Bryan Caplan  

What Did Pinochet Know that Cowen Doesn't?

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With his characteristic fatalism, Tyler tells us:

If they put me in charge of a Latin country, I don't think I could deliver superior growth performance. At best I would avoid some of the really stupid mistakes, but I couldn't turn the country around.

On the surface, it seems absurd to think that Tyler couldn't match or exceed Pinochet's Chilean economic miracle. To me, Tyler's only plausible handicap is his lack of a reputation for brutality to keep him in power. Other possibilities?

P.S. One reader remarks "I get the irony, but it does worry me that for an 'economics and liberty' blog, you guys seem to get more authoritarian every day." I can see how you might read me that way, but recognizing that brutality can keep you in power is hardly an endorsement of brutality.

Normatively, I think I'm as far from authoritarian as you can get, but judge for yourself.


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COMMENTS (16 to date)
ryan writes:

At the risk of sounding crazy, wouldn't a reputation for brutality take care of Cowen's point #2 -- then you don't have any trouble with anyone blocking reforms.

ryan writes:

In light of Greenspan's recession warning, does this mean Bernanke's best bet is to launch a coup and rule this country's monetary policy with an iron fist?

flix writes:

I get the irony, but it does worry me that for an "economics and liberty" blog, you guys seem to get more authoritarian every day.

dearieme writes:

Libertarians presumably need to adopt pretty authoritarian measures to stop other people encroaching on their liberties?

Patrik writes:

Maybe because of the points raised by de Mesquita http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2007/02/bruce_bueno_de.html, i.e. you will be dependent on others (or is Tyler bent on implementing his policies on his own as well?). If he doubts his skills of navigating a Latin American political scene, the right call is to abstain, since he will only be dragged into something he can't manage.

Nathan Smith writes:

I could be wrong, but it's possible that Chile was "low-hanging fruit." Elsewhere, places with temperate climates and populations of mostly Western European extraction, like Chile, have tended to better than places with tropical climates and mixed/non-European populations, like Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, etc.

One problem here may be that "in charge of a Latin country" could be ambiguous. Does it mean that you hold the presidency or prime ministership until the next election, but have to govern in a democratic coalition that include labor interests etc.? Or does it mean that you have total, dictatorial power, so that you can declare and implement reforms that face opposition from vested interests or even much of the populace?

Also: other commenters seem disturb by Bryan's seeming implication that civil liberty can be an impediment to enacting economic liberty, but perhaps we need to think of a three-way distinction here: civil liberty / economic liberty / political liberty. Pinochet took away civil and political liberty in order to provide economic liberty. But could he have achieved the same improvement in economic liberty while taking away political liberty (democracy), but not interfering with civil liberty? If a civil-libertarian Pinochet figure is possible, might a libertarian, in good conscience, be able to endorse that?

Michael Sullivan writes:

I also take offense to the implication that there was a "Pinochet's economic miracle". It's already been discussed at this blog, but most of the miracle happened after Pinochet pulled back and then stepped down.

Arnold Kriegbaum writes:

Latin American countries are not hopeless, but they are substantially behind. Many solutions discussed here and not new (to the group that reads here) corrections will work: fiscal policy control, investment (or better yet complete elimination of government) in education, banking policy "cleanliness", monetary policy divorced of politics, and governance slowly stripped of corruption.

Now, the main problem I see is... re-election. Challenging so many entrenched interested would prevent remaining in power.

Sean writes:

See my comment on Tyler's request thread the other day:

Is authoritarianism excusable or permissible - for any length of time - if it is justified by a need for economic growth/reform (e.g. Lee Kwan Yew, Pinochet, Park Chung Hee)?

Similarly, how important is sovereignty in economic growth and willpower/willingness to reform (Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, etc.)?

Any thoughts, Bryan?

Boo-yah writes:

Lack of reputation for brutality? Clearly, you've never had to take one of his exams.

Steve Sailer writes:

Chile's topography is an upside-down version of the West Coast of North America (with a little less flat land) -- one of the wealthiest places on Earth. It's per capita GDP (PPP) is about 30% of the U.S.'s, so it's prosperous only by Latin American standards.

Martin writes:

'Dictatorship of the libertariat'...

Swell...

