The defeat of the progressive Chilean constitution on September 5th proves that Chile remains the laboratory of the Chicago Boys, even if their experiments have ended. Privatized water, privatized pensions, the vast wealth of Chile ending up in the hands of private actors; this is the legacy of a group of bourgeois academics whose individual identities have largely faded into obscurity and can today be found haunting the halls of private universities, ghouls in the graveyards known as Economics Departments. While the clique which served Augusto Pinochet’s regime has lost the direct economic control it once enjoyed, a new generation of Chicago Boys, many trained by their predecessors, today take their place in Finance Ministries, Banks, and universities across the world to foist the imperial pedagogy of their masters upon the entire world.
To understand the imperial pedagogy propagated in bourgeois institutions and spread across the world through academic imperialism, we must examine the rise of the Chicago Boys and their education via a Cold War program. We wish to demonstrate that education itself is a facet of imperialism, a means by which to export ideology and ingratiate American values within the elite students of the Global South. The Chicago Boys are the epitome of that mechanism; understanding how they were forged intellectually will help us understand how indoctrination of the children of the Lumpenbourgeoisie furthers imperialism’s reproduction of a comprador class. This will help contextualize the violence of the Chicago Boys: how they gained control of the state with the help of Pinochet and the comprador class, how they imposed their dogma upon Chile, and how their violence continues in reciprocal cycles across Chile and the Global South. Ultimately, we seek to show that imperialism promotes its own pedagogy to the youth, one that we must contest at all stages to prevent students from falling into the service of Empire.
The inception of the Chicago Boys is a revealing story of how American academies extricate and educate the comprador class and then export them back to the Third World. They will cause as much suffering as any bomb dropped or debt imposed, but they do so in the hallways of the Ministry of Finance and the national University and inflict this pain upon their compatriots. Of course, as we have discussed before, this Lumpenbourgeoisie has no allegiance to their national interest. The Boys were no exception: they came from elite, bourgeois families, destined to serve the greater project of anti-Marxist warfare their parents saw themselves involved in. Some of the most famous Chicago Boys were the spawn of the Lumpenbourgeoisie through and through. José Piñera Echenique’s father was Chile's Ambassador to the United Nations; Joaquín José Lavín Infante’s father owned 500 hectares of land. And most infamous is Miguel Kast’s father Michael Martín Kast Schindele, a Nazi Oberleutnant who fled Germany for Chile at the end of World War II and is also father to José Antonio Kast, last year’s right-wing presidential candidate.
The (mis)education of the Chicago Boys began in the State Department’s "Chile Project", with funding from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. A partnership between the University of Chicago's Department of Economics and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile allowed a first group of 26 Chilean students to be educated at the University of Chicago between 1956 and 1964, and a second wave between 1965 and 1973 bringing 100 students, 26 of whom received their PhD and 74 who received an MA. They trained with arch-neoliberal economist Arnold Harberger as their academic and personal guide. This was meant to subvert the University of Chile’s College of Economics, which was described by US Ambassador to Chile (1953-1956) Willard L. Beaulac as “a communist nest.” Their program would be a part of the Center for Socio-Economic Studies (Cesac), a think tank financed by Agustín Edwards, director of the right-wing newspaper El Mercurio and CIA collaborator.
What was the student life of the Boys like? How were they molded in their youth by the American bourgeois institution? Some of them would buy video cameras and record their time at UChicago, footage shown in the 2016 film “Chicago Boys”. Like normal college students today, they filmed their parties, their study sessions, their “everyday lives as normal students”. In this environment of the elite, they were just normal students, all being taught how to perpetuate American imperial rule throughout the world. Contrary to the widespread notion of American universities as hotbeds of radicalism – especially during the 60s – the Boys fit in well with the anti-Marxist rhetoric of their professors, figures like Harberger and neoliberal messiah Milton Friedman, who become “father figures” to the “boys”.
This paternal relationship furthers a cult-like depiction of their time at UChicago. Descriptions from Harberger indicate that faculty and students met in the cafeteria to have discussions over lunch, creating a hyper-personal environment; meanwhile, the students were broken down and molded by a “combative” work-shop system where students and professors could present papers for debate, with the workshops being described as “bullfights” and “bloodbaths”. As Naomi Klein explains, “Harberger created a special "Chile work shop" where University of Chicago professors presented their highly ideological diagnosis of what was wrong with the South American country—and offered their scientific prescriptions on how to fix it”. These workshops did not allow for any dissent. Andre Gunder Frank, studying with Friedman at roughly the same time, recalled that Harberger would attack Chile’s social systems as "absurd attempts to live beyond its underdeveloped means”. Harberger and Friedman were highly involved with their students, and actively attempted to create “a band of faithful followers”. The Boys were happy to oblige, and the results were their own expansion of the dogma: “students were taught disdain for these attempts to alleviate poverty, and many of them devoted their PhD theses to dissecting the follies of Latin American developmentalism”. UChicago seems by this portrayal to surpass even Althusser’s description of an Ideological State Apparatus and seems to be more of a training camp for the zealots of neoliberalism. There was little brainwashing to be done when the Boys believed fervently in their anti-Marxist education as the children of the Lumpenbourgeoisie. Instead, they learned the tools of destruction they would need to further the mission of American imperialism. They would simply have to wait for a chance to use them.
