Venezuela

Disaster Déjà Vu in Venezuela

Planning a recovery is tough in a country where an awful lot of guys with guns aren't ready to admit that socialism has failed again.

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Pick up a newspaper these days and it seems obvious that Venezuela's catastrophic experiment with socialism is at an end. With people standing in line for hours just to buy soap, annual inflation in the high triple figures (with percentages heading into four digits), and soldiers rustling goats because they're not getting fed in their barracks, Venezuela reads like a textbook example of the socialist endgame: social implosion driven by economic collapse, caused by shockingly self-destructive policy making. 

Surely, by the time local governors start saying things like "We are capable of eating a stick, or instead of frying two eggs, fry two rocks, and we will eat fried rocks" on the radio, things can't go on like this much longer, can they?

Maybe they can. Considering its galloping economic dysfunction, Venezuela's government remains relatively popular. A recent poll found 31 percent of Venezuelans think President Nicolás Maduro is doing a good job. Other polls have him a smidgen lower. (While the country is slipping ever faster into repression, reputable polling continues to be carried out and, if anything, tends to undercount the government's supporters.)

The numbers Maduro is pulling are nobody's idea of good approval ratings, granted, but he remains more popular than plenty of other Latin American leaders whose economies are doing much, much better than Venezuela's: Chile's Michelle Bachelet is at 26 percent approval, Peru's Ollanta Humala is at 15 percent, and just ahead of her ouster earlier this month, Brazil's Dilma Roussef was at 9 percent. That's the kind of number that gets you thrown out of office in South America, not 31 percent.

How can Maduro possibly have retained the support of a third of the country? The best answer is that chavismo, the political movement Hugo Chávez created and handed off to Maduro after his death in 2013, isn't really a political movement. It's closer to a kind of religious cult, with Chávez himself—whom his supporters now refer to as El Comandante Eterno—at the center of the pantheon.

La Guerra Económica
Like all good cults, chavismo has built an impregnable firewall around itself against the intrusion of inconvenient facts. Like all good cults, it has made itself central to the lives and identities of its followers. Like all good cults, it won't give up its grip easily.

Take the economic catastrophe now engulfing the country. Chavismo can't exactly deny the fact that you can't find sugar at the store—or milk, or rice, or soap, or diapers, or just about anything. As stand-up comedian Emilio Lovera puts it, Venezuela must be the only country in the world where it's considered normal for you to walk into a bread shop and ask, "Do you have any bread?" But why exactly is it that there's nothing to buy?

For chavismo, the answer is simple: la guerra económica. An unending stream of propaganda pours out of the government's sprawling media empire, beating the drums about "economic warfare": a conspiracy between local capitalists and the American CIA to discredit the socialist revolution by hoarding goods and causing financial chaos.

"Corporate media outlets throughout the world have worked diligently to portray Venezuela as a country in the midst of an economic crisis," explains teleSUR, a news network sponsored by left-wing Latin American governments, including the one in Caracas. "These outlets point to the shortages of basic goods in stores and the lines that sometimes occur for some products as evidence of this so-called crisis. Yet, these shortages appear to be part of a concerted action by members of the opposition to remove the democratically-elected government from power."

The television station goes on to announce that Maduro has helpfully explained that there is "a plot by opposition figures to take advantage of the lines to sow chaos and violence in the country." Maduro has a recording, the report claims, in which a retired general, Jose de Jesus Gamez Bustamente, reveals a plan to "bring supporters to the lines outside supermarkets and have them break windows in order to provoke looting by those waiting to enter.…This would result in repression by the Venezuelan National Guard against working-class people, the political base of the Bolivarian revolution." In keeping with standard operating procedure, no actual evidence of any sort is presented to back these kinds of grave accusations, but the impact for those on the receiving end can be deadly serious.

This is straight out of the playbook of the failed socialist states of the 20th century, the kind of thing George Orwell made a career of denouncing.

The claims are utter gobbledygook. In effect, the government doesn't have an economic theory—it has a conspiracy theory. An enormous one. The explanation for shortages and inflation amounts to alleging there's a cartel not in one product market but in every product market, an enormous, sprawling perfect scheme where tens of thousands of businesspeople coordinate seamlessly, every single one of them passing up the enormous windfall profits that would accrue to him from defection.

The point is that la guerra económica isn't really an economic argument at all: It's a spiritual one, part of a broader eschatology of socialist struggle and redemption where all the bad things that happen must, by definition, be the fault of evil conspirators, run out of Langley, bent on the oppression of the proletariat.

That price controls would cause shortages is one of the least surprising results in economics. The reason why is right there in the opening chapters of every undergraduate introduction to economics textbook anywhere in the world. Respected Venezuelan economists like Pedro Palma, the former president of Venezuela's National Academy of Economic Sciences, and Carlos Machado Allison, the country's most noted agricultural economist, sounded the alert again and again.

But chavismo long ago perfected that enormously infuriating rhetorical strategy of repurposing evidence of its own failure into a defense of its worldview. The warnings weren't just ignored; they were jujitsued by official propaganda into proof of just how sprawling the conspiracy against the government really is. And what does the government need to counter this kind of conspiracy? Why, more powers, of course! Powers Maduro has recently awarded himself, unilaterally, through an "economic emergency" decree that suspends key constitutional rights.

It's a perfect circle.

Armed and Delusional
Most Venezuelans don't buy the blather about "economic war." A recent poll by Datanalisis, a well-respected local pollster, found that 68 percent reject the argument. As the joke recently in vogue in Caracas puts it, Nicolás Maduro is so incompetent, he can't even win the wars he makes up.

The problem is that stubborn third of the population that still buys into chavismo's cult-like narrative. It's not just that Maduro defenders are recalcitrant and almost completely beyond the reach of reasoned argument—it's that they're armed. Heavily armed. Chávez himself made sure of that.

