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What to know about Argentina's deregulation protests

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

This week the new president of Argentina, Javier Milei, deregulated an enormous swath of his country's economy. The impact of this so-called economic shock therapy is already being felt and being met with opposition. Planet Money's Amanda Aronczyk has the story.

AMANDA ARONCZYK, BYLINE: When Mar (ph) heard about the executive order, she and her friends jumped into a car and headed to Congress to protest.

MAR: (Speaking Spanish).

ARONCZYK: Thousands of people also showed up. Mar says that all that momentum of people gathering felt like when Argentina won the World Cup, but now people were angry - angry about all the radical economic changes to their country. Mar captured the protest on her phone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish).

ARONCZYK: Mar didn't want us to use her last name. She fears retaliation for protesting. But she went because she doesn't support President Milei's vision for the country.

MAR: (Speaking Spanish).

ARONCZYK: She fears Milei's plans to deregulate are a way of selling off the country or just giving it away. Since becoming president less than two weeks ago, Javier Milei has, through this executive order, required that all state companies prepare to be privatized. He has also changed or struck down thousands of laws, made deep cuts to the government's budget and devalued the local currency.

ANDY NEUMEYER: These days have been a roller coaster.

ARONCZYK: Andy Neumeyer is a professor of economics at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella. He says Argentinians are already noticing the changes. Some stores have had to close for the day so they can put new prices on things like meat and rice and cooking oil.

NEUMEYER: Lots of prices that were regulated went up big time - gas, the cost of health insurance, prices in the grocery stores.

ARONCZYK: Neumeyer says that all of the changes that Milei is implementing are to shrink the size and scope of the government.

NEUMEYER: The local version of clean up the swamp.

ARONCZYK: Aha. He wants to clean up the swamp.

NEUMEYER: He's not using that word.

ARONCZYK: But it's a similar spirit - ridding the country of what Milei calls excessive regulation that exploits the citizens.

NEUMEYER: All the system that is rigged by regulations that go to special interests.

ARONCZYK: Now, because many of these changes were done by executive order - basically, president's choice - it's quite likely that some of these will be challenged in court or the whole executive order could be struck down by Congress. But Neumeyer says that, still, he is shocked by the scale of what Milei has done.

NEUMEYER: Lots of things that nobody thought were politically feasible.

ARONCZYK: Neumeyer says that, as an economist, he knows these measures are textbook - kind of Econ 101 - to fix Argentina's economy. But he didn't think any politician would have the guts to cut back on so many popular government programs.

NEUMEYER: For a political scientist, it's, like, going where no one has gone before.

ARONCZYK: Milei won the election by a fair amount of votes and with a mandate to implement economic shock therapy.

NEUMEYER: This transition might be tough for some people.

ARONCZYK: It's so many dramatic things in such a short period of time.

NEUMEYER: And there are more to come.

ARONCZYK: When President Milei announced these changes, he also said this is only the first step. Amanda Aronczyk, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS SONG, "LOVE OVERBOARD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Amanda Aronczyk (she/her) is a co-host and reporter for Planet Money, NPR's award-winning podcast that finds creative, entertaining ways to make sense of the big, complicated forces that move our economy. She joined the team in October 2019.