Argentinian presidential elections don’t often grab the headlines in the UK, but the eccentric character and unusual political platform of the man just elected to the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires has attracted huge attention, here and across the world.
Physically, Javier Milei has much of the Boris Johnson about him, with a mop of unkempt hair adorned with a pair of enormous sideburns, together with a familiar ability play the fool while somehow still managing be taken seriously. His lifestyle, at least as a young man, seems to have much in common with Mr Johnson too (or indeed an earlier British liberal, John Wilkes), resembling, not so much the economist that he became as an archetypal 1970s rock star. His ability to communicate with the man in the street is similarly developed too.
With libertinism running in Milei’s blood, it is unsurprising that his political platform is similarly unusual (at least for a successful politician), straddling the ground between libertarianism and outright anarchocapitalism. More interestingly, for readers here, he is apparently an avowed global warming sceptic, having apparently described climate change as “a socialist invention”.
Milei, it is fair to say, is not keen on socialism, seeing its prevalence in Argentine society as the root of his country’s long decline from being one of the richest societies on Earth to its current position as a prominent economic basket case. On the hustings, he has promised to sweep leftism aside, cutting spending freeing the private sector, with a programme of dollarisation to deal with runaway inflation.
However, once he has taken the reins of power, the truth is that Milei will have to move carefully. With the Argentinian state living a hand-to-mouth existence in a desperate bid to fend off its creditors, its new president does not have a free hand. Dollarisation has been a success in El Salvador and other places in Latin America, but could still go painfully wrong. The goodwill of creditor nations will therefore be important. This is a problem, because they are unlikely to be happy with many of the other things Milei might do to ease the plight of Argentina’s poor. For example, expanding production at the massive Vaca Muerta shale play could reduce energy bills (or the burden of providing fuel subsidies), but would not go down well with the green lobby.
A sane energy policy for Argentina may therefore have to wait. This may explain why the domestic renewables industry has reported productive meetings with Milei’s energy advisor, Eduardo Rodríguez Chirillo. One of those who attended has reported that there will be no deviation from the Paris goals. An emissions trading scheme has apparently been mooted too, and an energy transition undersecretariat will be formed by the new Government, or so it is said.
If this is true, then it may be that the climate movement is already a major barrier to improving the lives of Argentina’s poor, and potentially even an insurmountable one, for all Milei’s big talk on the campaign trail.