It all goes back to 2002, and an abortive coup attempt that saw much of the military rise up to depose Chávez before bringing him back to power some 48 hours later. The episode was a wake-up call to the president: He could not rely on the regular military to back him in extreme circumstances. Since then, the government has carefully nurtured a sprawling system of parallel armed groups, including a huge state-organized militia movement that's now active in virtually every city, town, and village in the country.

It's easy to mock this "Bolivarian militia" as a bunch of grannies with guns, and a May 22 nationwide military exercise (necessary because, of course, the Americans will be invading any day now) didn't do much to dispel the view that they're a motley crew very far from operational readiness. But alongside this mass movement there's a smaller, much more sinister group of paramilitary organizations: the colectivos.

These are closer to an urban guerrilla: neighborhood groups, mostly in the slums, that have essentially taken over law-and-order functions from the official police in their local areas. The government has deep ties with many colectivos, and while the relationship isn't always smooth, Maduro has already shown a willingness to turn to them to do the dirty business when protests threaten to overwhelm his forces.

The point of these civilian paramilitary structures is plain: They're there to dissuade opposition protesters, as well as any military commander who may be harboring thoughts of a coup. And they've proven wildly effective; it's hard to imagine how the Venezuelan economy could have slid this far into chaos without provoking a major violent response if not for the pro-government extremists with guns around every corner.

Of course, many of these armed Chavistas are facing the same problems obtaining basic goods as anyone else, and even their loyalty can't be entirely taken for granted. Many vaguely suspect President Maduro to have defiled the legacy of El Comandante Eterno. "Yo soy Chavista, pero no madurista," has become their watchword. There's even a Facebook group, filled with typo-ridden postings venting the fury of disillusioned chavistas disgusted with the way Maduro has leveraged Chávez's image: "how long is Nicolas going to keep PLAYING with the Comandante's body? It's enough Nicolás, let him rest in peace, for the love of God. You sully him more and more, don't you see that?"

Warsaw on the Caribbean
The colectivos may be able to slow chavismo's rate of descent, but governments don't generally survive the wholesale collapse of their economies. It's hard to tell exactly how it might all play out, but then nobody in Poland in 1988 could have foreseen exactly what would happen there over the next couple of years, either. All they could have told you, for sure, is that something had to give.

The Polish case is, actually, one that an increasing number of Venezuelan economists are revisiting. That country's economy in 1989 looked uncannily like Venezuela's in 2016: a devilish mix of high and rising inflation with pervasive product shortages, a massive state-owned sector top-heavy with loss-making firms, a huge fiscal shortfall and the looming threat of default, a chaotic forex system with multiple exchange rates creating enormous arbitrage opportunities—had there been oil under the Baltic Sea, it would be a dead ringer.

It's depressing that Poland's case turns out to be so instructive. Chavismo sold itself explicitly as "socialism of the 21st century," vowing both a heightened awareness of and a determination to sidestep the errors of its 20th century forerunners. But for all the sloganeering, Venezuela made the same mistakes in an almost stunningly predictable sequence that left the country ruined—a mirror image of the Soviet bloc a quarter-century ago.

"Centrally mandated low prices began warping everything else in the economy: supplies and productivity plummeted, lines grew longer, prices on the black market (often the only place where goods could be bought) soared higher and higher and the gap between the dollar's official exchange rate and its actual value (what it cost to buy dollars on the street) widened to ever more ludicrous differentials," journalist Lawrence Weschler wrote of the Polish morass in 1989. You can apply every last word of that to Venezuela today. Citizens are left to pick over old copies of János Kornai's The Economics of Shortages and Jeffrey Sachs' Poland's Jump to the Market Economy, as though the last 25 years hadn't happened at all. It's the macroeconomics of Rip Van Winkle.

And so all the old debates are new again: Should Venezuela aim for shock therapy or gradual reform? Is it possible to sustain political support for a transition package that could cause serious social dislocation in the short term? What is to be done about the hundreds of thousands of workers who now take home salaries from state-owned firms that lose money while doing nothing of economic value? How much reform is enough and how much is too much? And how much support is the country going to need from abroad to keep a complete humanitarian disaster at bay?

"Those are the questions," says Miguel Angel Santos, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Center for International Development. "The colossal downward adjustment in imports the government is carrying out as we speak cannot be considered an equilibrium. To give Venezuela a jumpstart out of the crisis, the level of imports has to increase—basic staples, food, medicines, raw materials. Of course that will only increase the size of the external gap, so massive financing will be needed."

Anabella Abadi, a Caracas-based researcher, recently co-wrote a book on the history of Venezuelan price controls since 1939. Abadi stresses that the country has gone through the traumatic process of lifting controls many times in the past and has experience with both gradual and shock therapy reforms.

"Both shock therapy and managed, consensual reforms have pros and cons—neither is a silver bullet—but the political cost of lifting controls has often been high," Abadi says. "That's why imposing price reforms without a timely communication strategy or popular support becomes a breeding ground for protest and loss of confidence in the government."

They are, of course, getting ahead of themselves. The old regime hasn't fallen—not by a long shot—and the work to ensure it does remains delicate. There's an aspect of wishful thinking in running through the economic scenarios at this stage, a longing to skip over the messy political transition and focus on the desperately needed economic reforms. Maybe that's because, even as everyday activities are increasingly constrained by a failing economy and broken government, planning for a better future is one thing the government can't stop Venezuelans doing.

NEXT: The Tribal Politics of Police Brutality Has Torpedoed Criminal Justice Reform

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  1. Well, if that 31% is eating rocks for dinner every day, that number is bound to go down pretty fast.

    1. No.

      The people with guns are always served dinner first.

      1. That and as long as there are morons on the planet, there will be renewed belief in marxism. No matter how many times it has failed and will fail, there will always be support for it.

        WE are currently starting down that ultimate road. Americans are largely uneducated, gullible sheep and thus will buy into socialism on a large scale because of the promise that it will be different this time.

        That and a healthy dose of brainwashing from our government schools. I am not surprised at all the many Venezuelans still want it to work.

    2. I’m making over $15k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.
      This is what I do_________ http://www.trends88.com

    3. I’m making over $15k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.
      This is what I do_________ http://www.trends88.com

  2. “Should Venezuela aim for shock therapy or gradual reform?”

