Javier Milei and “contaminated” universities

Image: Duca Mendes


In the face of bestial violence against knowledge, we put in front, in the streets, in paintings, in narratives and on the pages we rely on, the knowledge of bestiality

Last January's World Economic Forum witnessed two surprising moments that shook some of the characteristic indolent and routine predictability. A meeting that brings together annually, in the Swiss city of Davos, political leaders, companies, international credit agencies, civil society and the media from around the world to work on what they call “the main global challenges”. It is the top of the pyramid of global privilege.

The first moment began with the letter entitled “Proud to pay more”, signed by 250 billionaires from 17 countries who draw attention to the colossal social inequality, the solution of which cannot be found in specific donations or philanthropy, and demand that States tax the very rich, like the signatories themselves, some like Abigail Disney or Valerie Rockefeller, clear personifications of the absurd concentration of wealth.

In it, they highlight that the solution is not in sporadic donations or philanthropy, but in taxation of the very rich, which would not substantially affect their standard of living or the economic growth of nations, but would transform unproductive wealth into an investment for the common democratic future. . Dutch historian Rutger Bregman emphasized in his intervention the need to stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes, comparing the situation to being at a firefighters conference where no one can talk about water.

Likewise, the NGO Oxfam reported that the social gap has increased significantly since the coronavirus epidemic, citing the 114% increase in real terms in the fortunes of the five richest men in the world (who did not sign the letter), including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. None of the Forum participants question the market, private property or capitalist relations of production. On the contrary, they want to reproduce them widely with stability and even permanently. Exploitation is not questioned, only the efficient balance that truly generates profits.

The second moment, specularly inverted, was led by President Javier Milei, who was one of several heads of state who intervened. Presented by the president of the Forum, Klaus Schwab, who said that he is an extraordinary person, “perhaps much less radical than people think”, and that he seeks to put Argentina back on the “path of the rule of law”. As soon as he began to read his speech, Javier Milei denied the German and disconcerted the entire audience by announcing that he had come to say that “the West is in danger” and accusing the entire political elite of being “co-opted by a vision that leads to socialism and poverty.”

For Argentines, the West is marked by multiple variants of “collectivism” that include communists, fascists, Nazis, socialists, social democrats, Keynesians, progressives, populists, nationalists and globalists. And the Forum itself, contaminated by an agenda that introduces a “ridiculous and unnatural struggle between man and woman” or “man against nature”, denying that it is human beings who cause damage to the planet and that it must be protected. He took the opportunity to denounce supposed population control mechanisms with the “bloody agenda of abortion”.

For the speaker, gender equality and environmental balance are already guaranteed by the “creator”. All of this would be a product of the co-optation of the media, culture, “universities and, yes, also international organizations” by neo-Marxists. It is not within the scope of this article to comment on the rest of the oratory piece full of historical, current and 19th century numbers and examples (described with tender nostalgia), all of them lacking sources, bordering on absurd. The astonished audience realized the essence of this Jurassic-mercantile fundamentalism.

Javier Milei has already given some clues about his theoretical sources, partly by naming his dogs after economists, whom he calls “four-legged children”, but, even more precisely, by explaining his adherence to the Austrian school. At the end of the IEFA Latam Forum, a meeting of businesspeople from the energy sector in which he was the last speaker, he highlighted that, in the academic field, “authors that are truly harmful to the history of humanity and, in particular, to Argentina” are discussed. rising up against Marx, whom he called “the bearded impoverisher”.

In line with what he said in Davos about “contaminated” universities, he ironized that at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), if the Faculty of Economic Sciences were asked who Ludwig von Mises was, they would answer that he was number 9 on the Dutch team, despite being for him, along with Murray Rothbard, the best economist of all time. This opinion is part of the bestial offensive against the public scientific and university system, first by defunding it and then intervening against it at every public opportunity. As one MEP very rightly stated, the extreme right is growing and becoming increasingly radical, while the left is becoming increasingly moderate.