They came back with “a sense of mission, the mission of the economist who, as the new philosopher, transmits science and modernism to society”. Because of their bourgeois education, they saw themselves as scientists, and their dogma reinforced by logic and reason. Dominique Hachette, ex-director of the PUC’s School of Economics, recalled that he “received good, scientific, positivist training, not an ideology designed by the ‘Great Satan.’” Rolf Lüders, Pinochet’s former Treasury and Economics minister from 1982 to 1983, said that the University of Chicago conceives of the economy “not as an instrument to justify one ideology or another,” but rather to observe reality in a way that was “positivist and empirical”. Reassured by the rational logic of their orthodoxy, the Boys became even “more Friedmanite than Friedman himself” and served as apostles of what Reagan liked to call "the magic of the market”.
Upon return from Chicago, the group took over the PUC School of Economics, expanding the imperial pedagogy throughout Chile. As Klein notes: “many took up posts as economics professors in the Catholic University Economics Department, rapidly turning it into their own little Chicago School in the middle of Santiago—the same curriculum, the same English-language texts, the same unyielding claim to "pure" and "scientific" knowledge… Now Chilean students didn't need to travel all the way to the U.S.—hundreds could get a Chicago School education without leaving home”. They prepared the ground for the many technocrats who would be needed for a neoliberal regime.
After the election of Salvador Allende in 1970, the Chicago Boys prayed for their opportunity to rid Chile of the “Marxist Cancer”. Once the American-backed coup had occurred, the Chicago Boys would use their connections to the Lumpenbourgeoisie, a process described by Eduardo Silva, to obtain power and implement Friedmanism. Most important for their ascension would be the “symbiotic relationship” they formed with Pinochet.
First, the Boys would have to beat out the more moderate elements of the coup coalition. The great changes in the world economy produced by the oil crisis of 1973 played one major external role in elevating the Chicago Boys to power, just as it cursed Chile to fall deeper within the aegis of American hegemony. Partnered with extractive industries in mining and commerce, and an internationally minded bourgeoisie eager to incorporate Chile within the American world order, the Chicago Boys, the highest intellectual representatives of the Lumpenbourgeoisie, proposed a program called El Ladrillo, a 300-page economic blueprint that was given to military leaders before the coup and which received CIA funds for “research”, which “was radical in the degree of its insensitivity to adversely affected economic sectors, including many capitalists and landowners”; we can only qualify that Silva is referring to some nationally minded Chilean capitalists and landowners, not the Lumpenbourgeoisie and certainly not Americans.
Meanwhile, “between 1974 and 1978” as “Pinochet gained ascendancy within the military junta and personalized his power… he formed increasingly tight links with the Chicago Boys”. Silva makes it clear that “the Chicago Boys… were not just a castelike group of neoliberal technocrats as they are often portrayed. Many of the key figures had close ties to ever more powerful radical internationalist conglomerates… By embracing the Chicago Boys, Pinochet formed an alliance with ideologues and conglomerates that controlled the most dynamic sectors of the economy; as a result they were able to sustain radical neoliberal policies”. The typical portrait of the Chicago Boys as omnipotent neoliberal magicians is inaccurate, Silva tells us; instead, their close ties to international industry and the Lumpenbourgeoisie enabled them to have a class basis to back Pinochet’s rise and form an elite network to impose neoliberalism on Chile. With the rise of Pinochet, “more Chicago Boys and their sympathizers gained high office in the next years, and as the internationalist conglomerates expanded, more neoliberal policies followed”. The result was that by “1979 Chile had a flat tariff rate of 10 percent… and a fixed exchange rate of thirty-nine pesos to the dollar”.
The violence of the Chilean regime under Pinochet was matched by the structural brutality inflicted on the country and the people by the economic policies of the Chicago Boys and their international conglomerate allies, all benefitting the elite of international, and certainly American, capital. Above all, it was Pinochet’s violent, personal dictatorship that allowed the Chicago Boys to test out the neoliberal dreams they could only have fantasized about with Milton Friedman, creating a nightmare for the rest of Chile. But the credit for the ideology that the Chicago Boys would bring back to Chile can certainly be paid to Friedman and Harberger, who loudly claimed it for themselves. As Klein notes, “sounding like a proud father”, Friedman argued in 1982 that the "Chicago Boys. . . combined outstanding intellectual and executive ability with the courage of their convictions and a sense of dedication to implementing them." Equally effusive, Harberger said "I feel prouder about my students than of any thing I have written; in fact, the latino group is much more mine than the contribution to the literature."