    The answer is for those with any common sense and the ability to leave to just go ahead and do so. Let the 30% Chavista wackjobs stew in their own juice and figure out exactly how many of themselves have to die before their population is low enough to be effectively supported by a find-turnips-in-ground-pull-eat economy. Then, leave them to their own devices.

    You can’t fix crazy.

    1. The problem is the proggies want it all. And they absolutely hate the fact that there are still jurisdictions where people can escape

    2. Where can they go? Take a look at Europe’s response to Syria – or even the comments on this website left by nonlibertarians – for instruction on how friendly the world is to mass emigration. I can already hear the venom: “if we let them in they will bring their communism with them”, “they will all sign up on welfare / steal our jobs”.

      The point is that even countries that somewhat embrace free markets in goods & service reject the idea of a free market in labor. No matter where you look, governments prevent the basic human right to travel and lawful employment; meanwhile two decades of horrifically nearsighted foreign policy decisions in the middle east and nonstop fearmongering RE: islamic extremism have convinced the “free” world that anything short of berlin walls for borders is suicidal.

      Keep the blame where it belongs: on the agents of the state that have destroyed venezuela. The people of venezuela are victims caught in an impossible situation.

      1. The people of Venezuela are also stupid, just like the people of the U.S. The voters/population share some of the blame for their stupidity.

  3. Lots of Americans aren’t ready to admit that socialism has failed again.

    1. It’s a religion. Evidence is irrelevant.

      1. This. They truly believe that their ideology is a moral imperative and inevitability.

    2. Capitalism caused the housing crisis, but Venezuela isn’t socialism.

      Can’t fix crazy.

      1. Venezuela was socialism right before the part where they ran out of other people’s money. Blame capitalism, wash, rinse, repeat.

        1. Those evil capitalists just keep undermining Greek socialism too, with their constant bailouts.

    3. I actually encountered one of these “Venezuela isn’t real socialism people in the wild yesterday. I asked her what wasn’t real about it and did not get much of a response.

      1. Someone told me that according to the correct definition of socialism, Denmark is socialist, and Venezuela isn’t. He refused to tell me what that correct definition of socialism is; it must be one of the mysteries of faith.

        1. To piggy back of off The Iconoclast’s post below, I think real socialism is when then people still have shit to steal. When they run out of shit to steal, and everything goes to hell, it’s no longer real socialism.

          1. It’s no longer socialism once you run out of other people’s money.

            — Hat tip to Maggie.

          2. Pretty much.

            When you transition from capitalism to socialism, there’s always plenty to steal. People start shouting about “the socialist miracle!” etc., after the first five minutes.

            I think they know deep down that they only have so long to talk like that about socialist miracles.

        2. “Denmark is socialist”

          I think it’s funny that Denmark is ranked as MORE economically free than the United States by both the Fraser Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

          Want to be more like Denmark? Eliminate the minimum wage and lower the corporate tax rate to 25%.

          1. Denmark also allows free competition in education. Any Danish parent who wants can get a voucher for their kids to attend the school of their choice.

            Despite higher cost of living generally and educational freedom, Danes only spent $10.8k/student-year in 2012 versus the US’s $11.7k/student-year.

            Also:

            Speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Danish PM Lars L?kke Rasmussen told students that he had “absolutely no wish to interfere the presidential debate in the US” but nonetheless attempted to set the record straight about his country.

            “I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” Rasmussen said.

            Who you gonna believe about Denmark’s alleged socialism: FaceBook morons or the Danish Prime Minister?

            1. “Who you gonna believe about Denmark’s alleged socialism: FaceBook morons or the Danish Prime Minister?”

              I’m pretty sure you can guess the ultimate answer to this question.

        3. Ask them how we can turn the USA into a 99% white European country with a population of less than 20 million. Then tell them to read this:

          Scandinvian Socialist Utopia Bullshit

          Democrats like Sanders get away with this bullshit only because their voters are so dumb.

          1. The truth is, is that if the socialist utopians here could get everything they wanted tomorrow, in a few years, we will look nothing at all like any Scandinavian country. For an approximation of what we will look like, look at Brazil under Dilma, that will give you a good idea.

          2. Don’t forget to add that the Scandinavian countries have tax systems that are MUCH flatter than the U.S.’s heavily progressive system. In those countries, the middle class pays high taxes to provide services for the middle class.

            In the US, the middle class pays taxes to provide free shit for the parasite class (government bureaucrats mostly, but some of the poor (who are tangentially related to political power players).

            However, Scandanavia is destroying their system by importing a new parasite class of their own. Soon, their system will implode as well.

            1. Your premise about the difference between the tax systems and benefits is correct. But I have to correct you on the American system.

              The top 20% in America pay 87% of the federal income taxes and 70% of all federal taxes. I’d hardly classify the top 20% of earners, essentially people making $100,000+, as the middle class. The “middle class” has to apply to people in the middle income area, no?

              1. Depending on where you live in the USA. Where I am at, 100,000 for a family barely gets you into the middle class.

            2. Yeah. And US proglotards do not understand demographics, at all. The Scandinavians have a very homogeneous population of people with high work ethics and their values are very cohesive, iow, they all want pretty much the same thing. This is untenable in any way in the USA.

      2. Because it didn’t work. The real one is imagined to be something like the Sun Tots and the Smurfs. No one really wonders how or why it works, it just works. Magic.

    4. Chortles at transcript. The “failed state” narrative isn’t helpful, until the dictator is hung from a lamppost? I’d consider their largest beer producer shutting down to be quite indicative, let alone hundreds of women storming the Colombian border only to come back with groceries last week to pretty much say it all.

      1. I watched the video with closed captions and when the woman said “chavista” it translated as “chubby’s death.”

      2. Yep. Some of the looters still claim that Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) somehow means “libertario”. It’s flattering to be imitated, but not by murdering looter toads.
        But let’s be fair. Most of the communo-fascist dictators elected in South America are elected because voters are sick and tired of American GO-Pee and DEM prohibitionists sending the CIA, FATF, AML, TF, CFT, DNFBP, IRS-CID, INL, ICRG, GIABA, GAFISUD, FSRB, FIU, FinCEN, EAG and ilk to prop up “our” sonofabitches.

