So it’s probably grotesquely arrogant of me to presume to translate one of the greatest Latin American novelists of the 20th century, but I recently ended up rendering in English a talk given by the incredible Mario Vargas Llosa: “Why Does Latin America Fail?” I only hope that when he reads it, he doesn’t hire out a contract killer to off me for sullying his prose. Oh, and I also hope that I can find some way to work this into a grad school application when I decide to return to academia, as part of an effort to exploit the living hell out of my last name.
Oh, and in addition to the shameless self promotion, I should observe that the talk makes an important point: classical liberals should take a good hard look at the specifics of any policy being hawked as “liberalization” or “deregulation” or “privatization” before instinctively throwing our support behind it. Since “subsidies for powerful interests” doesn’t play well in public debate as a label for some policy proposal, rent-seekers all too often appropriate our rhetoric in misleading ways to describe their ideas. So you get “liberalization” that means managed trade festooned with rules to protect market incumbents, or “deregulation” (that is, reshuffling the regulations) of the kind that worked oh so well in California’s electricity markets, or privatization that, as Vargas Llosa puts it, amounts to turning a public monopoly into a private monopoly run by administration cronies. If we support those things because someone stuck a friendly tag on it, we look extra dumb when, predictably, such reforms fail. Or, depending on whose perspective you’re looking at it from, succeed.