Is Pinochet the Model?

CHILE'S RECIPE WILL NOT WORK

Chileans are bemused by the attention paid the robust economy bequeathed them by General Augusto Pinochet. Reformers as far afield as Europe and America have taken special note of his reform of health care, education and social security. President Carlos Saul Menem pinned a medal on Pinochet, wishing aloud that he had received Argentina from his own democratically elected predecessor in as good political and economic condition. Most ironically, the one-time Soviet Communist Party organ Pravda-which had led a worldwide campaign against the Chilean leader-interviewed Pinochet to ask how Russia might follow the Chilean example.

Indeed, the "Pinochet model" is one of the standard cures touted for nearly any country seeking to make the transition from socialist poverty. This model, as it is widely understood, calls for some combination of political repression and economic liberalism: a strong-armed leader imposes a period of economic austerity and political stasis, after which the country emerges with a lean free-market economy, a vigorous civil society and a political class that is once again ready to assume the reins of government.

The closer one looks, however, the more difficult it is to construe a model from Chile's experience. Chile's reforms are indeed admirable. But the path by which they were achieved is less so. Beyond its repressive, undemocratic nature, the military government did not follow a clear blueprint or schedule for reform, and it made many inconsistent, counterproductive and nearly disastrous decisions along the way. Moreover, the accidents of time, place and fortune make it impossible for other countries to tread the same path. Between 1970 and 1973, Salvador Allende's avowedly Marxist government inflicted the full logic of statism on the Chilean people. By doing so, it created a demand for a radical about-face. The military thus took power with the simple idea of reversing Chile's long history of statist government. It was that vision, rather than the acrimonious 16-year political-military war between the armed forces and the country's traditional parties, that changed the country to the point where few Chileans long for the old days.

CHILE'S GREAT LEAP FORWARD

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