The miraculous story of the rescue of 33 Chilean miners would have captured hearts and minds anytime.
But at a time like now, when so much cynicism prevails, when we expect newspaper headlines to report about human behavior that disappoints rather than inspires, this story is particularly poignant.
Undoubtedly, the post-rescue news will focus on the 33 individuals who played the starring roles in this wondrous saga.
But there is another story that screams for attention. That’s the story of the remarkable little country, Chile, where it all took place.
Economist Mark Perry points out that the rescue mission – remarkable for both what was achieved and how quickly it happened – came as result of the best, cutting edge technologies from around the world – the United States, Germany, Japan, and South Korea – rapidly arriving on site and being deployed quickly and efficiently.
The fact that Chile is one of the most economically free nations in the world is thus critical to appreciate in understanding how this great success occurred.
Consider, in contrast, that one reason the BP oil spill cleanup operation did not proceed as quickly as it could have was because Jones Act regulations allowing only US flagship vessels to operate in our domestic waters precluded use of foreign flag ships.
Chile stands out as an example of achievements only possible when people commit to freedom and free markets.
It boasts the highest per capita GDP in South America and the third highest in the Western Hemisphere. Last December it became the first South American country to be invited to join the exclusive club of the world’s top industrialized nations, the OECD – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
But back just a little less than 40 years ago, Chile was a typical, poor South American nation, with intrusive government and sluggish growth.
How was it transformed?
Read a short essay called “How the Power of Ideas Can Transform a Country,” by one of the leaders that made it happen – Jose Pinera.
He relates how, in the mid- 1950s, the Catholic University of Chile signed a cooperation agreement with the Department of Economics of the University of Chicago, then home to the world’s top free market economists, including the legendary Milton Friedman.
Thus began the education of a generation of young Chileans in the wisdom of economic freedom. Beginning in the late 1970s, these young leaders, with newly minted PhDs, helped implement new economic reforms in Chile protecting private property and promoting free trade.