I don't know exactly what sources and knowledge the cognitive circulation in this faculty develops, since I don't belong to it, although several friends suggest something quite opposite to me: a weak knowledge of Marx and a broad treatment of marginalist theories in general. At my faculty, Social Sciences at the same university, I myself teach courses on Marx's work, but also and fundamentally on the Austrian school, as this was born precisely from the challenge launched by Friedrich Engels, before the publication of book III of the work Marx's maxim, The capital, about how the author would solve the theoretical problem of transforming values ​​into prices.

Perhaps the “contaminated” universities Milei even ignores that the founder of the school he admires, Eugene Böhm Bawerk (with whom Von Mises graduated, as well as many other economists such as Schumpeter or Hilferding) wrote his main work “Karl Marx and the closure of his system” (1896) precisely as a critical and respectful review of Marx’s work, treating him as an “intelligence of the first order”. His criticism focuses on the starting point and breadth of the concept of wealth, which he transposes to psychology, but states that “he worked with fundamental notions and comfortable premises, showing a marvelous skill in his genre, until achieving, in a supposedly deductive, the results he had proposed and expected” (Zum Abschluß des Marxschen Systems). A very different treatment from the president's outbursts.

More significant than the ignorance of its own foundations is the ignorance of the Argentine public university and scientific system, heir to the university reform of 1918, which established freedom of professorship, meritocracy, cognitive modernization, secularization, the periodicity of professorships and the replacement of full professors, in addition to autonomy and shared government.

At the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), a discipline has several chairs that approach it from different theoretical perspectives and whose positions are accessed through regular public competitions. This form of organization emerged more than a century ago, resulting from a de-aristocratic and anti-clerical imaginary. A profound anti-feudal spirit overturned the lifelong and hereditary character of teaching positions and paved the way for the beginning of the critical and mass university. It is impossible for anyone to externally impose the study of this or that author to the detriment of others.

Javier Milei, trained as an economist at the University of Belgrano (UB, private), knows a different type of organization. It is an institution without parallel chairs, without any type of freedom, where professors are hand-picked according to any criteria, without excluding nepotism or friendship with the owner, and which, at the same time, lacks research and relevant scientific production. . I have many doubts about the criteria that international rankings apply in evaluating universities, but never to the point of excluding all comparative parameters. Last week, the British QS ranking placed the University of Buenos Aires in 69th place worldwide, and my course, Sociology, in 40th place.

UB, which trained the president, ranked 770th. On the other hand, the Scimago ranking published that Conicet's Social Sciences occupy 1st place in Iberoamerica and 10th worldwide, out of a total of 1870 Science and Technology organizations. The magnitude of the offensive against knowledge is such that 68 Nobel Prize winners in Medicine, Physics, Chemistry and Economics sent a letter in which they warn of the consequences of defunding the system not only for the Argentine people, but for the world. According to them, Javier Milei's policies will cause the “destruction of a system that took many years to be built and many more to be rebuilt”.

Uruguay and Argentina share a rare international privilege. Its public universities are the only ones in the world that have managed to fully preserve, and further deepen, the reformist rights that, more than a century ago, started that political earthquake: free education, unrestricted admission, autonomy and shared government. The geometric expansion and consolidation of the middle classes and their high comparative labor qualifications in the Rio de la Plata over the last century are not unrelated to the reformist movement.

While we are giving classes in the streets as a sign of protest and visibility, a federal university march took place this Tuesday, the 23rd, practically unprecedented due to the scope of the call, as it is called by the National Interuniversity Council (CIN) which brings together the deans of 73 public universities, Conicet, as well as trade unions, student organizations, human rights organizations and some political parties. In the face of bestial violence against knowledge, we put the knowledge of bestiality on the streets, in paintings, in narratives and on the pages we rely on.

*Emilio Cafassi is a professor of sociology at the University of Buenos Aires.

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

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