Many articles have been written about why Mario Vargas Llosa received his well deserved Nobel Prize in Literature. What follows will perhaps explain why he got it so late. Hopefully, it will also provide some hints about why this award can contribute so much to create a new positive language and attitude toward economic liberty.
I can think of no other public intellectual with similar world stature as Mario Vargas Llosa who has devoted so much time helping grow the audience and appeal of the economic freedom message. Since the early 1980′s he became aware that the main barriers to economic and personal flourishing were imposed locally and not by foreign imperial powers. One of his first articles touching upon economics was a lengthy piece in The New York Times Sunday magazine, reflecting on the book The Other Path, written by Hernando de Soto, in collaboration with Enrique Ghersi and Mario Ghibellini. Vargas Llosa’s outstanding essay was a masterpiece and served as introduction to that policy best-seller.
Partly in reaction to the interventionist policies of a very different President Alan García, in 1987 Vargas Llosa created a political movement, the Movimiento Libertad. He parted ways with De Soto, and despite a good electoral showing, he lost the final election to Alberto Fujimori. Vargas Llosa, however, did not part ways or lost his love for freedom, both in the political and economic realm. This outstanding writer began supporting, with his actions and presence, the work of students and advocates of liberty.
He founded the Fundación Internacional para la Libertad (FIL), in 2002, which attracted to his board many leading think tank, and public policy leaders. One of FIL’s founding board members, Cristian Larroulet, from Chile, directed the Libertad y Desarrollo think tank for two decades before becoming the current chief of staff of President Sebastián Piñera. Another, Gerardo Bongiovanni, the energetic think tank leader from Rosario, Argentina, is the most active member of FIL and the ‘intellectual entrepreneur’ who has been closer to Mario Vargas Llosa during this last decade.
Each year, FIL organizes and lends its support to important events in Spain and the Americas. The most memorable took place last year in Caracas. After a brief detention at the airport, Vargas Llosa defied the government and continued with his educational speeches. President Chávez spent two entire days in his propaganda TV show attacking the FIL conference. Chávez challenged Vargas Llosa’s to a debate, only to pull out once the offer was accepted. I will never forget Vargas Llosa’s strategic behavior during that episode. He assembled our team, he listened carefully, and helped write a chapter of the struggle for liberty in Venezuela that none of us will ever forget.
During most of last century, and until today, the message of liberty, and those who championed it politically, has been increasingly made by economists. In previous centuries, moral philosophers like Adam Smith, or well rounded intellectuals and political philosophers, such as Juan Bautista Alberdi, had messages that appealed to sentiments, culture, art, and liberation. The human person of those liberals, like the human person in Vargas Llosa’s novels, is a much more real being than the adult rational maximizers who are the subject of most economic analysis. The promotion of liberty in the economic and political arenas will get a boost from the increased exposure giving to Vargas Llosa, a master in many languages.
With more freedom champions like him, it should be easier to solve the puzzle he presented at several of his conferences: ‘We know what creates wealth and what political and economic orders lead to more prosperous and just societies,’ but we still do not know how to tell the story of liberty in such compelling terms that would lead to building the necessary institutions and rule of law which serve as framework for a free enterprise system. This Nobel gives lovers of liberty a wonderful opportunity to refresh their language and better contribute to the noblest aspiration of the human heart.
Alejandro A. Chafuen is President of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and member of the board of FIL.