        1. “Most of the communo-fascist dictators elected in South America are elected because voters are sick and tired buy the conspiracy story of American GO-Pee and DEM prohibitionists sending the CIA, …”

          …because it absolves them of responsibility for their own failings.

  4. Planning a recovery is tough in a country where an awful lot of guys with guns aren’t ready to admit that socialism has failed again.

    Yeah. See, that’s because those guys are mostly just a pack of thieves and thugs, and socialism is just a pretty way of saying you got someone doing your stealing for you.

    1. Well, another part of the problem is that socialism hasn’t failed for the guys with guns. They’re eating. It’s just the unwashed masses who are consuming rock soup for dinner (and who cares about them anyway).

    2. Planning a recovery is tough in a country where an awful lot of guys with guns aren’t ready to admit that socialism has failed again.

      The real problem is that “planning a recovery” presumes that there are government policies that can be implemented to systematically undo socialist catastrophe. When economists are debating between “Should Venezuela aim for shock therapy or gradual reform?” they aren’t ready to consider just getting government out of the way and letting the economy fix itself.

      1. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is Maduro’s plan. And what’s his plan? Grow you own food, peasants. The guy is weapon grade stupid.

    3. Government is the thieving we do together to each other.

  5. More and more I think the problem comes down to ‘socialism’ being defined as ‘outcomes I approve of’.
    So, by definition, it cannot fail. it is about results, not about means. The big lie, taken even bigger.
    Socialism cannot be seen to fail because socialism is seen as inherently good, and good cannot fail. Any failure must, therefore, be for other reasons.
    Socialism is all about intent, never about details of mechanism. it is driven and fueled by each person’s sure and certain knowledge that if they were some random poor unfortunate, they’d know what to do to fix the problems that person is having. Therefore, external decisions are proper and reasonable and, well, should ‘just work’.

    1. It’s even simpler than that. Socialism as it exists in people’s minds appeals to their particular sense of morality in ways other systems just don’t. So people mage excuses because they are invested in the ideology. We do the same thing with capitalism sometimes. The difference is capitalism’s benefits far, far outweigh it’s costs.

      1. I think you’re being too generous. People will justify socialism in the first place because they think it means they’ll be able to get somebody else’s stuff. When you boil away all the rhetoric, that’s really all you’re left with. All that sense of morality is just a bunch of rationalizations people will come up with to help them sleep at night when their ultimate goal is to have guys with guns take other peoples things and give them to the rationalizer or have guys with guns force other people to do work for the rationalizer.

      2. people mage excuses

        Excusomancy, Lvl1

    2. Socialism is the end by which all means are justified – except the end never justifies the means.

      1. Look closer and you’ll see that altruism justifies looter socialism and all its murders, along with fascist prohibitionism and all ITS murders. It’s a sort of sorite of murderous parasitism.

        1. In socialism, government loots you.

      2. Look closer and you’ll see that altruism justifies looter socialism and all its murders, along with fascist prohibitionism and all ITS murders. It’s a sort of sorite of murderous parasitism.

    3. As many have already noted, progressivism is socialism converted into a religion. That is why it cannot fail, it’s based on faith. And these people are willing to kill hundreds of millions or even billions, through starvation, war, or whatever it takes to continue their delusions.

      1. You know who else converted socialism into a religion?

        1. Francis?

        2. Joseph Smith?

        3. Muhammad?

  6. It’s one thing to be wrong. It’s another thing to be unable to learn.

    Fuck these idiots.

  7. Socialism – making sure everyone gets what only a few deserve

    1. … good and hard.

  8. “It’s not just that Maduro defenders are recalcitrant and almost completely beyond the reach of reasoned argument?it’s that they’re armed. Heavily armed. Ch?vez himself made sure of that.”

    And this is the part where the killing gets serious. (Socialism 101–“But the right people weren’t in charge then. It’ll be different this time!”)

    1. And people wonder why we refuse to compromise on the Second Amendment

      1. And now is a bad time to start. Here we have a situation with a simple solution, in the news every day. Police militarization and brutality. We could fix this, but our so called ‘leaders’ do not want it fixed. So they easily distract the sheep by turning it into racial strife. Then they’ll use that to further militarize the police and increase brutality, and disarm the public. And the useful idiots will continue to be useful idiots.

      2. Only the stupid ones. Unfortunately, they have us outnumbered. And that’s why we need all those high capacity mags.

    2. Yup. It’s not going to be pretty. At some point, one group of people will have the food and the guns, and the other group of people will have nothing to lose.

      1. Every man with a family has something to lose… and every man has a family.

  9. Foreign aid to Venezuela is going to be a problem. Two thirds of the country shouldn’t be allowed to starve because the other third is retarded. On the other hand, if (and when) aid is provided, the morons are going to claim that the government was right all along and that functioning capitalist countries were trying to undermine them so they could swoop in to help. They’ll probably even be able to convince some of the two thirds that currently accept their fate that the conspiracy was true, and they’ll likely be back up to a majority thinking that socialism would work if it weren’t for those meddling capitalists.

    1. Don’t forget that it’s highly unlikely that any of that aid actually makes it to the people that need it.

      1. Aid, like anything of value, will go to the guys with the guns first.

      2. But it will buy a few more swimming pools full of champagne for the ruling class.

    2. Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, is visiting Latin American countries to collect food and medicine for Venezuela. The Maduro government has refused to let the supplies enter, claiming there are no real shortages. They are evil as fuck.

    3. If 2/3 of the country cant find the rope and pitchforks needed then fuck ’em.

      1. Nailed it, Suthen. Aid to people who are unwilling to aid themselves is wasted effort that can only produce negative consequences in the long run.

        I would think it’s obvious to nonbelievers that the solution to a socialist mess is not more socialism.

