Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Venezuelan Tragedy

In Venezuela, the dream of popular socialism is collapsing into empty stores, hospitals without medicine, rolling electricity blackouts and actual hunger. Inflation is (depending on who you ask) 720%, 900%, or even 2,000%. Nice summary here.

Chavismo –as Venezuelans call the system created by now dead dictator Hugo Chavez – never worked very well, but during the days of high oil prices it worked well enough. Now that oil prices have collapsed, the Venezuelan economy is collapsing along with them. Venezuelans are paying a high price for supporting a government of Marxist nincompoops.

But as I have noted before, Chavismo didn't come from nowhere. Chavez was hugely popular among Venezuela's poor, and he came to power in an election that most people think was fair; he won two more-or-less fair re-election battles, the last time with more than 60 percent of the vote. Poor Venezuelans supported him because under the previous government both major parties were infamously corrupt and their leaders routinely lied to voters or made promises they didn't even try to keep. (Viz., Carlos Andrés Pérez was elected president in 1989 on a platform of repudiating the demands of the IMF and the US and renegotiating Venezuela's debts, but once elected he did nothing of the kind, instead following the IMF's "reform" dictates to the letter.)

Venezuela strikes me as a cautionary tale about capitalist democracy. If you spit on the poor long enough, and make much of the middle class worry that they will soon be among the poor, the voters will eventually turn against your sensible middle of the road economic plans and find somebody with more radical ideas. Trump and Sanders are warning shots that the American elite ought to take more seriously. If people like the Koch brothers want to remain rich and safe, they should stop fighting any plan to make the poor better off and start spending their billions searching for ways to help.


pithom said...

"If people like the Koch brothers want to remain rich and safe, they should stop fighting any plan to make the poor better off and start spending their billions searching for ways to help."

-Socialism makes the poor better off? In what universe? The Koch brothers are as far away from Venezuelan plutocrats as Obama is from Chavez.

G. Verloren said...


It's staggering how overwhelmingly you misunderstood what was said. In fact, the degree of obtusity on display is so great, part of me is in shock and trying to rationalize it by suggesting perhaps it is purposeful feigned ignorance. Still, might as well attempt to explain either way.

The Koch brothers rely upon the extant system to maintain their wealth and status. If conditions in America ever deteriorate to the point that the poor and middle class feel like they'd be better off overthrowing the extant system in favor of something else such as populist socialism, that would directly threaten the interests of the Koch brothers.

As for socialism making the poor better off, that's pretty much the primary viewpoint and goal of the entire philosophy.

And as has been discussed several times on this blog, from all the evidence available it is abundantly clear that simply giving poor people money is literally the best way we know of to improve their lives. And in the context of Venezuela, the poor of that nation democratically put a socialist government into power, and that government gave money to the poor by nationalizing the oil industry, which resulted in the poor being better off.

Now, obviously in the long run things have gone awry through mismanagement. But that's not the point. When we compare to America and the Koch brothers, the point is that if the poor of America get too fed up with things, they might decide to elect a socialist government. And that government might decide to take drastic measures such as nationalizing various industres and seizing of assets from the wealthiest members of societ - like the Koch brothers - to redistribute to the poor.

And thus, the suggestion that the Koch brothers need to start finding ways to help the poor. Ultimately they would be better off spending some of their wealth on keeping the poor from becoming too miserable and desperate, rather than spending nothing but ultimately losing a far greater amount to a populist revolution led by the disaffected poor and middle classes.

G. Verloren said...

The sad thing is, we've known all of this for millenia now. The Romans knew the importance of keeping their poorest citizenry happy, through the use of proverbial "bread and circuses".

So why is it time and again throughout history, the richest and most privileged classes end up forgetting this? How did the House of Bourbon blind themselves to the coming of the French Revolution? How did the Tsar of Russia fail to recognize the dangers of the discontented Bolsheviks? How did we delude ourselves into thinking we could keep the Iranians under our thumb by controlling their outrageously corrupt Shah? Why is it the rich are so adept at rigging the game in their favor, but so bad at seeing the self interest in providing for the masses? Is it simple hubris? The sheer intoxication of money and power? Or something else entirely?