The Chile Project: The Story of the Chicago Boys and the Downfall of Neoliberalism by Sebastian Edwards - review by Bruce Caldwell

Bruce Caldwell

The Dictator & the Bean Counters

The Chile Project: The Story of the Chicago Boys and the Downfall of Neoliberalism


Princeton University Press 376pp £28 order from our bookshop

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the military coup in Chile that brought down Salvador Allende’s left-wing government and ushered in its replacement by a junta led by General Augusto Pinochet. The junta remained in power for almost seventeen years, during which time its economic advisers, collectively known as the ‘Chicago Boys’ because of where many of them had trained, successfully advocated a variety of free-market, or neoliberal, reforms. The road was bumpy at first: although the runaway inflation that Allende’s policies had produced was tamed, it was at the cost of high unemployment, and in 1982 a currency crisis caused a deep recession. By the time democracy was reinstated in 1990, however, the economy was doing well, and since then it has continued to improve. As Sebastian Edwards puts it in The Chile Project,

After more than a century of mediocre performance, in the early 2000s Chile became, by a wide margin, the wealthiest nation in Latin America. Around that time it also attained the best social indicator levels in the region for health, education, and life expectancy. As a result, people living below the poverty line declined from 53 percent of the population in the mid-1980s to merely 6 percent in 2017.

Given this remarkable economic performance, dubbed by some the ‘Chilean miracle’, why did the country suddenly explode into protests in October 2019? The revolt led to the establishment of a constitutional convention, which in 2022 delivered a draft of a proposed new constitution. Had it been ratified, it would have transformed Chile into a plurinational state, with a lengthy list of rights put in place (even glaciers were to have them) and the neoliberal policies of the past tossed aside. In that same year, 35-year-old Gabriel Boric was elected president on a platform of eradicating neoliberalism. The end of the drama is still to be written. On 4 September 2022 the new constitution was put to a vote and rejected by a hefty majority (62 per cent opposed, 38 per cent in favour), so the process of rewriting the constitution will begin anew.

In The Chile Project, Edwards tells the story of the rise and fall of neoliberal policies in Chile. This is a daring endeavour. For critics of neoliberalism (and the term is mostly used by its critics), the Chile episode is often offered as the exemplar of an authoritarian

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