The Chicago Boys, active adherents to the doctrine of American imperialism, would utilize associations with international capital and the military to seize advantage of a world crisis and impose the neoliberal experiment that, by now, many throughout the Global South have been violently subjected to. The privatizations throughout Africa and Asia that have wreaked havoc and caused uncountable deaths can draw their origin to the “innovations” of these experimenters in taking the most morbid, most deranged theories of Milton Friedman and deciding to put them into practice in service of their imperial overlords. Likewise, generations of other “Boys” have implemented their education in Argentina, Indonesia (under the “Berkeley Mafia”), Mexico, Colombia, and more. Today, “Chicago Boys”, the descendants of the original students, continue to impose the violence of American imperialist ideology on the Global South, often their own nations of origin. They are no longer exclusively educated at UChicago, but emerge out of exchange schemes at universities across America, and follow afterwards to the IMF or World Bank.
Thanks to funding from USAID, the Chicago Boys spread their education to Argentina and Colombia, setting up “franchises” to "expand this knowledge throughout Latin America, confront the ideological positions which prevented freedom and perpetuated poverty and backwardness," as one Chicago Boy argued. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro put his economic policy in the hands of a team of University of Chicago-trained economists in 2019 and at the head of Petrobras in 2018; the effects of their shock therapy are being contested now in the run-off election between Bolsonaro and Lula.
Meanwhile, UChicago continues its training relations with the Lumpenbourgeoisie of Latin America in the form of networking organizations like the "Latin American Business Group at Chicago Booth School of Business" (LATAM). In a University Magazine article published after the February 2010 earthquake in Chile which killed 525, the second generation of Chicago Boys was put on full display. Alejandro Perez, AM’77, coordinated with his son, Eduardo Perez, a current business and public-policy student at UChicago, to organize aid for the victims. Justifying their actions, the father-and-son Chicago duo argued that they were “moved to act… not only by their personal connections to the country but also because of the University’s longstanding relationship with Chile, which they felt would inspire significant support”. Arguing that this relationship was best manifested in the Chicago Boys’ “free-market reforms” which “were implemented to stop inflation and prevent an economic collapse”, the University concluded that “the affiliation continues today”.
The University magazine affirmed this in the contemporary ruling class, pointing out that “the University continues to have a presence in the country’s government. Four of President Sebastian Piñera’s 22 cabinet members are Chicago alumni: economy minister Juan Andrés Fontaine, AM’80; foreign minister Alfredo Moreno, MBA’82; education minister Joaquín Lavin, AM’79; and Secretary General Cristián Larroulet, AM’80”. Chicago Boys continue to play critical roles in the neo-colonial governance of Chile.
The University also cited a “March 1, 2010 Wall Street Journal column [which] declared that Friedman had ‘saved Chile’’”, and one by “Foreign-affairs columnist Bret Stephens, AB’95, [who] wrote that Friedman’s ‘spirit was surely hovering protectively” to prevent the earthquake from becoming an apocalypse’”. Finally, the article cited economics-department senior lecturer Victor Lima, AM’96, PhD’01, who argued he had “witnessed the Chicago Boys’ reforms while growing up in Chile. He credits them for building the country’s relative economic strength that helped it endure the disaster. ‘I became an economist because I saw the Chicago people do the reforms in Chile,’ Lima says. ‘When you see economics at work and you see how powerful it can be in terms of improving people’s lives, it is hard to ignore.’”. Suffice it to say, the University of Chicago is not shy about its connection to the Chicago Boys. Its approbation is on full display in official University publications.
The legacy of the Chicago Boys is thus one of an imperial pedagogy, actively encouraged by universities like UChicago. This pedagogy brought the “Shock Doctrine” of neoliberal imperialism to Chile; Klein concludes by calling it a form of “intellectual imperialism”.
We can concur, in conclusion, with Juan Gabriel Valdés, Chile's foreign minister in the 1990s, who argued that the Chicago Boys represented "a striking example of an organized transfer of ideology from the United States to a country within its direct sphere of influence . . . the education of these Chileans derived from a specific project designed in the 1950s to influence the development of Chilean economic thinking." This ideological import would serve one final, important function: the privatization of pedagogy itself. The Chicago Boys played a central role in outlining Chile’s adoption in 1981 of a competitive voucher system for education. This caused the share of private subsidized schools to grow from 18.5% in 1980 to 32.7% of schools in 2001. In 2012, 60% of Chilean students studied in charter schools, one of the largest proportions on the planet.
The proposed new constitution would have made education universal and free, as opposed to the deeply segregated system put into place by the current neoliberal scheme. With its defeat by reactionary forces, Chileans will have to continue struggling to overcome the legacy of America’s importation of neoliberal ideology. But we can be sure that someday soon, the Chilean people, and all who have suffered from the privatization of every possible necessity of life, will regain their land, their water, and their right to knowledge and education, from the imperial pedagogues of the past.
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine
Eduardo Silva, Capitalist Coalitions, the State, and Neoliberal Economic Restructuring: Chile, 1973-88
By Joseph Mullen