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January 18, 2007

Will Hutton on Pinochet

Finally, a Will Hutton column that contains an interesting point:

Nobody wants to be an apologist for Pinochet. Even the fascists, just after his death, delivered the verdict that his crimes during his rule meant that he had been 30% wrong. Pinochet was undoubtedly responsible for monstrous crimes, but if today's Chile ever completes the transition to a more plural economy and society it will be more obvious than ever that he was the man who partially laid the platform for today's Chile. And from this may one day emerge a country with the liberties of the rest of  the west.
The negative side of the Pinochet balance sheet is well-known: mass murder, famine, injustice, and economic waste. But there are less well-known positives. Industrial output climbed 13-fold, albeit from a tiny base. The rail network doubled. Half of Chilean land became irrigated. There was a dramatic lowering of illiteracy. Near universal healthcare was established. Life expectancy rose;  women were given the same right to petition for divorce and education as men. Their position was transformed.

An interesting argument I think you will agree? I'm not quite sure whether this statement is actually true or not:

Few western critics today appreciate the scale of the task confronting any moderniser of Chile in 1973. Western economies created the surpluses to finance industrialisation through incredible exploitation - of their own working class, and in the US via slavery. It was never likely that Chile could achieve self-sustaining economic growth without great collective pain to achieve its own surpluses, or that this could be done without the involvement of the state. Spontaneous market-led industrialisation is a myth.

But if it is true then that's the justification for the actions of the old murderer, isn't it?

January 18, 2007 in Idiotarians | Permalink


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Arguments that "great collective pain" was needed is not the same as saying that this necessarily had to involve disappearences, torture and mass murder.

Posted by: Katherine | Jan 18, 2007 11:05:49 AM

Katherine - read the link.


Posted by: aristeides | Jan 18, 2007 12:51:43 PM

Ah, yes, I'd forgotten the infamous coup of 1784 when Pitt the Younger had Charles James Fox liquidated, rounded up the Whigs and imprisoned them and thus laid the foundations for the state-directed nationalised Industrial Revolution. Shocking, this modern education, eh? Or perhaps global warming is affecting my memory?

Posted by: William Norton | Jan 18, 2007 1:42:21 PM

This article is an interesting variation on an old theme. Lefties always were liable to excuse any wrongdoing from the likes of Stalin or Mao because they were deemed to working towards the perfect, fair society. Castro is a current example of this.

Posted by: pete | Jan 18, 2007 2:20:39 PM

"Spontaneous market-led industrialisation is a myth."

Has this guy read any history of the 19th century?

Posted by: Bostonian | Jan 18, 2007 2:30:39 PM

K, read the link. Not entirely sure what Tim's point is now. Mao was a mass murdering b*stard. So was Pinochet. Both of them, one could just about argue, did some good stuff, but this cannot possibly be used a justification for the shockingly awful bad stuff. My comment stands.

Posted by: Katherine | Jan 18, 2007 2:35:33 PM

Katherine, Tim's point was exactly the same as yours!

Posted by: aristeides | Jan 18, 2007 2:46:22 PM

This article was almost as bad as Stiglitz's defence of the modern CCP. Truly staggering.

I just wrote a detailed rebuttal on my blog but what I find particularly bizarre is that Hutton's arguing that Mao deserves credit for proving that radical egalitarianism doesn't work. Somewhat a similar argument to giving credit to Hitler for modern Germany because he proved fascism doesn't work.

Posted by: Matthew Sinclair | Jan 18, 2007 2:48:15 PM

My parents' generation used to say "If only someone had shot Hitler before the war." Perhaps Pinochet effectively did that for Chile's Hitler. In the nature of things, we'll never know.

Still, even in nasty-bastardy there are differences in scale. Was Pinochet really as bad as Mao?

Posted by: dearieme | Jan 18, 2007 3:06:09 PM

Not nearly as bad. That's the point.

Posted by: Matthew Sinclair | Jan 18, 2007 3:16:40 PM

Will Hutton makes Martin Amis's statement all the more apposite:

"People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead."

