December 10, 2006

Augusto Pinochet Buys the Farm

Chile's Augusto Pinochet is dead. Pinochet was the general who staged a US-backed coup that deposed elected socialist President Salvador Allende.

The ensuing few days were an ugly bloodbath, involving such atrocities as the cutting out of the tongue of the leftist folksinger Victor Jara, the torture and deaths of thousands and the exile of many more. Pinochet's secret police went so far as to carry out assassinations in the US. He's accused of absconding with lots of money from the public coffers as well.

Pinochet's régime instituted market reforms along the monetarist lines favored by the economists at the University of Chicago. Chile has since become a constitutional democracy, and its economy one of the strongest in Latin America, as the World Bank reports in "REGIONAL FACT SHEET FROM THE WORLD DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS 2006--Latin America and the Caribbean." Social indicators seem strong in comparative terms as well.

One should not deny the brutality of his régime. However, if it is true that the middle-run results have been positive, we are faced with the old breaking-eggs-to-make-an-omelet question. Leftists have made this excuse for régimes they like whose innovations they call historically necessary. Was Pinochet's brutality necessary for reforms that led to positive results? If so, how does one weigh one against the other?

UPDATE: Marc Cooper, who worked for Pinochet's predecessor, the ill-fated Allende, points out that Chile has one of the most unequal income distributions in Latin America. This is confirmed by Wikipedia:
Inequality and poverty continue to be the region's main challenges; according to the most recent report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) Latin America is the most unequal region in the world[9]. Moreover, according to the World Bank, nearly 25% of the population lives on less than 2 USD a day. The countries with the highest inequality in the region (as measured with the Gini index in the UN Development Report[10]) in 2006 were Bolivia (60.1) Colombia (58.6), Paraguay (57.8) and Chile (57.1), while the countries with the lowest inequality in the region were Nicaragua (43.1), Ecuador (43.7), Venezuela (44.1) and Uruguay (44.9).
The economy, being export-driven, apparently grows without the larger domestic market that a more equal income distribution might create.

I further venture to suggest that a victory by the forces surrounding Allende would, in the long run, have been worse.


Matthew said...

The Chilean economy didn't take off until the mid-late 90s. Pinochet instituted obvious market reforms, the same ones that other countries in the region (Brazil, Argentina particular) instituted. Like those, Chile went into debt from over-borrowing. That's the reason he got overthrown, the reason all of those dictatorships got overthrown.

Since the mid 90s Chile has had a moderate government. They are the people who deserve credit for Chile's success, not Pinochet. He was a tyrannical anti-democrat.

A Superfluous Man said...

Apartheid South Africa offers a more compelling case. If SA becomes indistinguishable from the current assortment of absolutely broken African countries, was apartheid justified?