        1. This was the exact reason I hated the Iraq invasion. Our DoD likes to think they’re helping proles with their revolution, but the proles just don’t know how to start one.

        2. Certainly the last thing socialism needs is an intervention. Let it die its logical, natural death. 200,000 people starving to death is preferable to 2,000,000 getting killed in a war to protect socialism.

  10. A necessary part of socialism is controlling information. Leftists have known that propaganda will be effective with at least some sections of the masses. But in the internet age, I don’t know how even the most poorly educated would not start to wonder why there are no breadlines in free market zones.

    1. Bread lines are just a sign of properly egalitarian society. We should be so lucky!

      1. Bread lines are a sign that the bread is that good. The bread must suck in those capitalist countries.

        1. No country needs more than 23 different loaves of bread.

          1. Government bread taste the best and is the most nutritious. Why would you want anything else.

            1. *Victory Bread*

  11. As stand-up comedian Emilio Lovera puts it, Venezuela must be the only country in the world where it’s considered normal for you to walk into a bread shop and ask, “Do you have any bread?” But why exactly is it that there’s nothing to buy?

    That’s good; reminds me of this Soviet classic:

    A man walks into a butcher shop and looks at the products available. “What, you don’t have fish again?”

    “No,” replies the clerk. “The fish market across the street doesn’t have fish. We don’t have meat.”

    1. This, unfortunately, is not a joke:
      In the early 1990’s, my uncle was in Russia looking to capitalize on the fall of communism. He was with a man who was mainly ethnically Russian, but had traveled much of the world. They are traveling from one city to another and see a diner at the side of the road. It’s around noon and they’re hungry, so stop and go in….except they can’t.
      The diner is “closed for lunch.”

      1. I’d be interested in hearing more about that time period (i.e. Russia right after the Fall). Did anything come of your uncle’s ventures?

        1. Other than frequent flier miles? No. He tried China next and that is also a tough place to do business.

    2. They think “oligarchs” with the support of the US, are hoarding and burying food, to make the government look bad. Yes, they really do claim that, and some idiots even believe it. Mostly idiots who don’t live there.

    3. Petr Beckmann published a bunch of jokes making fun of communism: Hammer and Tickle. Even Reagan used some of those jokes.

  12. It is my experience that leftists simply find it incomprehensible their system can fail. Either it’s working (i.e. hasn’t failed yet) or the people running it aren’t applying it correctly. But the system itself cannot be at fault. No one speaks of the atrocity of Che, people just put him on t-shirts and proclaim him a warrior for peace; not comprehending that if Che was alive, the people wearing the t-shirt would be the ones he was looking to kill in the name of the revolution. Extremism in both directions leads to atrocity; it is fascinating that only one can be detected; apparently the same actions can be justified as long as you coat it with the right color paint.

    1. It is my experience that leftists simply find it incomprehensible their system can fail.

      Has it failed them? Check your premises.

      Then she saw the answer; she saw the secret premise behind their words. With all of their noisy devotion to the age of science, their hysterically technological jargon, their cyclotrons, their sound rays, these men were moved forward, not by the image of an industrial skyline, but by the vision of that form of existence which the industrialists had swept away?the vision of a fat, unhygienic rajah of India, with vacant eyes staring in indolent stupor out of stagnant layers of flesh, with nothing to do but run precious gems through his fingers and, once in a while, stick a knife into the body of a starved, toil-dazed, germ eaten creature, as a claim to a few grains of the creature’s rice, then claim it from hundreds of millions of such creatures and thus let the rice grains gather into gems.

      1. Nice, appropriate passage from Atlas Shrugged.

        I often have heard people say that socialism and communism would be wonderful systems if only they would work. I always want to ask them what is so wonderful, and what makes them think they don’t work? Whether or not something works depends on what it is you want to accomplish.

    2. Che came from the same privileged background as some in the SJW movement. We’re not that far to getting some North American variation of Che.

      Notice the Hope and Change meme with Obama. That was a type of the cult of the personality on display.

      1. Oh clearly, and note the executive orders too. Refusnik Republicans won’t go along with the plan? the Great Leader will simply dictate instead.

        1. Oh clearly, and note the executive orders too. Refusnik Republicans won’t go along with the plan? the Great Leader will simply dictate instead.

          In fairness, Presidents of both parties have gone hard on the executive orders now for about two decades.

          1. But only one whose inauguration ignited a storm of orgasmic self congradulation and resulted in a “shiver” running up a “reporter’s” leg!

          2. I’m pretty sure Obama took it to a new level. Not in terms of numbers, but in terms of the degree of daring to use executive power to usurp Congress’s authority. Particularly with respect to rewriting the ACA via executive-branch actions.

    3. Well, duh. If they thought that, they would have to stop being socialists. Which many people have done. The real question is how come we never seem to run out of socialists.

      1. We should endeavor first to run out of stupid people. Then we can refer inquirers to a previously solved problem when it comes to socialism.

      2. “The real question is how come we never seem to run out of socialists.”

        Stupidity is self-perpetuating, and stupid people breed prolifically. Idiocracy cometh.

      3. The real question is how come we never seem to run out of socialists.

        Do you really have to ask why we’re never going to run out of people who want men with guns to take other peoples stuff and give it to them or put other people in chains to serve them?

        1. No, but maybe we could run out of people trying to pretend their doing it for the common good.

          1. The only way to make looting ‘better’ than having it done for you by proxy, is to convince yourself that doing so ALSO gives you the moral high ground.

            No, like every other old, bad idea collectively reached by a population of ~75 billion humans over 6000 years of civilization, this intellectual turd has been polished until it positively glistens. It’ll only be made to be more subconsciously attractive, rather than losing some of its luster.

    4. It is my experience that leftists simply find it incomprehensible their system can fail. Either it’s working (i.e. hasn’t failed yet) or the people running it aren’t applying it correctly.

      You left out the most common explanations for the apparent failures of socialism: kulaks, capitalist running dogs, wreckers, saboteurs, reactionaries, speculators, hooligans, and other class enemies.

