The latest from Venezuela comes from the New York Times in a March 9 article by William Neuman titled "In Chavez, Maduro Trusts, Maybe to His Detriment and Venezuela's." (I actually met Neuman once back when he worked for the Real Estate Section, and he is one of the few guys at Pravda whom I would trust to report a story on world economics relatively straight.) Neuman describes a Venezuela "sinking deeper into an economic crisis," while its leader, Nicolas Maduro, doubles down on the very destructive economic policies that got the country into its predicament:
Faced with huge lines and shortages of basic items like corn flour or sugar, Mr. Maduro has jailed retail executives while steadfastly maintaining the price controls that many economists say cause the problem.
Neuman even quotes former economics officials of the Chavez regime who are critical of Maduro for not changing policies in the face of their glaringly obvious destructive consequences. However, none of those officials say what they would do differently, or, God forbid, suggest trying a little capitalism.
Meanwhile, on the same day, a great article from Kevin Williamson at NRO on the same subject, title "The Left's Mess in Venezuela." This one definitely merits quoting at some length:
Venezuela had a good run of it for about five minutes there, at least in public-relations terms. When petroleum prices were booming, all it took was a few gallons of heating oil from Hugo Chávez to buy the extravagant praise of House members, with Representative Chaka Fattah (D., Philadelphia) issuing statements praising Venezuela’s state-run oil company “and the Venezuelan people for their benevolence.” Lest anybody feel creeped out by running political errands for a brutal and repressive caudillo, Joseph Kennedy — son of Senator Robert Kennedy — proclaimed that refusing the strongman’s patronage would be “a crime against humanity.” Kennedy was at the time the director of Citizens Energy, which had a contract to help distribute that Venezuelan heating oil. . . .
So Venezuela had the good fortune to be sitting on a lot of oil reserves during a brief period when oil prices were high, giving it the momentary ability to create an illusion that socialism could work. Things were already starting to fall apart even when oil prices were high a few months ago, but when the prices fell the crisis really hit. Williamson then gets into quoting some of the endless list of leftist fools and dupes who fell for the Chavez illusion:
Celebrities came to sit at his feet, with Sean Penn calling him a “champion” of the world’s poor, Oliver Stone celebrating him as “a great hero,” Antonio Banderas citing his seizure of private businesses as a model to be emulated in the rest of the world, Michael Moore praising his use of oil for political purposes, Danny Glover celebrating him as a “champion of democracy.” His successor, Nicolás Maduro, continued in the Chávez vein, and even as basics such as food and toilet paper disappeared the American Left hailed him as a hero, with Jesse Myerson, Rolling Stone’s fashionable uptown communist, calling his economic program “basically terrific.”
And it goes on from there. Thank you, Kevin, for calling these people (or at least a few of them) out. All I can say is, there isn't nearly enough reporting coming out of Venezuela to keep in our faces how socialism inevitably ends. But -- with my great apologies to the sad people who have to live in these places -- thank God we at least have Venezuela, and I guess Cuba and North Korea, to keep alive human memory of what happens when you try to pursue the socialist illusion.
And the ultimate question: Is it possible for human beings to learn these lessons? Really, I thought when the Soviet Union fell that the socialist illusion would die with it. Boy was I wrong! Here are a couple of recent data points:
- A month ago on February 10, IBD reported on a January 22 speech at the annual Davos confab of U.N. climate pooh-bah Christiana Figueres (she's "Executive Secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change"), where she said, among other things, "This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution. . . . This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model for the first time in human history." Everybody understood that the idea is to replace capitalism with socialism. And you thought that the "climate change" scare was about saving the environment?
- And finally, from today's Wall Street Journal, a front page article by Bill Spindle titled "Drop in Oil Threatens Iraq Terror Fight." First line: "Clobbered by falling oil prices, Iraq is headed over a fiscal cliff, unable to make critical investments needed to keep its oil flowing and still pay the skyrocketing costs of fighting Islamic State extremists, according to government officials." Huh? How in heavens name did the Iraqi government get itself in the position of being the only entity that can make investments to increase oil production in that country? Yes, the U.S. occupation ended with the oil industry socialized in Iraq, and thus a drop in oil prices means that limited state revenues must be allocated between either enhancing oil production or fighting the existential enemy. At the same time, perhaps by magic, the U.S. manages to be the world's number one oil producer without devoting a dime of government investment to the enterprise. Capitalism! Could it really be that our own government doesn't know how capitalism works and was so stupid that it poured a trillion dollars or so into liberating Iraq only to put its oil industry in the hands of a socialist state? Yes, that's how stupid we are. And it happened substantially on the watch of W, although with final implementation by the Obama administration.
Literally nobody, even Republican presidential administrations in the United States, understands how or why capitalism works and socialism doesn't. And it seems that no number of socialist disasters can teach the lesson.