FORMER British prime minister Liz Truss was born in the wrong country. Had our dear Philippines hosted her political career, she would have survived and thrived, not crashed and burned, like what happened in her tumultuous seven-week tenure as British prime minister, the shortest in British history. In the ruins of her political career, Rishi Sunak, one with roots in a former prized possession of the empire, India, did what was deemed to be impossible — take up residency at 10 Downing Street.
Here is the explainer. Ms. Truss is the ultimate shapeshifter, balimbing in the local political culture, which is, definitively, the key to surviving and thriving in the transactional ecosystem of Philippine politics. Where, sadly, standing up to one’s principle and having deeply formed beliefs and adhering to these beliefs is verboten and a career-ending one.
Ms. Truss was a passionate liberal democrat before getting bitten by the conservative bug. She was anti-Brexit before she became a rabid and unabashed pro-Brexiter. She had a world talent for embracing the political fad of the moment. Until she fell into the company of free market, small government zealots that loathed government intervention, trade unions, immigrants and European integration.
But what is a sterling quality in the malleable environment of Philippine politics, always shedding political coats to join the party in power and always moving with the political currents, is always almost bound to face a day of reckoning in the older, more mature democracies. Imagining herself as a Margaret Thatcher reincarnate, Truss and her fellow band of economic free market zealots unveiled a budget without funding, announced plans to reduce taxes on the wealthy and also reneged on an earlier commitment to increase the corporate income tax. Amid double-digit inflation and the need to shore up revenues, the plans made in libertarian heaven were roundly rejected as either “moronic” or, in a kinder term, “holiday from reality.”
The pound sank to parity with the US dollar, the Bank of England had to intervene to rein in the economic free fall, and there was revolt even among the Thatcher-worshiping figures in the Conservative Party. Truss was forced to resign, taking down her beloved neoliberalist ethos as well.
Gabriel Boric, the 36-year-old president of Chile who vowed after his electoral victory last year to ” bury neoliberalism,” should write Truss a long thank you letter. What Boric has been struggling to finally bury the neoliberal dogma that has brought so much misery to those outside of the wealthy class across the globe, Liz Truss has managed to do in just 44 days.
And the background to Boric’s vow is this. Chile was the experimental ground, the grand testing site for neoliberalism in the 1980s. Augusto Pinochet, the dictator of Chile who seized power in a coup that toppled democratically elected President Salvador Allende, agreed to make Chile the center of that grand experiment. His policies were heavily shaped and influenced by the members of his technocratic cabinet called the “Chicago Boys,” after the University of Chicago where most of them trained in fiscal and monetary policies. Milton Friedman, the architect of market efficiency and ultimate free market zealot who was then based at the University of Chicago, helped guide the Chicago Boys and Pinochet.
The struggle of Boric is reflected in the defeat of a new Chilean constitution that was written to precisely expunge the Pinochet-era constitutional provisions on economic priorities and shift priorities to economic and social justice. A coalition led by Big Business and political conservatives helped defeat the proposed constitution in the ratification vote. Even with his clear electoral mandate, Boric failed in the first major round of his effort to rid Chile of its neoliberal vestiges.
Came Truss and her full embrace of neoliberal policies in the midst of massive economic hardships and a world that is souring on small government and market-solves-everything policies. Truss’ brief and much-ridiculed tenure has largely accomplished what Boric has set out to do — bury neoliberalism and the slew of policies built around that creed.
Predictably, there remains a few outliers to the global movement to re-examine the ruinous economic templates of neoliberalism.
I know one country that still makes cutting corporate income taxes and cutting taxes for the wealthy a policy fixture — ours. In fact, that was a policy plank adopted by several major national candidates in the May national elections. Same with liberalizing imports as a way of building national food security despite clear economic data that agricultural trade liberalization defenestrated the country’s struggling agriculture sector. Before the accession to the World Trade Organization in 1995, there was parity on agricultural exports and imports. Today, this once-proud rice-producing country is bound to import anywhere from 3.2 million metric tons of rice to 3.5 MT this year, a record high.
A country that, at the drop of a hat, will scrap all equity provisions in the Constitution if that can be done overnight, even through questionable legal means.
A country where the Congress will prostitute itself and exuberantly resort to legislative whoring to “attract foreign investments.”
A country where the national conversation on critical policy is dominated by Koch-inspired libertarian groups, with echo chambers in the economic cluster of the Cbinet.
A country where rational policymaking has been swept away by the undiminished vigor and staying power of zombie ideas that have generated global rejection and scorn.