Lies and manipulation from the socialist madmen of Venezuela
Published on March 16, 2014
It takes a certain kind of fool to fall for the economic death trap that is socialism after a 20th century filled with death, oppression, stagnation and eventual collapse at the hands of those who fought for Marx's flawed vision of human history and progress. Such a fool, while probably motivated by the noble ends of eradicating poverty and inequality, ultimately lacks the courage to see the world as it is and fight within the confines of reality to better it.
Rejecting a sober and honest appraisal of what works and what does not work given human history, he seeks to force the world to make sense, fighting blindly against the "contradictions of capitalism" by pushing for greater and greater control over the decisions of individuals in the often chaotic storm of transactions we call the market. At each turn he faces the harsh blowback of how people really respond to economic control. He tries to make it harder for people to get fired in order to promote job security, in response the businessman does everything possible not to hire more people for fear of being stuck with a bad worker, causing unemployment to go up. He then tries to restrict imports to "promote local production" and instead of getting better products to market at a fair price, crony national manufacturers with no competition from small scale importers, raise prices and lower the quality of their products, making things more expensive for the average person. He then tries to keep prices low by enacting controls on "speculation" and in response the businessman stops producing goods or stops selling them at his store because he can't cover his costs and make enough profit to feed his family at the same time. Finally, in fear he starts arresting business owners, raiding stores and appropriating factories and hands out the goods for free to the masses. Many of the same masses, having no opportunities for themselves and their families, turn to crime as a means to survive. Still others take to the streets in desperate protest, only to be beaten down by the same man who once sought to help them. The result is no jobs, no basic necessities, urban riots and rampant criminality that make life akin to a war zone for most of the citizenry.
This is what a man enamored by ideology and blind to reality will do in his pursuit of a "rational order", this is what has happened in Venezuela in the 15 years since a "Chavista" regime espousing a "Bolivarian Revolution" and "Socialism of the 21st century" has been in power. Capitalism and the free market is not perfect by any means, and especially in Latin America it has more often been marked by control, cronyism and inequality of both outcomes and opportunity as opposed to a system where people are free to sell and trade as they please. Yet the failures and often remarkable contradictions of a system that allows people to choose selfishly or badly are nothing compared to the economic, political, and social wreckage of a system that believes that choice should only lie with the enlightened benevolence of a political party.
All of this stems from the mistaken notion that economics and politics have to be "rational" and that political movements and their leaders have the capacity to force the messy reality of how we all interact with one another in a free society to make sense. Human interaction at levels is simply far too complex and dynamic to control from any kind of top down system. This does not mean improvement is impossible or that we are condemned to live forever with seemingly intractable problems of poverty and inequality. It only means that policies designed to improve must do so within the confines of how human beings actually act, taking into account their actual and often very varied motivations, desires, hopes, fears, values and plans for the future. The improvement of our common lot must come not through massive overarching politics designed to provide or guarantee things for us, but rather through policies designed to facilitate our lives and our decisions. Only we can know what we want, only our own efforts can guarantee that we have a chance at achieving our dreams.
The desire to help people through grand plans is admirable, but these good intentions are often overshadowed by the arrogance of thinking that one or a few leaders can actually decide what is best for millions individuals. These leaders make the mistake of thinking their values, their desires, and their hopes are the same as those of entire populations. That is why they prefer to use terms like "the people" or "the community" that are intangible abstractions. A "people" is a concept, a person is a real flesh and blood human being that thinks and feels and makes choices. If you want to deny choices for individuals it makes sense to obscure that reality and instead focus on abstract notions of the "will of the people".
As Alexander Hamilton once remarked, "if all men were angels, no government would be necessary". This is why anarchist or libertarian fantasies about completely non-coercive interactions have never worked and can sometimes lead to even worse coercion as people seek stability amidst chaos and disorder. Sometimes only through collective projects can we facilitate the lives of citizens and help protect each other's fundamental rights. Interconnectedness in roads and highways is a good example, so is national defense and to a certain extent public health; but through information and education not coercive restrictions on what we can and cannot put into our own bodies. We need to have laws to bind us together, and unfortunately we need a force greater than ourselves to make sure those laws are respected and we can deal with one another in basic liberty and security. But even a cursory reading of history should inoculate us against the notion that laws should extend infinitely into all aspects of our lives, or that government can or even should try to solve all our problems.
The current tragedy of Venezuela is thankfully much milder than what similar socialist projects have wrought in the 20th century. Yet, the fact that thousands of party members under the leadership of Hugo Chavez and now Nicholas Maduro continue to push for more control and refuse to recognize the inviolability of basic economic and political rights means these notions did not truly crumble along with the Berlin Wall. A former leftist guerilla leader taking power only last week in El Salvador, and the continued domination of national politics by socialist parties in Nicaragua, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay show us that socialism as a political and economic methodology is far from vanquished despite its extremely destructive track record. In the United States Republican conservatives often paint far too many leaders and policies as "socialist", yet such rhetorical fear mongering does not mean the ideology when actually adhered too is not dangerous to both human liberty and prosperity. It is what Eric Voegelin called a "political religion" and as such inherently breeds fanaticism and a denial of reality. It must therefore be opposed vigorously wherever and whenever it appears by ideas that stand up to empirical evidence and reason tested against actual history.