Walter Bagehot, 19th century economist, political analyst, and editor of The Economist, mused that “it is a question whether the benevolence of mankind does most good or harm.”
From the outside looking in, one has to wonder how Venezuela finds itself in a tragic social and economic collapse, given the country’s immense wealth of natural resources. Sometimes the best answer is the simplest one. Whether most accurately labeled Socialism, Fascism, Populism, Dictatorship, or “other,” the root cause of collapse has been an overreaching and always expanding government, that acted under the guise of benevolence.
At issue is not a failure of policies. The policies are the cause of the failure.
Since 1999, Venezuela has been ruled by self described “socialist” leaders in Hugo Chavez, and his less charismatic hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro. Hugo Chavez came to power with the promise of a “Socialism for the 21st Century.” Upon his death in 2013, power was transferred to his hand picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, despite concerns of election fraud.
What transpired has been the natural result of those policies instituted by socialist leaders, not the failure of the policies. As society became managed by bureaucrats at every level, natural markets ground to a halt, and social structure broke down as government programs replaced the family, as the provider of basic needs. Sadly, it has failed in this role. In 2013, The Atlantic reported on the cycle of dependency created by well intentioned government programs, wherein “the social programs instituted by Chavez in the poorest neighborhoods of Venezuela use “capta huellas” machine to register the beneficiaries of the programs, thus creating an even stronger psychological link between fingerprinting readers and benefits from the state.”
Life in Venezuela is now a dystopian mess. Venezuelans are literally starving. The Health Minister was recently fired simply for releasing data reflecting a shocking increase in mortality rates (a 65% increase in women dying in childbirth, and a 30% increase in deaths of children).
Inflation is out of control, and the government recently released a new series of banknotes to replace devalued currency.
Crime is rampant, and the populace has been rendered impotent to resist by gun control initiatives.
The economy has imploded, and those that can are running to Bitcoin to escape the financial disaster created by socialist policies.
Margaret Thatcher wryly observed that, “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” As the situation has devolved, the government has become more and more oppressive to cling to power in the face of broken promises. A recent consolidation of power brought wide spread denunciations of voter fraud given the disparity between pre-election polls and the extremely favorable results for the administration.
Chavez made extensive efforts to compare himself to Simon Bolivar, liberator of Venezuela from Spain. But if Bolivar freed his homeland, the policies and regime created by Chavez have left it in chains.
Make no mistake, his successor Maduro is not to blame. The policies are to blame. Spanning nearly two decades, the policies of Chavez and subsequently Maduro, have relentlessly engorged the tentacles of a terrifying and inept government, and always under the guise of benevolence. Unfortunately, the people of Venezuela voted for a never ending parade of public benefits and social programs. They voted to tell the government to take money, ultimately under the threat of force, from their compatriots, to fund untenable government programs that are now imploding, dragging down the very citizens they promised to help.
But lost in the chaos and tragedy, is the sad predictability of the current situation. Let’s be clear, Venezuela is not suffering from any kind of administrative failure in implementing what Chavez often touted as “Socialism for the 21st Century.” Rather, those policies themselves, policies built on a foundation of an all encompassing government at the expense of liberty, are the root cause of crippling violence and instability.
It is not because of any dictatorial tenancies or autocratic ineptitude that his country is collapsing; the country is collapsing under the weight of good intentions; whether or not those good intentions were ever genuine is up for debate.