Other people will debate whether Augusto Pinochet, who died yesterday, was a wicked man who led a regime that killed three thousand people, or whether he should have killed rather more than three thousand as his communists foes have never had much of a moral problem with killing their enemies. My own opinion is that one should never kill an unarmed enemy – no matter what he or she might have been planning to do.
In the interests of honesty I should note that was not my opinion at the time. Many other communists regarded the independent Marxist President Allende as too rash and it is worth noting he was never a member of the official Communist party of Chile. Indeed when I heard the story about a group of communists mostly from outside Chile had been building forces from all over Latin America and beyond, had been told that President was about to deliver a speech and that they should come (leaving their firearms behind) and, when they got to the place the speech was supposed to take place, they were greeted with 50 calibre machine guns – well I laughed. But I was a child when I heard that story and children tend to be cruel.
Everyone has different levels of being shocked. For example, Pinochet either did not care (or did not want to know) about torture and summary execution. But when he got to hear of a rape of a prisoner he went through the roof (I heard this story from the prisoner via a BBC radio interview years ago) – the ‘holy army’ of Chile, based on the army of pre World War I Prussia – with joining up to the officer corps at the age of 15 and a monk like existence to one’s early 20’s, must not behave like ‘Argentines’, the prisoner must be released – and whoever was responsible must be…
On the democracy issue: It is true that Allende got more votes than any other candidate for President in the 1970 election (he got about a third of the vote), but he had violated the Constitution so much since then that the Congress had voted to outlaw him. Of course Pinochet did not turn over power to the Congress – he dissolved it (whatever it thought of Allende, the Congress with its majority of socialists and Christian Democrats would not have favoured someone who had just killed a lot of people – that it a problem with picking up a gun and doing some killing, how do you put it down again and not get punished?). By the way it was not, as is often claimed, the “first military coup in the history of Chile” as there was the coup of 1924 (but perhaps that does not count, as it was a leftist coup). But then what do you do? I suppose one could rule as a military dictator for life – without any constitutional settlement, but (for better or worse) that is not what Pinochet wanted to do. Yes there was repression and yes there was terrorism (not all the violence was one way – even though Pinochet had used the element of surprise to kill or arrest a lot of the communists before they had a chance to organize their war effort).
After the economy recovered from the mass takeover of private property, both the official nationalizations, and the unofficial takeovers by armed mobs that Allende had organized, and from the hyper inflation, which was neither ’caused by the CIA’ nor caused by ‘Marxism’ – Allende and his people just liked printing money like crazy, there is not a word anywhere in the writings of Karl Marx that urges such a policy,. Pinochet got a Constitution passed by the voters in (if my memory serves) 1981 so that he could point to popular support, but then the economy fell off a cliff again.
The reason for this is interesting. For a man who is supposed to have been close to Milton Friedman (in fact they only met once, and Friedman often openly said that he opposed military government) Pinochet ignored a central teaching of his – one must not rig exchange rates.
The truth is that Pinochet did not know much about economics. And the advisers that he had (‘Chicago boys’ or not) did not agree with Milton Friedman on this – they thought ‘rigging’ the exchange rate to the Dollar was a good way of getting rid of high inflation.
Actually the supply of fiat (government command) money is the only thing they should have been looking at. But they wanted to be clever and run an exchange rate scam.
I do not know why people do this. Nigel Lawson (to give one example) actually wrote against this practice when he was editor of the Spectator, but as Chancellor he himself rigged the exchange rate of the Pound (with the D-Mark) which led to the expansion of the money supply and a classic boom-bust cycle (which the economically illiterate blamed on tax cuts).
True the Chilean economy recovered (when the rigging was stopped), but Pinochet never really had majority support again. As he found out in the 1989 vote. The economy had recovered, he thought he was going win – but he lost.
Various Christian Democrats (really social democrat) have held office since 1990, these days an official social democrat holds office which (no doubt) means there will be an ever bigger rise in government health, education and welfare spending. No conservative has won a contested election for President of Chile in my life time – although they might have won in 1964 (if the Americans had not backed the Christian Democrats so much).
So was it all for nothing?
No, the compulsory pension system still has some real investments (rather than being entirely a government Ponzi scheme like the British and American systems). And the government does not have a monopoly of health or education (although there is pressure for more statism in both).
Most importantly there is still private property in the means of production in Chile. True, the copper industry in mostly state owned. The American backed Christian Democrat government of 1964-1970 started the nationalization of that – and the military got too much money out of the copper mines to really want to turn most of them over to private enterprise – actually they may happen under the civilians as selling the mines is a good way of getting money to spend on their welfare schemes, but most other things are private.
Chile still has some of the highest living standards in Latin America (and it would not have without Pinochet’s time in power). And as for killings – those people opposed to Marxism who did not leave Chile would have been killed if the Marxists had remained in power, and that would have been a few million dead rather than a few thousand. Although, as I said at the start, that does not make killing a few thousand people right.