Tag: earthquake

Chilean Government Now Wants Higher Taxes on Junk Food

Following Rahm Emmanuel’s advice of not letting a crisis go to waste, the new center-right government in Chile now wants to extend the permanent rise in tobacco taxes—supposedly adopted as a measure to finance post-earthquake reconstruction—to foods with high concentrations of salt and trans fat [in Spanish]. Jaime Malañich, the Health Minister, said that the earthquake is opening up an opportunity to implement a measure that would increase the government’s revenue and fight obesity and that has been considered for many years.

My colleague Ian Vásquez wrote a few days ago that, by announcing unnecessary tax increases as post-earthquake reconstruction measures, the recently-inaugurated administration of Sebastian Piñera was quick to disappoint those who expected a bold move toward strengthening free market policies that have made Chile a Latin American success story. If these announcements are any guide, expect more disappointments.

A Disappointing Start in Piñera’s Chile

The presidential election in Chile that brought Sebastián Piñera to power last month was good news for Chile and the region. It confirmed once again that Chile is Latin America’s most modern country, one in which Chileans chose a center-right candidate to lead the country after 20 years of center-left governments that by and large stuck to the free-market model set in place in the 1970s and 1980s and that has made the country one of the most economically free in the world. In Chile, what’s at stake in presidential contests is not a radical change of the rules of the game, but rather policies that build on or depend on high growth. Chile’s mature democracy and economy serve as a model for Latin America.

But in just over a month of being in office, Piñera has made two decisions that disappointed his supporters both inside and outside of Chile who believed that he would reinvigorate the Chilean economy and stand firmly against the populist-authoritarian model that Hugo Chávez has exported to the region. Piñera backed the re-election of José Miguel Insulza to head the Organization of American States and has proposed a tax increase on large companies. Insulza and the OAS are widely and correctly viewed as having been silent, incompetent or complicit in the face of repeated violations of basic democratic and civil rights by populist governments in the region. Whatever the domestic political reasons for Piñera’s decision, countless Latin Americans who cherish their rights—not the least of whom are Venezuelans, Hondurans, Bolivians and Ecuadoreans—were disillusioned by the endorsement of Insulza.

On Friday, Piñera proposed to “temporarily” raise taxes on large companies from 17% to 20% (and to increase mining royalties and to permanently increase tobacco taxes) to finance Chile’s post-earthquake reconstruction needs. But a number of Chile’s leading economists are criticizing the tax increase and point to other sources of revenue that would be less damaging to growth. Hernán Büchi, a finance minister in the 1980s, and Luis Larraín, head of Chile’s free-market think tank, Libertad y Desarrollo, have both written op-eds in recent weeks pointing out that one of the country’s main problems has been the steady drop in productivity in recent years. Piñera was elected on a platform to increase productivity. A tax increase would aggravate the problem. According to Büchi, 20 years of center-left governments reduced Chile’s ability to eliminate poverty and followed a path that was politically easy and consistent with their ideology: “It would be a bad omen if the first measures of a government that should represent change in this regard, went down the same path.” Larraín adds that the tax decision will reveal Piñera’s governing approach, in which there is a real danger of avoiding necessary reforms and a president content with simply being a better administrator. We shall see.

Earthquakes and Freedom: Chile vs. Haiti

Although some comparisons between Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake in January and Chile’s 8.8 quake this weekend have attributed the massive differences in devastation and lives lost (230,000 vs. some 700 respectively) to different enforcement of building codes and planning, the real reason for Chile’s superior ability to endure the disaster has everything to do with its vastly higher level of economic freedom, reliable rule of law, and the much higher level of prosperity that results. Here are three good articles that make those points:

Bret Stephens on “How Milton Friedman Saved Chile”

John Stossel on “A Tale of Two Quakes”

Anne Applebaum, “Chile and Haiti: A Look at Earthquakes and Politics”

And here’s a piece I wrote on Haiti explaining how economic freedom could have dramatically reduced death and destruction there.