Rusli Halim

Brown School: Social Work | MSW


Cohort 2014


Graduated 2016

Partner University:

University of Indonesia


Rusli Halim was in the McDonnell International Scholars Academy and an alumnus of McDonnell Academy partner University of Indonesia—Jakarta, Indonesia. He received his master’s degree in Social Work at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis in 2016. He is currently a Monitoring Evaluation Accountability and Learning (MEAL) Officer for Save the Children Indonesia in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia.

Scholar Highlights

The Technocrats’ Dilemma: The Case of the Chicago Boys and the Berkeley Mafia

Chile and Indonesia are two countries located in different hemispheres of the world. Seemingly there are major differences between the two countries, but a closer examination reveals some similarities in their political-economic trajectory.

During the Cold War era, the U.S. was competing for influence against the Soviet Union. The U.S. was concerned that the communist party would gain control in Indonesia because the Communist Party of Indonesia at that time was the third largest communist party in the world after the Soviet Union and China. Moreover, the first Indonesian president, Soekarno, had an unfavorable opinion toward the U.S. whom he saw as an agent of neo-colonialism. The U.S. sponsored elections in 1965 against Soekarno led General Soeharto to power. In Chile, General Pinochet seized power on September 11, 1973, in a military coup that toppled the socialist government of President Salvador Allende.

Hence the two countries were led by authoritarian governments. General Soeharto ruled in Indonesia from 1966 to 1998 and General Pinochet presided over Chile from 1973 to 1990. During these authoritarian regimes, the two leaders were assisted by the U.S.-educated technocrats who played an important role in economic policy-making. Technocrats are people who serve in the government and are chosen because of their expertise. They usually are not career politicians or even members of political parties.

The Indonesian technocrats who served the Suharto government were known as the Berkeley Mafia. As the name suggests, the Berkeley Mafia were graduates of the University of California at Berkeley (UCB). The Faculty of Economics at the University of Indonesia was planning to develop a cadre of economists as there was only one person, the dean, who held a doctorate in economics at the time. With fellowships from the Ford Foundation, a group of young people pursued their PhDs in Economics at UC Berkeley and later helped Suharto’s government in conducting economic reforms. The Chilean technocrats who sat in Pinochet’s government were called the Chicago Boys. The Chicago Boys came from the Catholic University in Santiago and studied at the University of Chicago under a partnership program.

The technocrats in Indonesia and Chile helped each of their countries into an era of economic growth. Growth averaged 6.5 percent per year in Indonesia from 1965 to 1997, while Chile became one of the most developed economies in South America.

The economic growth enjoyed by the two countries, however, was not without a cost. In order to maintain stability and power, Suharto and Pinochet each targeted anyone associated with the left movement in their countries (suspected socialists and communists). Official reports of the mass killings in Indonesia from 1965 to 1970 state that at least 500,000 people were murdered, while human rights group estimated between 600,000 and 1 million people were killed during the purge. The Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation reported that during Pinochet’s rule, around 28,000 people were tortured, 2,279 executed, and 1,248 missing.

The gross human rights violations in Indonesia and Chile took place in a context where global forces came into conflict with local politics. Many factors were simultaneously at work and it is difficult to argue that only the technocrats were responsible for this issue. The technocrats had good intentions to develop their countries’ economies and were able to implement relatively successful economic interventions under the protection of the military government. In turn, the economic growth and stability helped the authoritarian governments stay in power. This was the dilemma faced by the technocrats.

Hailing from an academic background, the technocrats believed that their decisions were value-neutral and they only focused on implementing their knowledge. However, their policies were not implemented in a vacuum. As McDonnell Academy Scholars and as future leaders, we should take a critical reflection at our role in the world. We may take office in technocratic governments, even though our career plans are to be in academia or other positions that do not involve politics. In the future, we also may find that the knowledge we get from Washington University can be used as a political tool. As we have seen, there are two sides to this coin and we should position ourselves not only as capable academics, but also responsible people.