Economic Diagnosis of Venezuela   Leave a comment

I firmly believe you can be a smack-awesome journalist without having gone to college. Yes, I have a BA in journalism, but I’ve met reporters who were better than me who never went to college. Journalism is about curiosity and writing skills and, in my estimation, the ability to be balanced with a story and seek out as many facts as can be ascertained … even the facts we don’t like.

I received several benefits from my university education that you don’t actually need to attend college to acquire, but it was helpful. For example, I took an economics course, which gave me an interest in the subject that I pursue even today. I haven’t taken a university-level economics course in 30 years, but I read at least one book a year on the subject.

By the way, books not written as textbooks … WAY more educational because they aren’t so boring.

So, I’m a little puzzled as to why reporters keep scratching their heads about Venezuela’s descent into extreme poverty and chaos?  Anyone who has read widely on economics can diagnosis the cause — socialism. From there, the treatment is obvious. End Venezuelan socialism and you will end the misery.

When the New York Times wrote about Venezuela’s ongoing collapse a year ago, it described how the country was suffering “painful shortages” of basic foods, and how “electricity and water are being rationed, and huge areas of the country have spent months with little of either.”

According to the Times, Venezuela’s dire situation was caused by factors out of its control:

The growing economic crisis (was) fueled by low prices for oil, the country’s main export; a drought that has crippled Venezuela’s ability to generate hydroelectric power; and a long decline in manufacturing and agricultural production.

Times’ reporters failed to mention the fact that Hugo Chávez tried to turn Venezuela into a socialist paradise and his successor Nicolas Maduro has continued those policies. Unfortunately, the Times’ coverage of Venzuela demonstrates that many journalists are economically illiterate.

Venezuela was never a model free market economy. A couple decades ago, the Heritage Foundation gave it a 59.8 ranking on its Index of Freedom. If you’re unfamiliar, this index measures how free or government-controlled an economy is. That put Venezuela at the edge of being “moderately free.”

Then Chavez nationalized the oil industry, agricultural operations, transportation, power generation, telecommunications, steel production, banks and other industries. Today Venezuela is the third least free economy in the world, ahead of only Cuba and North Korea.

As a direct result of those actions, Venezuela went from being one the wealthiest countries in South America to a country where people are literally fighting for scraps of food while surrounded by a wealth of natural resources. Last year, Venezuela’s economy shrank 18%. The unemployment rate is 25% and climbing. Inflation could reach 2,068% next year. Riots have become everyday events.

Alaska (and Norway) is also suffering from the effects of low oil prices. Nobody is starving here (long as the barges keep running). We still have lights and water. There hasn’t been a riot since Black Friday (although there were demonstrations at the Arctic Council meetings). Why isn’t Alaska spinning out of control too? Because, despite being a colony of the United States, we still have a vestige of market economy and so we are not entirely dependent upon the central planners to make sure we get food (as long as the barges keep running).

The cause of Venezuela’s dire conditions is socialism, not oil prices, the weather, greedy businessmen or name that excuse. Venzuela’s economic crisis what socialism produces in every time and every place. The history of socialism has produced as close to an iron law of economics as there can be.

Yet reporters continue to avoid, if not totally ignore, this economic reality when they try to explain to readers what is going on there.

The Los Angeles Times says that it’s only “anti-government protesters” who “blame Venezuela’s economic crisis on the policies of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.” While “supporters of the government say the culprits are a drop in international oil prices as well as ‘corrupt’ business leaders.”

There’s no attempt made by the reporter to say who is right.

The Associated Press blames the “oil boom and bust” for the crisis:

The plunge in world oil prices has left the government owing money across the board, from foreign airlines to oil service companies. Most of the anti-poverty gains made under Chavez have been erased and people are grappling with severe food and medicine shortages.

USA Today said that the reason Venezuelans were resorting to hunting dogs and pigeons for food was because:

although Venezuela has the world’s largest petroleum reserves, the country has suffered from a combination of lower oil prices and tight limits on dollar purchases that have cut off vital food and most other imports. The result has been a plunging economy and the world’s highest inflation rate — above 700%.

Others blamed a drought for the country’s problems. The Wall Street Journal reported last spring that “the newer hardships are water scarcity and increasingly critical power blackouts — a byproduct of the lack of water in a country dependent on hydroelectric dams.”

I think reporters ignore the obvious because most of them are liberals who are infatuated with the idea of socialism.

Consider how AP lovingly described Chavez:

a political outsider promising to upset the old order and funnel some of the country’s enormous oil wealth to the poor. Poverty rates fell sharply during his administration, and many people continue to see him as a beloved Robin Hood figure who gave them houses, free health care, better education and a place at the table in government.

That list of “accomplishments” reads eerily like the Democratic Party platform.

Reporters’ unwillingness to admit that socialism can’t work drives so many mainstream journalists to look for something, anything, else to blame when socialist economies invariable fail, but at some point, it behooves us to read an economics book to discover the real reason.

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