Posted by: aristeides | Jan 18, 2007 3:54:02 PM

Hutton's article is not very good but I suspect the real reson why he draws so many hate responses (inlcuding this one from Mr Worst-of-all (?)) is the fact that he reminds his readers of the tremendous human loss caused by capitalist "modernization". China's own "communist" modernization is no worse, in terms of suffering inflicted, than the "modernization" of the rest of the world, including the effects of slavery, colonialism and imperialism. Here's a suggestion to you, Mr Worstall: why don't you judge such heroes as Washington and his successors by the same moral standards that you judge Mao. The American republic, that beacon of progress and democracy, was built on the suffering of slaves and the physical and cultural liquidation of the native people.

(Ironically, Hutton himself cites the nuking of Hiroshima as an example of the virtue of Western democracy, as if the fact that this horrendous crime is subject to debate makes the hundreds of thousands of victims any less dead. With this morally debased argument, Hutton shows that he really is not far, ideologically, from Worstall.)

Tim adds: Quick fact for you. The physical liquidation of the native people in The Americas was caused, as you should know, by disease, not active action. Try reading, Jared Diamond on the subject.

Posted by: piglet | Jan 18, 2007 6:10:12 PM

Industrialization in the US occured in the North, not in the slave economy of the South. The South generally detested the North because of its industries. It was industrialization, and the market, that ended slavery in the south.

Will we get much more of this from the Guardian? First, that tribute to Sadam, and now Mao. I'm waiting for: "Shah Palavi, we hardly knew ye"

Posted by: Dom | Jan 18, 2007 8:47:11 PM

"Spontaneous market-led industrialisation is a myth."

For an antidote, David Landes: Prometheus Unbound (Cambridge UP, 1969) is highly recommended.

Posted by: Bob B | Jan 18, 2007 9:54:23 PM

Pinochet killed 3,000, Mao killed 50,000,000 - how anyone can mention them in the same breath is beyond me. Perhaps it is because Mao only did away with the vulgar classes (peasants, merchants etc.) wheras Pinochet went for people who matter (i.e. people who went to university).

Posted by: Gabriel | Jan 18, 2007 10:53:49 PM

Try this on Chile before Pinochet:

Posted by: Bob B | Jan 18, 2007 11:13:53 PM

In antebellum USA the slave states were the poorest and least industrialised; industry was concentrated in the northern free states, which were the richer. Chattel slave economies are low surplus, not high.

US industry was NOT built on slavery, it was built despite slavery.

In England? Yeah, the conditions in factories were dreadful by todays standards, so why did people flock to industrial towns for jobs? Easy, bad as factories and the towns were they were much better than the country and agriculture. The factory workers, from the very beginning, were LESS exploited, and had better living standards, than the country folk.

Posted by: Chris Harper | Jan 19, 2007 4:05:10 AM

Ahem . .

"Before 1800 we have no reliable figures for the relative sizes of different economic sectors. We can say that the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture fell from an estimated 75 per cent in 1500 to 40 per cent in 1800. But the pre-1800 figures shown on figure 2 are estimates rather than hard data. The implied rise in agricultural productivity revolutionised the economy by enabling the proportion of the workforce not engaged in agriculture to rise from 20 per cent to 60 per cent. To date it has not been possible to specify reliably either the timing or the regional patterning of this development."

"The 1851 population census [in Britain] revealed a watershed demographic event: for the first time in the history of any large nation, more people lived in towns than in the countryside. . . . In nineteenth-century Britain, urban areas exhibited higher mortality rates than did rural areas."

Posted by: Bob B | Jan 19, 2007 9:24:17 AM

On mortality rates, there's sense in this:

"A sewer is the best medicine, poll declares. . . 'Contamination of drinking water is still the single biggest killer in the world and it always has been,' he said. 'As such, the humble lavatory is the greatest device ever invented in medical history.'"

Posted by: Bob B | Jan 19, 2007 9:41:01 AM

Gabriel, have you never heard of the Cultural Revolution? Killing university-educated people was the whole point...

Also, Ian Huntley killed two children; that chap in the Ukraine killed 150. I think it's entirely reasonable to mention them in the same breath, and would be surprised if anyone were to disagree.

Posted by: john b | Jan 19, 2007 11:22:34 AM