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Javier Milei Delivers Argentina’s First Surplus in Over a Decade

The revelation that Argentina has done something the US government hasn’t done in more than two decades—run a budget surplus—seems like a newsworthy event. So why the silence?

By guest author Jon Miltimore
February 27, 2024

Argentines witnessed something amazing last week: the government’s first budget surplus in nearly a dozen years.

The Economy Ministry announced the figures Friday, and the government was $589 million in the black.

Argentina’s surplus comes on the heels of ambitious cuts in federal spending pushed by newly-elected President Javier Milei that included slashing bureaucracy, eliminating government publicity campaigns, reducing transportation subsidies, pausing all monetary transfers to local governments, and devaluing the peso.

Milei’s policies, which he has himself described as a kind of “shock therapy,” come as Argentina faces a historic economic crisis fueled by decades of government spending, money printing, and Peronism (a blend of national socialism and fascism).

These policies have pushed the inflation rate in Argentina, once one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, above 200 percent. Today nearly 58 percent of the Argentine population lives in poverty, according to recent study.

And Milei rightfully blames Argentina’s backward economic policies for its plight—policies that, he points out, are spreading across the world.

“The main leaders of the Western world have abandoned the model of freedom for different versions of what we call collectivism,” Milei said in a recent speech in Davos. “We’re here to tell you that collectivist experiments are never the solution to the problems that afflict the citizens of the world—rather they are the root cause.”

The revelation that Argentina has done something the US government hasn’t done in more than two decades—run a budget surplus—seems like a newsworthy event.

Yet to my surprise, I couldn’t find a word about it in major US media—not in the New York Times, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, or Reuters. (The New York Sun seems to be the only exception.)

I had to find the story in Australian media! (To be fair, the Agence France Presse also reported the story.)

One could argue that these outlets just aren’t very interested in Argentina’s politics and economics, but that’s not exactly true.

The Associated Press has covered Argentinian politics and Milei extensively, including a recent piece that reported how the new president’s policies were inducing “anxiety and resignation” in the populace. The same goes for Reuters and the other newspapers.

A cynic might suspect these media outlets simply don’t wish to report good news out of Argentina, now that Milei is president.

Indeed, in the wake of the news that Milei’s reforms had already resulted in a budget surplus, both Reuters and the AP ran articles highlighting a new study under the headline “Poverty in Argentina Hits 20-year High.”

Why US media would choose to ignore Milei’s budgetary accomplishments and highlight Argentina’s soaring poverty, which is decades in the making, is a difficult question to answer.

The decision could stem from the fact that these outlets have described Milei as a “far-right libertarian,” and a “Trump-like” figure (even though Trump, unlike Milei, is not a libertarian or classical liberal).

Another possibility is that these media institutions are suffering from something known as “media capture.”

Media capture can come in various forms and has numerous definitions, but the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) defines it as “a form of governance failure that occurs when the news media advance the commercial or political concerns of state and/or non-state special interest groups controlling the media industry instead of holding those groups accountable and reporting in the public interest.”

The most obvious examples of media capture would be outlets refusing to cover stories due to explicit threats of retaliation from powerful actors.

Maybe a sponsor says they’ll pull advertising if you run a story about the side effects of their product, or maybe a powerful Hollywood director threatens reprisals if you report his sexual abuses. Perhaps a certain Royal Family threatens to cut off interview access to your network if you run an interview with a sex trafficking victim who says she was victimized by a member of that Royal Family.

These are all very real scenarios of captured media, and such situations can have a profound impact on independent journalism.

“Captured media can go from vigilant watchdog to toothless public relations machine, ignoring the news of the day,” CIMA notes.

This is why the government takes such an interest in media. The economist Murray Rothbard famously wrote that because “its rule is exploitative and parasitic,” the state has a great incentive to shape opinion and ideology, which are the source of power.

Few tools are more effective at shaping thought than media, which is no doubt why the greatest tyrants of the 20th century went to great lengths to control it.

Constitutional systems of course require more subtlety. Which is why, as Rothbard wrote, the state purchases “the alliance of a group of ‘Court Intellectuals,’ whose task is to bamboozle the public into accepting and celebrating the rule of its particular State…”

The state has various methods to “purchase” the allegiance of media and others who can shape opinion, and some of these are downright shocking.

Writing for Rolling Stone in 1977, legendary reporter Carl Bernstein exposed records showing that hundreds of US journalists had been paid by the CIA over years to do work on the Agency’s behalf.

“Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation, and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services,” wrote Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward broke the Watergate scandal.

He continued:

Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without-portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting the CIA is paying the above-mentioned media organizations not to write flattering stories about Milei.

Media capture, as mentioned, comes in various forms. And my hunch is that it typically involves applying pressure and offering incentives in more subtle ways than overt quid pro quos.

What I am saying is that no institution is more effective at media capture than the government, which has even more resources and power than Hollywood directors and royal families. And chief among the state’s many agendas is its own self-preservation. This puts the state at odds with free-market libertarians like Javier Milei who wish to create a more prosperous society by reducing (or eliminating) government’s influence over our lives. And this is the reason a resounding free-market success story in Argentina is likely unwelcome news to both the state and the Court Intellectuals who serve it.

The problem is, free-market economics is the only force that can save Argentina from proceeding further into an economic death spiral.

From countries like Hong Kong and Ireland to former Soviet Bloc countries such as Estonia and beyond, free markets have transformed struggling and impoverished economies with what Adam Smith long ago recognized as the surprisingly simple recipe for prosperity: “peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.”

It will do the same in Argentina, given the opportunity—whether media choose to cover it or not.

This piece was first published on under the title, Javier Milei Delivers Argentina’s First Surplus in Over a Decade—and US Media Is Silent.