Historical research can lead us to understand the manner in which events led to the circumstances we experience today, as well as why they occurred in the way they did. It provides us a manner in which to understand the mistakes of the past, and resolve to work towards a better future…if we take notice. However, that can be potentially undone when personal or political notions of belief get in the way. This has led some to perceive libertarianism and free-market capitalism as being the propagators of autocracy and dictatorship. How you may ask this happens? From the event involving a military dictator that oversaw the expansion of his country’s economy while also presiding over the killings, interments, and torturing of his political opponents over two decades of rule. His name was Augusto Pinochet.
Mr. Pinochet came to power in 1973 after the coup d’etat that overthrew socialist Salvador Allende in Chile. The coup was supported by the United States, possibly as a result of Allende’s alleged support of the USSR. America’s support is thought to have helped in Mr. Pinochet’s consolidation of power, which ultimately led to him being pronounced President by decree of the military junta. His military government, after initial paternalist tendencies, eventually implemented policies that were economically sound…privatizing inefficient state-run industries like social policy, cutting tariffs, opening up the economy to foreign trade and commerce, and so forth. This led to an expansion of the Chilean economy, which has been carried on in many subsequent administrations well after Pinochet left power, culminating in Chile being one of the freest economies in the world, and one of the best-performing of Latin America. However, that isn’t without the political and human rights violations that Pinochet’s regime exacted while in power…with the killings of between 3-4,000 political opponents, and the internment of over 80,000 people. About 30,000 are thought to have been tortured during his reign. After pressure to abdicate, Pinochet ultimately allowed elections and reform, which culminated in him leaving power in 1998 and absconding overseas. He was arrested in London over the violations of his term in office, but was allowed to return to Chile due to ill-health. He died in 2006.
The implementation of economic reforms that were supported by Chicago/Austrian economists has led some, especially many socialists and anti-capitalists, to conclude that such an instance proves libertarians and free-market capitalists support such dictators, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, during Pinochet’s time in office, Milton Friedman declined honorary degrees from Chilean universities, feeling that doing so would have come across as supporting a regime he saw as terrible and despicable. This shows that then as now, the ends never justify the means to those who value liberty personally and economically. They both go hand-in-hand. Without the ability to express and interact freely, the potential economic vitality that one can experience is lessened. Pinochet’s callous and inhuman behavior toward his political opponents and/or those who simply didn’t act the way he compelled them to is anathema to everything libertarians and those that value a free-market of goods and ideas stand for. Therefore, to equate both as being one and the same is an insult to such a philosophy.