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Venezuela's socialist mess

truth be told

Another socialist regime, another failure. Venezuela’s economy tanked under President (essentially dictator) Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime, with its GDP contracting by 18.6 percent and inflation increasing by 800 percent in 2016. Venezuelans continue to be the subjects of a humanitarian crisis

Venezuela reflects the pitfalls of socialism as expressed by Nobel Prize economist Friedrich A. Hayek in his world famous book, “The Road to Serfdom.” Hayek explains the evils of socialism, which inherently requires an authoritarian system of government. As historical events continue to transpire, Hayek’s theories prove to hold true time and time again. 

Socialism relies on the central planning of the economy. The system leads to totalitarianism, whether it is democratically implemented or not. Additionally, socialist totalitarian states like Cuba and the Soviet Union proved that when the government controls the distribution and allocation of resources in an economy, fundamental inefficiencies and deficiencies arise that ultimately hurt citizens. It is unjust to have insulated bureaucrats determine what people are worth, as well as to allocate the supply of goods or services without sufficient mechanisms to assess the market and distribute resources appropriately. If the government essentially has full control over what and how much you can eat, in addition to the quantity and quality of medical care you receive, does the government not have control over you? 

Socialism’s appeal is deceptive to those it attracts. Proponents argue that socialist institutions provide equality and thus create continuous prosperity. However, socialism is innately undemocratic given that centralized planning requires coercive tactics in order to succeed. 

Socialism is hypocritical in nature: its professed humanitarian aims can only be implemented by using brutal force. Furthermore, a government like Venezuela has immense and frightening power to coerce citizens, violate human rights, and restrict freedom by controlling the allocation of resources and consolidation of wealth. The only equality that ever exists in socialist societies is that every citizen is equally miserable. 

Venezuela’s citizens unfortunately have fallen victim to socialist turmoil as the country’s democratic institutions have been ripped to shreds. The economy is largely dependent on oil, which accounts for nearly of 50 percent of GDP and 100 percent of exports. Recent oil price slumps have sent the economy into shambles. In 2016, Venezuela faced extreme scarcities in toilet paper, diapers and milk. This forced over 6,000 people to enter Columbia to buy necessities. 

Food riots are frequent, and for good reason. In fact, 75 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 18 pounds last year. Government corruption is also rampant. For instance, the state-owned oil company PDVSA has funneled $11 billion in payments to government officials between 2004 and 2005. Medicine and health care essentially have vanished, and protestors are met in the streets with terror and violence conducted by the Venezuelan military.

Venezuela’s fall into the socialist abyss began with the reign of Hugo Chavez (1999-2013), who made it a priority to wipe out the private sector and redistribute oil income in order to improve inequality statistics. Interventionist and market-distorting policies, such as restrictions on imports and industrial nationalization, have compounded throughout the years and led to the demise of the nation’s economy—once ranked 4th on a per-capita basis. Price controls and redistributive policies have brought both production and consumption to an abrupt stop. 

On July 30th of this year, 545 candidates from Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela were elected to a national constituent assembly. Political opponents of the government, such as the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), have denounced the assembly and its plans to overhaul the constitution. They claim that Maduro and his party are acting illegally to consolidate power. Over 120 protesters have died at the hands of the government, and 16 of them were killed on July 30th alone. 

Maduro’s dictatorship has gotten out of hand; moreover, it directly conflicts with United States interests. The U.S. government has already sanctioned the Venezuelan government for human rights abuses, but eventually more restrictions will be needed. 

United States policy toward Venezuela must remain robust and rooted in support of democratic governance. The United States should devise a list of boundaries that puts pressure on the Maduro regime, and includes releasing political prisoners as well as ending violence against demonstrators. 

The U.S. should also expand its international coalition in order to further delegitimize the actions Venezuelan government’s actions. Specifically, this coalition should condemn and refuse to recognize the constituent assembly. Targeted sanctions against Venezuelan government officials should be expanded to more individuals in order to increase pressure and bring the Maduro regime closer to talks of reform. 

Many on the left may argue that Venezuela solely is the product of a corrupt government and that Scandinavian countries are proof that socialism can be implemented properly. However, this is a common misconception. Sweden, for example, provides strong protection of property rights and encourages business and free trade-oriented policies that help fuel the private sector. In his book "Scandinavian Unexceptionalism," Swedish author Nima Sanandaji argues that homogenous culture, strong social cohesion and free market policies predating their welfare states have led to the success of the Nordic countries. “Scandinavian countries,” he also writes, “compensate for high taxes and labor market rigidities by following liberal policies in other areas, such as business freedom and openness to trade.” Denmark, Sweden, and Norway also happen to rank similarly to the U.S. in regard to aggregate measures of economic freedom.

It is unfortunate to observe that socialism still is in the business of entrapping the masses into utter deceit. Fundamentally, socialism is inconsistent with human behavior because it ignores incentives. Venezuela should be the modern example that scares this generation away from collectivist policies, candidates and desires. 

As Winston Churchill once said, “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”

Mitchell Siegel is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "truth be told," runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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