      Maduro is doing the same thing that every commie since Lenin has done when he blames the Venezuelan economic catastrophe on a conspiracy of businessmen. It should be obvious what is most likely to happen next.

      1. +1 Terrorfamine

  13. Very well-written article. The Venezuela disaster itself isn’t a new thing, but reading about the big picture again – and Venezuela’s Red Guard – a head-shaker on par with or worse than a HnR. Sure takes the wind out of my sails today and fills me with impotent rage.

      1. I assumed you were talking about us.

        1. Nothing us worse than us

          1. Nuts punch you!

            1. +1 Yakov

  14. It’s something in the water, right? It’s got to be something in the water.

  15. You can’t bake and sell bread for long when you are forced to sell it below the cost of making it. Venezuela has to import coffee (if there is anyone left with enough money to afford it) because they expropriated the coffee plantations and the roasters, etc.

    You can only get by by stealing peoples’ shit while they still have shit left to steal. It’s a real problem.

  16. It’s not socialism’s fault.

    It’s oil markets and bad luck.

    1. And a capitalist plot, you can’t leave that out.

      1. Well, duh, where do you think the market in oil market comes from?

        1. It is a state owned oil company.

          1. Ruined by the oppressors in the market.

            1. Indeed, the market is always an evil conspiracy of individuals acting in their individual self-interest.

          2. Arrest this man! Fomenting violence through his lies and baseless accusations.

  17. “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

    ? Mark Twain

    1. Or, to put it another way, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time…and those are pretty good odds”.

      -Brett Maverick

    2. This, right here. So much this.

    3. The quote from Mark Twain is a new one for me – I’ll have to remember it. Thanks.

      1. Yes, remember it, because someday some flat-earther (literally) is going to try to use it on you.

  18. “The Polish case is, actually, one that an increasing number of Venezuelan economists are revisiting.”

    That’s the thing. It never should have to be *revisited* except in a history book.

    Social-cultist: We’re gonna need more top men, senor! These prices are not doing what they’re supposed to!

    So. A third of the country thinks all is peachy. 30% is a large number. One can even assume to tack on another 20% of people who are in the ‘it wasn’t done right’ camp. I find it very hard to find sympathy in this case. If this is what the people want or tolerate why should I care other than the fact this bull shit finds its way into the mindset of idiot people up here.

    1. “…If this is what the people want or tolerate why should I care other than the fact this bull shit finds its way into the mindset of idiot people up here.”

      Dunno. Commies are like infants; making stupid sounds and leaving a mess behind them wherever they’ve been. And in some amount, you and I have to pay to clean it up.
      Look at our resident commie asshole; who do you think paid that mortgage? You and I in some amount.

      1. That’s true. Somehow, we do end up paying for their stupidity.

      2. I never heard the whole story behind that. I assume he defaulted and left the bank holding the mortgage, and then bragged about it?

        1. Bailed on it since he bought at the top of the market and got upside-down. Then claimed he ‘was forced’ to take a ‘fraudulent’ loan.
          Same sort of moral agency as Tony; infantile victimhood.

          1. Wow: what a shitbag. Why the hell did he tell anyone about that?!

    2. Because even if its only 10% of the population that recognizes this is a problem that 10% is getting it good and hard from dear leader. I always sympathize with people who are the victims of the stupidity of the masses. As far as the 30% they deserve to starve and I could care less.

  19. The idea that soaking the rich and redistributing the proceeds to the poor is the cause of the poor’s problems really is counterntuitive.

    Lots of basic truths are counterintuitive. The fact that the earth orbits the sun rather than vice versa is counterintuitive.

    Getting people to understand that fighting gangs by way of the drug war makes street gangs even more powerful is counterintuitive.

    That the truths Adam Smith revealed to us are counterintuitive doesn’t take away from their truth, but sometimes the truth is counterintuitive.

    Add that to the idea that people don’t want to admit that they were wrong and that their own mistaken beliefs and efforts are the cause of the problem, and it’s no surprise if a third of the Venezuelan people still don’t won’t admit that socialism is the problem.

    A larger percentage of Americans than that still want to keep fighting marijuana use with the drug war, and even among those who want to legalize it, I’m sure a lot of them still think that fighting marijuana use by way of drug war makes street gangs less powerful and less profitable than they would be otherwise.

  20. Despite economic catastrophe, a recent poll found 31 percent of Venezuelans think President Nicol?s Maduro is doing a good job.

    *** meekly raises hand ***

    Was it an *anonymous* poll?

  21. *ctrl-f*

    “american socialist”

    *0 results*

    Shocked, I am.

    1. A lot of people are on vacation.

      1. Does it count as a vacation when you are unemployed?

        1. Is he unemployed or does he just work for the government?

          1. Even by that low standard, commie kid would shame government workers. cf. Uncivil Servant.

  22. Latin Americans are prone to believe rumors and propaganda easily. One of my Puerto Rican friends, who is also a professor, posted an article that “oligarchs” had actually taken food stores and buried them in order to create food shortages so the government would look bad.

    1. In Puerto Rico our own mothers are brainwashed into threatening us with eternal torture by devils with pitchforks, on pain of they themselves being tortured in hell for eternity by devils with pitchforks for insufficient zeal in brainwashing children. So, is it surprising people believe idiotic superstitious lies?

    2. Only a tenured professor could believe such nonsense.

  23. You don’t know what real socialism is!

    1. That’s right, bagger! It’s whatever we …. say it is right now!

      /progtard

  24. At any rate, the 70% to 80% of Venezuelans who support the “revocatorio” to remove Maduro from office are going through hell to sign it. It means the loss of your job, your food coupons, and more government persecution. Officials arbitrarily invalidate or remove signatures, for example, that of Maria Corina Machado, one of the opposition leaders, and former legislator, had her signature and those of her family’s, removed by authorities.

