It's also worth noting the economic fruit that Chavismo is bearing. I was, like everyone else, stonkered by Chris Bertram's apparent belief that "what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate. Ditto Cuba, for a much smaller chunk." What is not to hate about a system that seems to come bundled with a viciously anti-democratic police state, stagnant-to-regressive economic development, and vast encroachments on human liberty? Of course I would like capitalism to operate in Cuba, because the Cubans and I would thereby be made better off. For that matter, I'd like to see it operating in Russia today. And let's visit Chavez's much-touted accomplishments on the human development front:
Populism and petropolitics have lately drawn the interest of many scholars and commentators who have indisputably attained a keener understanding of both subjects than mine, hence I will not delve into all the consequences of those terms when they concur in a Latin American country with 27.7 million inhabitants, a GDP of $140 mm and, according to government sources, a 13.2% level of unemployment.
I will rather follow Yogi Berra's word of advice, "you can observe a lot by watching" how daily life goes by in a populist petrocracy such as the one I live in. In consequence , allow me to contribute to a better knowledge of Venezuela's current economic plight by pointing at an "Orwellian" innovation that I have designated "populist newspeak."
When Mr. George Orwell coined the word "newspeak" he was obviously thinking of full-blown totalitarian regimes, not erratic Latin American populism. To everyone's surprise, Mr. Chávez has plundered "newspeak" usages and twisted them into illiberal democracy's conventional rhetoric. A remarkable achievement, let us be fair. That said, I think it's high time for a digression directed at taking a better hold of my contention.
Consider breakfast. My breakfast, to be exact. It's been months since I have had an oatmeal breakfast or a nice cup of espresso with a drop of milk because coffee and milk has literally vanished from supermarkets' shelves since last November. And that includes "Mercal", the government's supermarket network where the poor are supposed to buy food at subsidized low prices
The reason? Stiff price controls, of course, and fixed currency rates that have been going on for 5 years, too.
I must confess that the very mention of price controls makes me drool at the thought of black beans and precooked corn flour, two staples absolutely essential in our spicy and usually inexpensive cocina criolla (Creole cuisine) that, according to señora Luz, the Dominican immigrant lady married to my office building's Colombian janitor, I am not the only one to miss.
Early on February, an outburst of looting broke in Sabaneta, Mr. Chávez's small hometown in southwestern Venezuela. Two hundred regular army troops had to be sent in to avoid further looting of the local "Mercal's" facilities. The enraged looters accused corrupt supermarket officials of hoarding subsidized basic foods and then trying to sell them above controlled prices. As isolated as it was, the whole episode was reminiscent of the bloody riots that erupted in Caracas in 1989 with a death toll of some 700 people.
But, please, don't take it from me, take it from the host of foreign left-leaning correspondents who now appear to be utterly surprised by the onslaught of criticism that Mr. Chávez is facing, even from his own supporters, about a list of "petty" domestic worries such as violent crime and shortages of basic foods.
Every place that has currency and price controls has the same problems, but populist politicians nonetheless attempt to repeal the law of supply and demand--then profess to be surprised when the inevitable results. Cries of "treason" and "economic sabotage" generally soon follow as if it were the farmers' fault that they cannot produce when the sale price is lower than the cost of production. Command economies are only a good idea if you are entranced by the possibilities of millions of countrymen all suffering exactly equally harsh deprivation.