EspañolI immediately recognized him from his Chilean accent during a coffee break at the International Congress of Austrian Economics, held earlier this week in Rosario, Argentina. Axel Kaiser, executive director of the Foundation for Progress, was wrapping up a conversation with other attendees, black coffee in hand, when he accepted my invitation to conduct this interview.
The libertarian lawyer is a controversial figure. He speaks clearly, directly, and doesn’t beat around the bush. The politically correct is not for him. Reactions to his writings in some of Chile’s most prominent media publications are very polarized — you either love him or hate him.
His article “Education is Not a Right!,” published in El Mercurio, received a record number of comments — mostly insults — for saying what many think, but few actually express publicly: education is an economic good.
Kaiser, who has gained a substantial following on Twitter, relayed his vision on the Chilean political, social, and economic reality under the second Bachelet administration.
What is the mission of the Foundation for Progress, considering Michelle Bachelet will govern Chile for the next several years?
To do everything possible to prevent the destruction of our country, because the reforms she has planned are extremely aggressive, and they go against all of the success the Chilean model has had over the last 30 years.
The foundation, while having the long-term goal of ensuring that the country doesn’t lose its way, is currently engaged in a short-term battle: we are trying to change Chilean public opinion so these reforms are not enacted, or at least enacted on a smaller scale, and then tomorrow we can reverse them.
What are the biggest challenges Chile faces in the short and medium term?
In the short term, the goal is to not destroy the system we have been able to assemble, which has been very difficult and very painful to achieve. It has allowed us to be the wealthiest country in Latin America. In the medium and long term, once we have ensured the survival of these institutions, the goal is to take the step we are missing to be a developed country in every sense of the word.
A society based in coercion and the use of violence will not allow for progress.
The goal is to a exceed a GDP per capita of US$20,000, or $22,000 to $40,000, through technological innovation; not to be so dependent on raw materials; to have very serious institutions; to reduce levels of corruption and government waste; and to lower energy costs, which are currently very high.
What do you think about the Chilean population’s support of for-profit education reform?
The majority of the population does not support [Bachelet’s] education reform as it is planned today. In fact, the survey from the Center for Public Studies, the most reputable polling organization in Chile, showed that the majority of the population agrees with for-profit education, if the schools offer a quality education.
What’s happened is that academics and politicians have established a conversation, with the support of progressive student groups, that has created an association between profit, morality, and poor quality, which is completely inaccurate.
There was not any artillery on the other side in terms of ideas or public discussion, which is why, for some reason, they have made great strides in the media. Bachelet has control of both chambers of Congress, so she can make the changes, even though the population opposes them. However, now she is backing down.
Why do you think the principles of Austrian economics seem so obvious to its supporters, yet they generate so much backlash in non-academic circles?
I think there are a number of reasons, but the first is that the general population has virtually zero understanding of economics. And I’m not talking about the population with an elementary education, I’m also talking about the educated class. No one knows anything about economics, including those that attend college.
If you have a conversation with those that studied law, or even economists themselves, you realize they don’t understand how the system works, and they very easily fall into traps of protectionism, subsidies, price fixing, and currency devaluation.
No one knows anything about economics, including those that attend college.
The other reason is that there are groups that benefit from these things. There are interest groups that conduct campaigns, publicity, marketing, and propaganda, for these types of ideas. Those that benefit from these ideas are going to promote them as the solution to problems, but in reality, all of this comes from the same interest groups that are trying to fill their pockets.
These are the two most fundamental reasons, but there are also aren’t enough people from our side in the media.
Does progress exist outside ideas of freedom?
Comprehensive social progress? No. One could say the Soviet Union made progress in the space race even though it was a totalitarian government, but what you can’t say is that a society based in coercion and the use of violence will allow progress to happen.
Progress consists of the discovery of what is not known. To discover what we don’t know, we need spaces for freedom, where experimentation can happen.
In a society of slaves, there will never be progress.