Javier Milei, The Hard Rocker In Argentina's Highest Office, Turns His Book Talk Into Wild Show

Argentine President Javier Milei, center, and National Deputy Jose Luis Espert celebrate at the end of a promotional event for Milei's new book in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
Argentine President Javier Milei, center, and National Deputy Jose Luis Espert celebrate at the end of a promotional event for Milei's new book in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A book presentation about neoclassical economic theory may not sound like a crowd-pleaser.

But in Buenos Aires mobs of star-struck fans packed a giant auditorium on Wednesday to hear Argentina's president, the libertarian economist Javier Milei, lecture on the importance of freeing capital from the control of the state.

As he strode through a sea of fans jostling for selfies and climbed onstage, the shouting crowd leapt to its feet. Whistles, stomps and chants of his political slogan "Long live liberty, dammit!” filled the theater.

They were greeting Milei like a stadium rocker. And within moments, he became one.

Grabbing the mic and swinging into a cover of “Panic Show” by Argentine hard rock band La Renga, Milei jumped frenetically around the stage, whipping 10,000 fans into a frenzy.

“I am the lion,” he hollered, shaking his unruly hair to the beat. “I am the king of a lost world.”

When the music came to a stop, he tossed off his black leather jacket to reveal a business suit underneath and stepped up to the podium, returning to his usual persona as a disheveled academic. “I wanted to do this because I really wanted to sing," he said.

Then Milei launched into the presentation of his new book, “Capitalism, Socialism and the Neoclassical Trap," published May 1, a contribution to the so-called Austrian School of economics that calls for governments to step out and let the market decide.

“Market failures do not exist,” he said. “First, check there is no state intervention.”

Milei had initially planned to promote his book at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair, the country's largest literary event that kicked off earlier this month. But when the left-leaning organizers gave speeches calling out Milei for defunding cultural institutions, the president canceled the event and promoted a new one at the city's Luna Park arena downtown instead.

He gave ironic thanks to the book fair organizers on Wednesday night. “With an attempted boycott, you gave us this party," he said, as pulsating lights and clouds of artificial smoke enveloped the stage.

It wasn't Milei's first time jamming out in public. “Panic Show” performances with reworked lyrics were an occasional feature of campaign events. His love for rock music dates back to high school, where he started a Rolling Stones tribute band and danced like Mick Jagger during recess, according to journalist Juan Luis González's biography of Milei, “El Loco.”

He kept his taste for theatrics as a libertarian pundit invited onto TV and radio stations to rail against Argentina’s economic malaise — drawing attention as much for his entertaining antics as his “anarcho-capitalist” theories.

“This connection he has with people, I've never seen anything like it," said 72-year-old attendee Liliana Varela as she watched Milei glad-handing supporters. “He is creating a disruption at the very moment that we need it.”

Milei's latest flamboyant episode Wednesday comes at a sensitive time for Argentina, in the midst of its worst economic crisis in two decades with more than half of the population living in poverty and annual inflation surging toward 300%.

Milei's severe austerity measures have so far compounded the struggles of Argentina's poor and middle classes. An unprecedented diplomatic crisis is underway with Spain, Argentina's historic ally and major trading partner, over Milei's criticism of socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his wife.

“Milei doesn’t have to answer to Sanchez,” said 62-year-old Hernan Sanchez queuing outside the venue. “He is defending his beliefs."

When the crowd screamed vulgar insults about Sánchez, Milei responded with a smirk. “Stop that or Mondino is going to ask me for overtime,” he quipped, referring to the foreign minister.

Despite the turmoil Milei's ratings have stayed strong. His die-hard fans were out in force on Wednesday, lining up for hours in frigid weather and dancing to keep the energy up when Milei ran over an hour late.

“He's the best president in the world,” gushed 20-year-old Matías Muzica, dodging questions about his policies but praising him as Argentina's answer to Donald Trump. “He can make Argentina great again.”