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We made a new friend today. His name is Jose Pinera. Jose does not enter a room, he envelops it. He is everywhere at once, engaged and engaging. When you look into his face, you are looking in the eye of a benevolent hurricane. He is a man on a mission. Jose has been injected with the serum of a healing truth. If you ever doubt the power of ideas, a short talk with Jose Piñera will make a believer out of you.
For those of you who don’t know of him yet, you (and your grandchildren) surely will. He is changing the world, steadily, year-by-year, in ways that are profound and permanent. Jose Piñera is the father of the movement to privatize social security.
His journey started in Pinochet’s Chile in the 1970’s, and he has never looked back. During the difficult years of the 70’s and 80’s, he was on the side of freedom, democracy and human dignity, even when the personal costs to him could have been disastrous. He set in place the privatization plan for social security in Chile that turned its retirement program from a black hole of ever-increasing tax burdens into an individual investment horn-of-plenty. In the years preceding this conversion, Chile grew at an average 3.5%: in the years after, 7.5%. Although not all that difference is because of Jose’s program, experts estimate that about 1% is directly traceable to it. Do you have any idea what adding 1% per year to the world’s growth rate would do for the accumulation of wealth for humanity? And while they grow richer, people are learning about the benefits of the private vs. the public sector. What, my friends, is the price one can put on that lesson?
While most lovers of liberty sit around and debate how many anarcho-capitalists can dance on the head of a pin, Jose Piñera is flying around the world saving it.
Chile is only the beginning of the story. From the early 1980’s until the present, fourteen other countries, including England, seven Latin American countries, and several in eastern European have instituted individual investment retirement programs, with varying degrees of privatization. All of them are headed in the same direction: towards freedom. And the rest of the world will ultimately follow: there is no stopping an idea whose time has come. Sr. Piñera had dinner with Mr. Bush several years ago, and a long meeting with Mr. Putin last spring. We will all share in the benefits from those encounters, perhaps sooner than we might think.
I started this story by saying that we made a friend today, and we assuredly did. Jose can – and did -- talk with remarkable intelligence on many subjects, and is always interested in other views, ready with a bright and humorous addition to any conversation. His capacity for joy seems limitless, and his sincerity unquestionable. He is a man who knows his own worth. He expects recognition for his accomplishments, but only so that he can accomplish more. Fame, power, wealth? These are the goals of other people. They are not the personal goals of Jose Piñera. Jose Piñera is promoting an idea because he is excited about empowering the individual and about spreading freedom’s fame. He wants to alleviate suffering. He wants to help make life easier, richer. Jose Piñera cares about people, not in the sticky-sweet way that most people claim to, but in the ways that really count. He enjoys people, and he wants to help make his and their lives better.
The few hours spent with Jose and my other close friends ended too quickly. The time left us breathless, with a thousand sparks of thought all seeking to become campfires around which we could warm ourselves for many nights. The glow of the friendship we all felt tonight was very real, but so was the understanding that Jose is more than our friend; he is also a great man. He has an abundance of things to share with his friends, with one sad exception; he has a scarcity of time. We hope that we will see Jose often, but we doubt if that will be possible. It is our loss, but mankind’s gain.
Tonight, Jose told us the story of an exhausted young man coming home late on the night of November 4, 1980, flushed, finally, with the victory of getting his retirement plan through a recalcitrant Chilean legislature. He turned on his television to be met with an excited newscaster announcing that “right-winger Ronald Reagan” had just been elected President of the United States. He raised a glass of wine in a toast to his victorious comrade.
It is my suggestion that on every July 4th, we raise our glasses to Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams for their great Declaration of human hope and dignity; and every November 4, we do the same to two of the greatest champions of those values in our lifetime, Mr. Reagan and Sr. Piñera.
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