    1. I’m afraid, at this point, the Venezuelan people are not going to get Maduro and his minions removed by any democratic or peaceful means. That means another revolucion and another strongman who’s going to get socialism right this time. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

      1. Unless Maduro pisses off the military and they end up with a garden-variety military dictatorship.

        1. Worked for Chile, kinda.

        2. This could happen too.

  25. When we talk about 31% still supporting the government, I don’t think people are highlighting the most obvious factor. I mean, sure, some may just be cultists completely devoted to their religion. But many more probably just directly benefit from the government. They either work for it or are still receiving significant handouts. There are still for instance functioning cities in a few spots where people were given homes and access to higher living standards. Those shelves, as I understand it, are always stocked first and the regime is at pains to keep that going. Chavez basically created little artificial cities where really poor people were given shit like housing. Those people aren’t going to give it up easily, and a lot of other Venezuelans remain huddled just outside these little enclaves hoping to be selected among the favored few.

    Then you have the military and the government bureaucrats. You always keep your armed goons fed and going strong, as mentioned above.

    It’s the fact that the socialists are probably doing OK still while everyone else slips into desperation.

    1. Probably the majority of government supporters support the Venezuelan government for the same reason that Comey passed on recommending a Clinton indictment: they perceive that it is in their best interest. They have bills to pay and kids to feed and clothe. Banality of evil for the win.

  26. Modern democratic politics is, in essence, a type of religion substitute. Very few of the people for whom it is important (hardcore socialists, hardcore libertarians, etc) will abandon their first principles or starting premises without something amounting to a crisis of faith. Then, as Brochettaward mentions above, there are a number of people who are on the take and for whom a non-socialist economy would shatter their current way of life.

    Socialism is a crappy economic system and an even worse way of life, but it is survivable and provides meaning and security to many people — otherwise it wouldn’t be as persistent as it is.

    1. Actually, socialism isn’t survivable. Central planners simply do not have enough information to allocate goods where they are needed. Only a decentralized price system can do that. As a result socialism always leads to poverty, starvation, and death. Its persistent appeal comes from the fact that socialism on a small scale, like a family or a tribe, does indeed work. It works because the people involved know each other, and shirkers can be tolerated or shamed. But on a larger scale shirkers thrive because there is no incentive to weed them out. Everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. It’s like standing in a bucket and trying to lift yourself by the handle. It just doesn’t work.

      1. Well put. I often find myself drawing comparisons to ‘processing power’ when describing socialism’s faults to a low-information type.

        Top Men have better things to do than decide how many potatoes you get. Great thinkers should not be running the masses; that’s a job for the masses. The economics of socialism are screwed up at every level, in every dimension. It’s really quite amazing. I suspect it would be difficult to INTENTIONALLY concoct an ideology more flawed and broken than that one.

  27. So basically it’s like a microcosm of Marxism.

    Cult-like worship of a dead founder? Check.
    Impregnable firewall against inconvenient facts? Check.
    Central to the lives and identities of it’s followers? Check.

    It’s been 150 years and I don’t see the cult that is Marxism loosening it’s grip on much of US academia even.

    Ditto for the sub-cults of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-Sung, etc. When history unfolds according to the same pattern over, and over, and nobody learns a thing, we ought to look at the root cause.

    1. Marxism didn’t start with Marx. The ideas are as ancient as civilization itself. It began when people discovered they could band together and use organized violence to loot the productive. Socialism in some form has probably been around as long as the wheel. Maybe longer.

      1. Indeed. So what exactly is the root cause, and how can it be fixed?

        1. The root cause is human nature, and it can’t be fixed.

          1. So socialism is an inevitable feature of human nature? I don’t think so …

            1. Depends on what definition of socialism we are talking about.

              I wouldn’t say that a command and control economy is part of the human nature thing, though it does make much more intuitive sense than just letting the corporations run amok making money selling stuff just because people like it. I mean, there are things that people need, and if the corporations aren’t going to sell them voluntarily, then they must be forced or robbed in order to provide those things. Right? Doesn’t that make intuitive sense?

              I was thinking more along the lines of how Bastiat described government: “Government is the great fiction whereby everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.”

              That I sadly believe is an inevitable curse of human nature. It is easier to plunder than to produce, and most people naturally choose what is easy. So once a group of men employ organized violence to plunder the productive (government), people naturally want a share of the pie. Only takes a couple generations to kill the golden goose.

              It has happened over and over throughout history. And it will continue to happen over and over.

              It’s human nature.

          2. Richard Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” accidentally showed Ayn Rand was right about altruism. It is death-worship, contrary to the ways of genetic evolution revealed by game theory analysis. Most altruism spews from the Sermon on the Mount by someone who never existed but was made up a couple of centuries later. Human nature, living is to help our friends and relatives–not strangers, and certainly not enemies.

        2. “So what exactly is the root cause?”

          I think I answered this below.

          I’m not sure it’s human nature, per se. I think it’s cognitive bias.

          The solution?

          Like heroin addicts and alcoholics, socialist societies have to hit their own rock bottom.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88iX4kS2r_g

          I hope they decide to choose something better sooner rather than later.

      2. The inane religionconcept of the material dialectic may well be ancient, but I’d put my money on the 150 year vintage estimate.

    2. The differences between socialism, Marxism, communism, etc. don’t matter. When government is trying to do the impossible, like centrally run the economy, how it chooses to do so is irrelevant.

  28. Soekarno used a very similar phrase about eating rocks rather than giving in to America or whatever.

  29. “Do you support the government and believe the administration is on the correct path, or should I tear up your ration card and have you arrested?”

    Remember kids, we’ve been through this very scenario before with the sandinistas. Everyone on the American left and the American Media believed that the sandinistas where a shoo-in to win the election and they were completely trounced. It was later found in a post-mortem that the reason the polls didn’t show the true feelings of the voters was remarkably close to my snarky comment above.

  30. Party members should have to take the cruciform implant. That way when they inevitably die, they can just try again.

  31. I was trying to think of the term that described this phenomenon. It was right on the tip of my frontal lobes . . .

    The term I was trying to think of was “escalation of commitment”.

