid to the working class has increased somewhat, state welfare for business is still the norm. After the 1982 crash, the Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO) reverted to its old role in developing Chilean industry (after the coup, it did little more than just selling off state property at discount prices to the wealthy). In other words, the post-recession “miracle” of the 1980s was due, in part, to a state organisation whose remit was promoting economic development, supporting business with new technology as well as technical and financial assistance. It, in effect, promoted joint public-private sectors initiatives. One key example was its role in funding and development of new resource-sector firms, such as the forestry sector ad the fishing industry. While free-marketeers have portrayed the boom natural-resource extraction as the result of the “free market,” in reality private capital lacked the initiative and foresight to develop these industries and CORFO provided aid as well as credits and subsidies to encourage it. [James M. Cypher, “Is Chile a Neoliberal Success?”, Dollars & Sense, September/October 2004] Then there is the role of Fundación Chile, a public-private agency designed to develop firms in new areas where private capital will not invest. This pays for research and development before selling its stake to the private sector once a project becomes commercially viable. [Jon Jeter, “A Smoother Road To Free Markets,” Washington Post, 21/01/2004] In other words, a similar system of state intervention promoted by the East-Asian Tigers (and in a similar fashion, ignored by the ideologues of “free market” capitalism — but, then, state action for capitalists never seems to count as interfering in the market).
Thus the Chilean state has violated its “free market” credentials, in many ways, very successfully too. While it started in the 1980s, post-Pinochet has extended this to include aid to the working class. Thus the claims of free-market advocates that Chile’s rapid growth in the 1990s is evidence for their model are false (just as their claims concerning South-East Asia also proved false, claims conveniently forgotten when those economies went into crisis). Needless to say, Chile is under pressure to change its ways and conform to the dictates of global finance. In 1998, Chile eased its controls, following heavy speculative pressure on its currency, the peso. That year economic growth halved and contracted 1.1% in 1999.
So even the neo-liberal jaguar has had to move away from a purely free market approach on social issues and the Chilean government has had to intervene into the economy in order to start putting back together the society ripped apart by market forces and authoritarian government. However, fear of the military has ensured that reforms have been minor and, consequently, Chile cannot be considered a genuine democracy. In other words, “economic liberty” has not produced genuine “political liberty” as Friedman (and others) claim (see section D.11). Ultimately, for all but the tiny elite at the top, the Pinochet regime of “economic liberty” was a nightmare. Economic “liberty” only seemed to benefit one group in society, an obvious “miracle.” For the vast majority, the “miracle” of economic “liberty” resulted, as it usually does, in increased inequality, exploitation, poverty, pollution, crime and social alienation. The irony is that many right-wing free-marketers point to it as a model of the benefits of capitalism.