Edgardo writes:

Bryan, you write
"On the surface, it seems absurd to think that Tyler couldn't match or exceed Pinochet's Chilean economic miracle. To me, Tyler's only plausible handicap is his lack of a reputation for brutality to keep him in power. Other possibilities?"

Yes, there is at least one other possibility. He may lack the ability to assess the risks of alternative actions at a time of crisis. Few people have this ability and most professors lack it. Most professors are experts in "general knowledge" that is never sufficient at a time of action (for the relevant type of knowledge, see T. Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions). I lived in Chile between January 73 and January 85 where I was a professor of economics and adviser to private companies (I'm Argentinian with a Ph.D. from Minnesota), a period in which Chile had to cope with three crisis (1973, 1975 and 1982). Few of the many professors that I have met in my career (since 1985, I've worked in several countries, including China where I spent more than three years) could have made a difference in Chile or in any of the many crises in which I was asked for advice (as an adviser I've always limited myself to outline and assess alternative actions and I let decisionmakers to assess the risks of these actions).
As Sowell said (I don't have the book to quote him), professors can write about how to milk a cow but they can hardly come back with some milk. Please, don't get me wrong: I like economic models (I'm now playing with the latest institutional models to explain "the rise of the West"), but to take decisions you need to know something else and few professors are willing to pay the high price of learn it.

Bob Knaus writes:

What Edgardo describes I would call "leadership skills." I don't think most professors have them. You would need to be dumber, and have a more magnetic personality, than the usual Ph.D. in order to lead.

If I am right, then leadership is not something that most professors will learn. They are unlikely to give up their intelligence, and attractive personalities are notoriously difficult to acquire as an adult.

Michael Sullivan writes:

What Edgardo describes I would call "leadership skills." I don't think most professors have them. You would need to be dumber, and have a more magnetic personality, than the usual Ph.D. in order to lead.

One doesn't need to be less intelligent than a typical Ph.D. in order to lead. One does need to be less in love with one's superior intelligence than a typical Ph.D. in order to lead. Showing people up for being stupid is a negative for leadership (except in certain rare situations). Many intelligent people love to show people up. Many others do it completely unintentionally.

So, I would say that very intelligent people have an extra skill they need to learn in order to be a good leader, that more average folks do not, which is how to keep from showing people up accidentally with displays of your superior intelligence. It's quite possible to do this without dumbing oneself down, it just a learned skill. I would say that the extra work required of the very intelligent to learn this skill is balanced by the ability to do better analysis. Intelligence past a certain point is probably less helpful in a leader than other qualities, but it isn't useless or harmful, unless it's paired with certain neuroses or social dysfunctions that happen to be common (and often prized or rewarded) among intellectuals.

Eric H writes:

Tyler Cowen, Autocrat (a sit-com)

Episode I: Tyler sends out a command that everyone read at least one novel and a major work of non-fiction per day. He backs it off to one per week when it is obvious there aren't enough books in this backward nation to go around.

Episode II: Tyler decides there aren't enough BBQ and ethnic cuisine opportunities. Noting that Kim Jong Il once kidnapped Japanese for nefarious purposes, he decides to start a program to kidnap and bring in BBQ and Asian cooks. However, a displaced local cook convinces him he hasn't really valued the local fare highly enough, so now he has to repatriate the by-now acculturated foreign cooks.

Episode III: Tyler blegs ideas for reform ideas from the populace. They suggest more government handouts and punitive taxation on "the rich". The entire counter-reform movement that results is derailed when the nation is distracted by a rapid-fire series of national alerts concerning studies of race, IQ, chess cheating, Kyrgystan facts of the day, the creation of a new Cabinet position, Secretary of Uh-Oh, and mandates on personal behavior from Seth Roberts. Critics love the Pythonesque "And Now for Something Completely Different" feel of the show.

Episode IV: In something reminiscent of the Sopranos, Seth Roberts disappears. It seems to have something to do with Tyler's perseveration on the increasing blandness of BBQ sauce. The series takes a dark turn.

Episode V: Tyler begins forcing bureaucrats out of work, only to have Tyrone, his identical but evil twin, show up and countermand all of the orders on the basis that the regulations were mostly okay and some were even less onerous than "what might have been". Hillarity ensues. Some critics consider this to be the "Jump the Shark" Episode.

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