Principled engagement in an imperfect world

By Jose Piñera

(Informal remarks after receiving the 2009 Adam Smith Award from the Association of Private Enterprise Education. Published in the Journal of Private Enterprise, Fall 2009)

I am honored to receive today the Adam Smith Award from the Association of Private Enterprise Education and moved by the generous introduction of my friend Roberto Salinas.

The Chilean Revolution, the radical dash for free markets and limited government, was successfully completed under extremely difficult internal and external circumstances in the 1970s and 1980s. Those reforms, once matured and legitimated by five governments of different political perspectives, have placed Chile as number six in economic freedom in the Fraser Institute's 2008 World Report, two places above the United States.

Over the last two centuries, the political and economic history of Latin America has been in direct contrast with that of the United States. It is well known that the New World was born at almost the same time in the North and the South, that the North began poor and the South rich, and that in 500 years the positions have entirely reversed.

My hypothesis is that the tragedy of Latin America is the result of it having been an orphan continent. The Liberators of the South - generals Bolivar, San Martin, O'Higgins, and Sucre, among others - fought heroically to free their countries from Spanish political control. But they did not anchor the young republics on the values of individual liberty, did not establish the rule of law, and did not limit the delegation of authority by the people to their democratic representatives. On the contrary, they maintained the Spanish centralizing tradition. Bolivar's hero, symptomatically, was the authoritarian Napoleon Bonaparte and not a constitutional president like George Washington.

So, Latin America had Founding Generals rather than Founding Fathers. The result is that even today the region lacks the institutions and principles of a true democracy in the service of freedom. That is why progress is so unsteady and fragile.

In Latin America, as in most parts of the world today, those of us who want to create a better world must be willing to engage an imperfect world. But to be successful in that difficult quest we have to go armed with strong principles to educate about the ideals of a free market economy, limited democracy, and the rule of law.

Your generous recognition today will help me in this difficult cause, one that I define as “a principled engagement in an imperfect world.



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