    “Escalation of commitment refers to a pattern of behavior in which an individual or group will continue to rationalize their decisions, actions, and investments when faced with increasingly negative outcomes rather than alter their course.”

    http://tinyurl.com/mdu75gf

    It’s related to the sunk costs fallacy, but it isn’t that exactly. Like I said before, I think it’s especially common in situations where the outcome is counterintuitive.

    I think average Americans exhibit the same thing in their support for the drug war, for example, where because they believe that cracking down on drugs and gangs will make drug dealing more costly and discourage gang membership, they continue to support the drug war–even though doing so actually makes drug dealing more profitable and gang membership more prolific than it would be otherwise. The worse gangs get because of the drug war, the more these people support the drug war because of the gangs.

  32. The same thing happens in our support for ground wars. People believe that the more we invest in an occupation, the more the insurgency will suppressed. Meanwhile, the worse things get on the ground because of the occupation, the more certain people support the occupation. “If only we put more troops on the ground, we would destroy the insurgency”, they say. The sunk costs fallacy has an even bigger influence on that particular form of the escalation of commitment because thinking of dead American troops as sunk costs is sooooooo very ghastly, and it’s easy to label people who talk about dead troops in terms of sunk costs as traitors to all that’s good and holy.

    So, if I had to guess, I’d attribute ongoing support for socialism in Venezuela to those three things: the counterintuitive nature of socialism, the escalation of commitment, and a related sunk costs fallacy. That seizing industries and wealth and distributing the proceeds to the poor is bad for the poor is both true and counterintuitive. For people who can’t get past the counterintuitive nature of that truth, the worse things get for the poor, the more they believe socialism is warranted. Finally, there has been so much suffering since Chavez came to power 16 years ago, people don’t want to believe all that suffering was a sunk cost. The more people suffer, the more they want it to be for something rather than nothing.

  33. This article sure is some great demonology. Other than appeals to read bad literature and a sneaking suspicion that I’m glad I don’t live in Caracas is there some take home lesson? I look to rather cerebral social democratic Types who built economic systems that ensure that everyone can go to the doctor, opposed the Cold War, and fought against racism and militarism so I hate jingoistic and nationalist autocrats as much as anyone. I’m also left wondering how I can apply the lessons of Venezuela (autocracy is bad, mmkay) to things here in America like Social Security and Medicare. Any ideas? Thanks.

    1. It is difficult to convince a parasite that the more parasites infest the organism, the more the organism dies. The unproductive hands ruin nations paragraph in Adam Smith is drowned out by invisible hands. To understand socialism a textbook on parasitism is almost as useful as Atlas Shrugged. But brainwashees of the looter altruist faith will reply that correlation isn’t causation, therefore all men are NOT mortal. Take Jesus, for example…

      1. That one is not sentient, don’t waste your time.

    2. The lesson of Venezuela is NOT that “autocracy is bad, mkay”. It is that *price controls* are bad. The shortages are economic collapse are NOT caused by autocracy. There are lots of autocratic states in the world that are not collapsing. The shortages are clearly and obviously caused by the attempt to substitute centrally planned controlled prices for market prices.

      And THAT, my socialist friend, definitely does carry a lesson for US policy, for issues such as the minimum wage (which is a price control) and for health care (for which many of your ilk recommend price controls as a solution to rising costs).

    3. autocracy is bad, mmkay

      How did Venezuela turn into an “autocracy” when it started off as a democracy, and the people of Venezula elected socialists to represent their interests?

      Surely, you’re not suggesting that socialism leads to autocracy?

    4. american socialist|7.9.16 @ 9:10PM|#
      “..I’m also left wondering how I can apply the lessons of Venezuela (autocracy is bad, mmkay) to things here in America like Social Security and Medicare. Any ideas? Thanks.”

      Yeah, dumb shit: Central planning produces horrible outcomes.
      Given that you’re a fucking ignoramus, it’s not surprising this has to be explained.

  34. “Surely, by the time local governors start saying things like “We are capable of eating a stick, or instead of frying two eggs, fry two rocks, and we will eat fried rocks” on the radio, things can’t go on like this much longer, can they?”

    If this were the Simspons, two guys would drop a bag over his head, drag him out back, and barbecue him for a neighborhood picnic.

    Too bad.

    1. Sometimes comrades have to grub some roots to support the revolucion. I think it’s about time for AmSoc to grub some roots.

    2. I’m really curious if he suggested frying rocks before consuming them in earnest, or if this was taken out of context somehow.

  35. He should just remember what happened in Romania when it finally all fell apart….

  36. I basically profit close to $11k-$13k every month doing an online job. For those of you who are prepared to do easy at home jobs for 2h-5h each day at your house and earn valuable paycheck while doing it…Then this work opportunity is for you

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  37. uptil I saw the paycheck four $4289 , I have faith that my mom in-law could actualie bringing in money part-time at there computar. . there sisters neighbour had bean doing this 4 only about thirteen months and by now paid for the mortgage on there condo and bought a brand new Alfa Romeo .????????? http://www.factoryofincome.com

  38. uptil I saw the paycheck four $4289 , I have faith that my mom in-law could actualie bringing in money part-time at there computar. . there sisters neighbour had bean doing this 4 only about thirteen months and by now paid for the mortgage on there condo and bought a brand new Alfa Romeo .????????? http://www.factoryofincome.com

  39. “bring supporters to the lines outside supermarkets and have them break windows in order to provoke looting

  40. RE: Disaster D?j? Vu in Venezuela
    Planning a recovery is tough in a country where an awful lot of guys with guns aren’t ready to admit that socialism has failed again.

    Socialism has not failed in Venezuela. On the contrary, it has succeeded wonderfully. The masses are going without food, there is an economic disaster occurring, and all “the right people” have guns. The oppression, terror and mass murder by The State is next. If only we here in this country could enjoy such marvelous wonders socialism.
    One weeps at all we lost.

  41. A friend said that the problem wasn’t socialism but mismanagement. And so I agreed, and that without a market to set prices freely, mismanagement is the only bullet that socialism has to shoot with.

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