Javier Milei's Message to Collectivists in Davos: You Are the Problem

The human disaster in Argentina was not caused by climate change or AI or “misinformation.”

Javier Milei went to Davos to attend the 54th annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting last week.

Attendees of the meetings—often derided as global elites who bask in their pomp, privilege, and luxury as they try to address global problems with collectivist solutions—received a jarring message from Argentina’s newly-elected president: you are the problem.

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

That Milei was directing his message at those in attendance is of little doubt. Global leaders have abandoned freedom for “different versions of what we call collectivism,” he said.

The collectivism Milei references was the dominant theme in a bevy of speeches delivered by the world’s crème de la crème, who explained the actions that must be taken to save the world from freedom, markets, and various “crises.”

Maroš Šefčovič, a Slovak diplomat and a leader of the European Commission for the European Green Deal, discussed ways European countries, given the proper coercive tools, can slash emissions by 90 percent over the next decade and a half.

“The phase-out of fossil fuels is essential and inevitable,” said António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, in a separate speech.

Leaders of several countries discussed a proposed “global plastics treaty” to curb plastic pollution. It included discussion on bans already in place in some countries on the manufacturing and import of plastic bags, as well as “ecotaxes” on the selling and production of certain plastic products.

There were also numerous discussions on the global threat of “misinformation,” which is apparently the top concern of the global business community.

And then there was Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman of the WEF, who praised the Chinese Communist Party for its “commitment to a global regulatory approach” on innovations like artificial intelligence.

This is just a sprinkling of the topics discussed in Davos, of course, but you’ll notice a common current that runs throughout them: the solution to virtually every problem requires more government and “collective action,” and less freedom.

This is precisely the kind of thinking Milei, a self-described libertarian, took aim at in his speech, which was a clarion call for leaders to reject collectivist thinking and embrace individual freedom.

“The main leaders of the Western world have abandoned the model of freedom for different versions of what we call collectivism,” Milei told the audience. “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.”

As Milei pointed out, few can better attest to the failures of collectivism than Argentines. The country surged to prosperity in the latter half of the nineteenth century, only to experience a massive drop in prosperity due to its embrace of Peronism, a blend of fascism and socialism named after the left-leaning revolutionary Juan Domingo Perón (1895–1974) who dominated Argentine politics for decades following his initial ascent to power in 1946.

While many of Milei’s predecessors, such as the jet-setting Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a self-described Peronist and progressive, were delivering international speeches in Copenhagen about tackling climate change through “a new multilateralism,” Argentines watched their country slowly collapse into poverty.

By embracing protectionist trade policies and rampant government spending, Peronists set Argentina’s economy on fire. By 2023, 40 percent of the population was in poverty and inflation had reached more than 140 percent due to massive money printing. Because of the constantly eroding value of pesos, Argentine merchants are compelled to update prices on chalkboards throughout the day.

The human disaster in Argentina was not caused by climate change or AI or “misinformation.”

It was caused by Argentine politicians and bureaucrats abandoning free-market capitalism, an economic system that brought about unprecedented human prosperity across the globe, and a stark contrast to its various collectivist counterparts—fascism, Peronism, communism, anti-capitalism, etc.

This is why Mr. Milei called capitalism the only “morally desirable” economic system, and the only one that can alleviate global poverty.

“Countries that have more freedom are twelve times richer than those that are more oppressed,” Milei said. “Poverty is twenty-five times lower; extreme poverty is fifty times lower.”

This invites an important question, however. What is freedom?

Almost all conservatives will tell you they support freedom, of course, but many will advocate policies contrary to the principles of liberty. The same can largely be said of progressives.

Milei, who is not your typical politician, went beyond talking points on freedom.

Citing Argentine philosopher Alberto Benegas Lynch, Jr., he gave listeners a definition of the essence of liberty—libertarianism:

Libertarianism is the unrestricted respect for the life project of others, based on the principle of non-aggression, in defense of the right to life, liberty, and property.

Its fundamental institutions are private property, markets free from state intervention, free competition, and the division of labor and social cooperation, in which success is achieved only by serving others with goods of better quality or at a better price.

In other words, capitalist successful business people are social benefactors who, far from appropriating the wealth of others, contribute to the general well-being.

This is a wonderful description of the freedom philosophy, and it shows what separates Milei from nearly all other major political figures today, but particularly those gathered in Davos.

Milei recognizes that free-market capitalism is the source of human prosperity, not something that needs to be “bridled” or pillaged in a quixotic effort to save humanity or redistribute its fruits.

“It should never be forgotten that socialism is always and everywhere an impoverishing phenomenon that has failed in all countries where it has been tried out,” Mr. Milei said. “It has been a failure economically, socially, culturally, and it has also murdered more than one hundred million human beings.”

Milei is not wrong, but his critique does not apply merely to the failed socialist powers of the past, such as the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Cambodia, Venezuela, and others. It applies to new strains of anti-capitalism that currently infect Western systems, such as “social justice” and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) ideas.

And this is the challenge the world faces today.

The way forward will not be found by simply denouncing collectivism in its various forms. It will be found by embracing the ideas of freedom: voluntary action, property rights, individualism, trade, and free competition.

With many countries around the world reaching a dangerous crossroads due to mounting public debt, Mr. Milei’s speech did not fall on deaf ears.

More by Jon Miltimore