The answer has always been there, throughout history: top-down, central management-by-bureaucrat of an economy fails. Always it ends in a crater. The bigger the nation (think France under the Bourbons, or the Soviet Union), the bigger the crater when from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs, as interpreted by bureaucrats, comes home.
The latest example is, of course, Venezuela (although the next might be the USA. We have no shortage of Chavistas among our would-be “political scientists”). The whole nation is going the way of Obamacare, with ways and means diverging ever more from needs and expectations. The government is holding the lid on with force. That works, until it fails: “gradually, then suddenly.”
Peter Wilson, a US expat turned enthusiastic Chavista, has become disillusioned and repatriated himself, and tells the sad story of the country in a long, thoughtful piece at Foreign Policy.
I left Venezuela. It was perhaps the most difficult decision in my life, even after a wave of armed robberies in my village and mounting shortages of food, medicine, and spare parts that have made lives a constant struggle for survival.
Sometimes it seemed to me that only President Nicolás Maduro and I would remain in the country, which has seen 1.5 million inhabitants flee to seek better lives abroad since Chávez’s swearing-in as president in 1999. The exodus shows no sign of easing. In fact, it will probably get worse.
Venezuela is on the edge of a political crisis that could push it into a protracted and violent conflict along the lines of Colombia’s civil war. …Maduro may be difficult to topple, even if polls suggesting that 80 percent of the country’s 30 million inhabitants want him gone.
Even if he leaves office, Venezuela will need years to recuperate from the damage wracked by the socialist revolution spearheaded by Chávez and carried on by Maduro. The economy is in shatters, a victim of mass expropriations of local businesses and industries. Twelve years of price and foreign exchange controls, state giveaways, and rampant corruption have pauperized Venezuela.
Just 12 years! But then, when fewer years of Obamacare have turned one’s $680 premium to $2000, one’s deductible from $2k to $6k, and one’s monthly med co-pays from $24 to $440, one gets the sense that it can happen here, and what happened to the hapless Venezuelans has nothing to do with any of their supposed national institutions or characteristics.
If a foreign nation had done it to Venezuela, they’d be at war already. Industrial production approaches a nullity, even as inflation soars to 500 percent per annum. There are fuel shortages in a nation with immense oil reserves. Women die in childbirth, and babies die of 19th-Century ills, summoned like demons from the books of medical history. Diabetics die. Cancer patients die. Cardiovascular disease? You die. The old and the young die. Infectious diseases kill, and one of the best ways to catch one is to go to the fllthy, ill-equipped hospitals.
The Soviet Union is in the history books as a failed state, but diabetics got insulin.
And then there’s the crime, largely linked to political militias, and sustained in part by massive public corruption — corruption that becomes greater and greater the longer that public probity is not rewarded.
This year, about 30,000 people in a country of 30 million will be murdered. In 92 percent of the cases, their killers will never be arrested. By contrast, about 13,000 Americans will lose their lives to crime this year — but that’s with a population 11 times that of Venezuela. Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, now has the world’s highest murder rate. And seven other Venezuelan cities are in the world’s top 50.
That makes Chicongo look like Monaco, for crying out loud.
We saw the toll in my little village of 2,000 souls. And yet, I felt we were relatively safe until I began tallying the body count. In my 10 years in Tasajera, I counted at least six murders, three kidnappings in which the victims were held for more than a day, and more than 50 armed robberies. …..
My neighbors begged the police to do something to stop the carnage. They replied they didn’t have the resources. When my neighbors finally caught two thugs in flagrante and were in the process of lynching them, cooler heads prevailed and someone called the police. When the officers arrived hours later, they asked my neighbors why they hadn’t finished what they had started, especially as they had taken their time coming up the hill.
After being kidnapped himself, he decided, finally, to go. This one-time social justice warrior’s initial love for Chavez and his “social experiments aimed at reducing poverty and creating a more just society” had burned out, and the question that people marvel at is: what took him so long?
He offers an explanation that might be familiar to many citizens of failed states:
We have been hoping all along that Venezuela would get better. We didn’t think it would get any worse. We comforted ourselves that once you hit rock bottom, there’s no place to go but up. After all, how bad could things get? Each time we were proven wrong.
He would probably reject the idea that he had “gone Galt.” The dystopia that Hugo Chávez and his less-talented follow-on caudillo Nicolás Maduro have created, though, bears a passing resemblance to the dystopia that Ayn Rand imagined in her dense, didactic novel. It differs mostly in being much less benign.
Maduro and his coterie will not leave of their own free will, and yet, they have a death grip on every institution in Venezuelan society, and, amazing though this is, international supporters. (These international supporters include the Vatican, which has worked to undermine the opposition). Maduro’s support in Venezuela is bought, and wafer-thin: but it is the Venezuelans themselves who must effect regime change, and it will be very difficult, as all the levers of power seem to end in Maduro’s hands. But those levers themselves are made up of people, largely disaffected people; when it begins, the preference cascade will be fast.
But the lure of Chavismo is ever there, and some time after the Venezuelans free themselves, no doubt with great expenditure of blood, tears, sweat and toil, some other country will snap at the tasty baits of “equality” and “fairness” and the page-locked beauty of from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. May the good Lord grant that country not be ours.
The Atlantic has a similar despairing view of Venezuela, from a Venezuelan expat in the USA. Dean Weingarten at Gun Watch notes a 2nd Amendment angle (to wit, the Venezuelans have no gun rights, and the regime has numerous paid, armed, lawless supporters).