The Venezuelan leader was often marginalized as a radical. But his brand of socialism achieved real economic gains
by David Sirota | Wednesday, March 6, 2013 07:30 AM EDT
For the last decade in American politics, Hugo Chavez became a potent political weapon – within a few years of his ascent, he was transformed from just a leader of a neighboring nation into a boogeyman synonymous with extremism. Regularly invoked in over-the-top political rhetoric, Chavez’s name became a decontextualized epithet to try to attach to a political opponent so as to make that opponent look like a radical. Because of this, America barely flinched upon hearing the news that the Bush administration tried to orchestrate a coup against the democratically elected Venezuelan leader.
Just to get it out of the way, I’ll state the obvious: with respect to many policies, Chavez was no saint. He, for instance, amassed a troubling record when it came to protecting human rights and basic democratic freedoms (though as Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy notes, “Venezuela is recognized by many scholars to be more democratic than it was in the pre-Chávez era”). His rein1 also coincided with a boom in violent crime.
That said, these serious problems, while certainly worthy of harsh criticism, were not the primary reason Chavez became the favorite effigy of American politicians and pundits. In an age marked by America’s drone assaults, civil liberties abuses, and war on voting, it is not as if this nation’s political establishment sees an assault on democratic freedoms as deplorable. Likewise, that same political establishment is more than friendly with leaders of countries like Mexico and Colombia – countries which are also periodically hotbeds of violent crime.
No, Chavez became the bugaboo of American politics because his full-throated advocacy of socialism and redistributionism at once represented a fundamental critique of neoliberal economics, and also delivered some indisputably positive results. Indeed, as shown by some of the most significant indicators, Chavez racked up an economic record that a legacy-obsessed American president could only dream of achieving.
For instance, according to data compiled by the UK Guardian, Chavez’s first decade in office saw Venezuelan GDP more than double and both infant mortality and unemployment almost halved. Then there is a remarkable graph from the World Bank that shows that under Chavez’s brand of socialism, poverty in Venezuela plummeted (the Guardian reports that its “extreme poverty” rate fell from 23.4 percent in 1999 to 8.5 percent just a decade later). In all, that left the country with the third lowest poverty rate in Latin America. Additionally, as Weisbrot points out, “college enrollment has more than doubled, millions of people have access to health care for the first time and the number of people eligible for public pensions has quadrupled.”
When a country goes socialist and it craters, it is laughed off as a harmless and forgettable cautionary tale about the perils of command economics. When, by contrast, a country goes socialist and its economy does what Venezuela’s did, it is not perceived to be a laughing matter – and it is not so easy to write off or to ignore. It suddenly looks like a threat to the corporate capitalism, especially when said country has valuable oil resources that global powerhouses like the United States rely on.
There’s more at the original.
- an elegant apartment or living room (as in a fashionable home)
- a fashionable assemblage of notables (as literary figures, artists, or statesmen) held by custom at the home of a prominent person
- a: a hall for exhibition of art
b: (capitalized) : an annual exhibition of works of art
And thus we see the origins of the word for which the e-zine Salon is named: a place for the haughty intellectuals to tell everybody else that they are intellectuals. That this is the place where Amanda Marcotte posts her blathering is unsurprising.
The esteemed Mr Sirota’s article was a (sort of) paean to Hugo Chavez, who had gone to his eternal reward the previous day. It seems that the (supposedly) socialist leader had amassed a huge personal fortune, but the common people of Venezuela couldn’t even get toilet paper in that country’s socialist economy.
(T)he late-president’s family owns 17 country estates, totalling more than 100,000 acres, in addition to liquid assets of $550 million (£360 million) stored in various international bank accounts, according to Venezuelan news website Noticias Centro.
While ordinary Venezuelans suffer growing food shortages and 23 per cent inflation, the Chavez family trades in US dollars that now fetch four times the official bank rate on the black market.
Living in numerous mansions in Alto Barinas, the city’s most affluent district, the family and their children live a life of privilege, says Mr Azuaje, whose wife left him to marry into wealth and now lives next to the Chavez mansions.
“My daughter goes to school with the Chavez kids”, he explained. “She told me that the school dining hall has waiting staff to serve and clean up after the kids”
Mr Sirota’s homage to President Chavez has been thoroughly mocked before:
Back in 2013, Salon took a quick break from criticizing a caricature of libertarianism to let David Sirota write an embarrassing article praising socialism in what turns out to be a fantastic case study in both the dangers of socialist economics and of course, speaking too soon.
The article was titled “Hugo Chavez’s Economic Miracle” and it was certainly not the only one of its kind to come out at the time. It may seem like twenty-twenty hindsight to criticize such foolishness, but it might be instructive as well. However, looking at Venezuela now as compared to the country Sirota saw in 2013 and thought provided an economic alternative to American capitalism (a truly free market was never discussed) serves as a good example of what Nicolás Cachanosky calls “the bait-and-switch behind economic populism.” Or namely, that government policies focused highly on consumption and lowly on investment will show good economic signs at the beginning, only to be followed by an inevitable decline and likely disaster.
Sirota’s article at least begins by lamenting Chavez’s rather poor record on civil rights (like shutting down a TV station that was critical of him) and noting “a boom in violent crime.” This may somehow be an understatement as Venezuela ranks second in the world in murders per capita at a terrifying rate of 53.7 per 100,000 citizens annually! (So much for socialism alleviating crime.) He finally does arrive at his case for this “economic miracle” that Venezuela was experiencing under Chavez (which, I should note, makes up only one paragraph of his entire article).
There’s more at the original. To be fair, it should be noted that the Mises Institute is strongly anti-statist and pro-private property, but that article is simply the best of the ones mocking Mr Sirota. A google search for David Sirota Venezuela failed to turn up any retraction articles from the author concerning his foolish statements, and his website does not have a search function.
One wonders what Mr Sirota thinks of the current news, that Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro has declared a state of emergency to try to hold on to power, as his country wants him gone due to the wonderful economy created by Mr Chavez’s “Bolivarian socialism:”
Venezuela’s economy shrank 5.7% in 2015 and is expected to contract an additional 8% this year, the International Monetary Fund says. Inflation has skyrocketed, suffering annual inflation rates predicted to hit the 700% range while failing to meet its citizens’ most basic needs, according to IMF projections.
The bolivar, Venezuela’s currency, is worth less than a penny on the black-market exchange.
Even when Mr Sirota was writing his tribute to Señor Chavez, the signs of Venezuela’s economic collapse were there, but the author’s political motivations blinded him to the economic facts. We’ve said it here before: if liberals really understood economics, they wouldn’t be liberals anymore.
- I am amused by Mr Sirota’s spelling/grammatical error here. The proper spelling is “reign,” when the meaning is a term of rulership (though commonly meaning a term of royal reign), while “rein,” the spelling he used, means, among other things, the ability to limit or control something, or the power to guide or control someone or something. That’s rather apropos to Señor Chavez’s regime! ↩