The eccentric economist-turned-politician Javier Milei is Argentina’s President-elect after crushing mainstream politician Sergio Massa in the 2023 presidential election.
No doubt, Javier Milei’s unusual approach to Argentine politics separates him from the “suit-and-tie” opposition. Milei, nicknamed “the Wig” for his habit of not combing his hair, is also a cosplayer, cosplaying as an economics-themed superhero, “General AnCap” — meaning anarcho-capitalist. Additionally, the president-elect’s five dogs are all named for libertarian economists.
The unstable South American nation has reeled from decades of economic mismanagement, characterized by bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and hyperinflation. An unprecedented economic failure, Argentina is the butt of an economist’s joke: “There are four types of countries: developed, underdeveloped, Japan, and Argentina.” The joke arises from Argentina’s incredible ability to defy the laws of supply and demand, for the worse. Despite little economic growth, inflation continues; this is where the Milei enters the scene.
As a young college student, Milei was stupefied by Argentina’s financial stagnation, leading him to take an interest in economics. Graduating with multiple degrees in the field, Milei was an economics professor for over 25 years before entering politics.
As one of Argentina’s most famous modern economists, Milei is a prolific author of various academic papers and served as an advisor to the G20 group. However, behind the veneer of a respectable academic is a dramatic, unusual private life that has bled into the public eye.
First elected to public office in 2021 as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, Milei has built an image as a fiery — if not eccentric — orator. Running on the slogan of “I didn’t come here to lead lambs but to awaken lions,” Milei ran door-to-door campaigning and held conversations with willing constituents on the sidewalk.
During his two years in the Chamber of Deputies, Milei ran a monthly raffle to donate his salary to a lucky citizen. Using this as campaign leverage, Milei termed the practice “returning the money that the political caste stole” through taxation.
Milei’s brand of ultra-libertarian economics has resonated with Argentine citizens. Attacking the unpopular political class as “useless” and “parasitic,” Milei unexpectedly rode the wave of public animosity to the presidency. Initially running with low poll ratings, Milei gradually outperformed frontrunners Sergio Massa and Patricia Bullrich.
Argentina uses a multi-round format to elect the president, with voters casting ballots for all candidates in the first round, and then casting ballots for the two winning candidates in the second round. Milei overtook Patricia Bullrich of the liberal ‘Juntos por el Cambio’ electoral alliance in the first round, advancing to the second round. In the second round, Milei won an upset victory against economy minister Sergio Massa of the ruling Justicialist Party, garnering 55.69% of the vote – the highest in modern Argentine history.
Despite Javier Milei’s training as an expert economist, the financial markets are reeling in the wake of his victory. The Central Bank of Argentina devalued the Argentine peso by 20% in the wake of Milei’s victory, worsening an already severe inflationary crisis. The central bank is a target of Milei’s various proposed economic reforms.
Now president-elect, Milei’s policy proposals will face the wrath of the newly minted opposition. While Milei’s victory was staggering, the incumbent Justicialist Party remains the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate. This will make most of Milei’s radical policies, like abandoning the Argentine peso in favor of the US Dollar, extraordinarily unlikely – if not impossible.
While Milei’s provocative ideas may not pass the gridlocked legislature, the libertarian economist espouses a diverse array of political positions that may attract unlikely allies.
An unrelenting proponent of individual freedom, the incoming president is a supporter of legalized prostitution, drug decriminalization, transgender recognition, and same-sex marriage. However, on the conservative side, Milei supports loosening gun restrictions and the re-implementation of banning abortion.
Additionally, Milei is not the first outsider politician who has promised to revitalize the country, only to disgracefully retire in failure. Argentina’s beloved Juan Perón, whom Milei is staunchly critical of, was ousted in a military coup in 1955, despite being Argentina’s most famous leader. More recently, former president Mauricio Macri championed more moderate reforms than Milei, only to lose by nearly 10% of the vote in the 2019 elections and later retired.
Elected despite – or perhaps because – of his flair, Milei has set Argentina on an uncharacteristic trajectory for a major Western economy. However, the uncharacteristic has become normal in many Western democracies, following the example set by former American president Donald Trump. While Milei represents a twist to Argentine politics, his election is anything but extraordinary for the region, following the upset elections of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and far-left Gabriel Boric in Chile.
With the stunning rise of the daring economist, Milei has turned Argentina on its head. Time will tell whether the upstart will bring prosperity to the battered nation, or follow in the footsteps of those who’ve tried – and failed – in the recent past.
First-year Richie Dockery is a Staff Writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.