We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Malapropism

I’m sure that Hugo Chavez has done some good. Much more bad than good probably, but some good. And Ken Livingstone is certainly not totally evil. But when the two of them get together it is very implausible that it is good news for the world on average.

Though if Mr Livingstone spends a lot of time in Venezuela, that will be pleasant both for him and for Londoners, I am really quite puzzled what Latin America, or even Mr Chavez, gets from this deal:

Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, has found a new role as an adviser to the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and his political allies. During a surprise visit to Caracas, Livingstone said yesterday that he would act as a consultant on the capital’s policing, transport and other municipal issues.

“I believe that Caracas will become a first-world city in 20 years. I have a very extensive network of contacts both domestically and internationally which I will be calling on to assist in this,” he told reporters at the presidential palace after meeting Chávez.

But the most puzling thing of all is that use of the phrase “first-world city”. I was under the impression that the ‘first world’ was the capitalist western countries, the ‘second world’ the realm of state-socialism, and the ‘third world’ the unindustrialised rest, not clearly part of either. Continuing the metaphor of separate worlds – and wishing away trade and travel and telegraph – the Rev John Papworth has even coined “Fourth World” for the poorest of the poor and those rejecting economic development altogether.

I cannot believe Red Ken was trying to suggest that the Bolivarian Revolution will fail, and that in 20 years Venezuela will be fully part of the capitalist first world again. Surely Mr Livingstone means he wants Caracas to be a second-world city?

How to mess up an economy

Here is a long and good article about the destruction of the economy of Venezuela by Hugo Chavez, the president who recently attempted – unsuccessfuly, thank goodness – to get himself voted president for life. I know I am preaching to the coverted around here by pointing out the sheer folly of what this thug is attempting, but sometimes you have to keep pointing to such examples lest people in other parts of the world forget just what a disaster state central planning is.

It never fails to strike me how such a resource-rich nation like Venezuela can be ruined by a political operator like Chavez, and contrast that with how a small colony, with hardly any resources at all apart from sheer entrepreneurial spirit, like Hong Kong, can rise to be one of the richest places on the planet.

For a great guide to some of the key drivers of wealth in countries down the ages, this classic by David Landes is greatly recommended.

I wish I could think of a way to relate this to hippos

Last week, as I was wandering around a slightly shabby (but brightly coloured) neighbourhood of Santiago, I encountered the following restaurant, which was sadly closed at the time of day I visited.

It is likely that if a restaurant put up such a sign in Britain or America, it would soon receive a cease and desist letter from DC Comics or some other branch of Time Warner. However, despite the fact that the Chileans were undoubtedly required to enact some ghastly DMCA-like concoction as a consequence of the negotiations that led to the United States / Chile Free Trade Agreement, enforcement is somewhat laxer than it would be in Europe or North America.

This is, in my opinion, a good thing. If such a sign were taken down, there would be no consideration of the most important question related to it, which is What in the name of Apocatequil were these people smoking?

The prime motivation of government is…

… to be in government. Making the country a ‘better place’ comes a distant second.

Alex Singleton (of this parish) has an article up on Brassneck titled Hugo Chavez is blinded by ideology. He points out the foolishness of Hugo Chavez’s ‘concerns’ about a small British owned cocoa estate in Venezuela, given that a nationalised estate is highly unlikely to be able to reproduce the alleged high quality of Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s operation.

But that presupposes that Hugo Chavez gives a damn about the economic consequences of his actions. I think he is far from ‘blind’ to the implication of his policies, more likely he simply does not see them as particularly relevant to politics… and everything Chavez does is about politics. The only real reason that a small British owned operation would attract the attention of someone like ‘El Duce’ is he sees political benefit in being seen to move against a ‘foreign’ business, never mind how many locals it employs or what local goods and services the business uses. It is important to remember that his power base is motivated primarily by envy and not by their own wealth directly, or lack thereof.

In other words, the sort of people in Venezuela who support a demagogic national socialist like Chavez would react well to sticking it to a Brit and the net economic weal of the nation has very little to do with it. Chavez is the government and getting people to support the government is all that matters to a creature like him. And as that is what his supporters want, if such an approach writ large destroys the Venezuelan economy, people are only getting exactly what they voted for. Personally I think his supporters deserve every day they live in abject poverty, something that will continue for the foreseeable future under their government of choice… pity about the rest however.

Mexico’s Hugo Chavez wannabe

Granted I am somewhat indifferent to democracy, seeing it as nothing more than a tool for securing limited government (at best) or a mechanism for legitimising proxy theft (at worst), but as so many leftists make such a song and dance about the importance of democracy, it is remarkable to see people like Mexican Hugo Chavez wannabe Lopez Obrador casting it aside when he does not like the way it is headed. His supporters simply seized control of the chambers of both houses of Congress back on 10th April so that they could block government proposals to ease restrictions on private investment in the state oil industry. Obrador does not like the fact he cannot democratically get the results he wants, so he just stops debate on the subject in congress completely. Fair enough. If I was the Mexican government, I would just start ruling by edict until the democratic institutions become functional again, or failing that, just send in the riot cops with instructions to bust some heads to remove some political trespassers.

People opposed to Obrador have made a very effective advertisement likening him to sundry totalitarian thugs. However Obrador has demanded this advertisement be ordered off the air by Mexico’s federal electoral authority, indicating as well as disliking democratic processes he cannot control, he also does not believe in freedom of expression. Quelle surprise.

Well due to the magic of the internet… here it is.

Cool.

Cuba takes a step from the shadows

Here’s this gem from Reuters:

Cuba seeks more user-friendly socialism

There is something almost pathetic about the following paragraph from Reuters, as if the ability of people to trade with one another is some sort of wonderful present given by Father Christmas, rather than an extension of the basic right of every human to sustain life and flourish happily:

Bans on the sale of computers, DVD players and other products have been lifted, and Cubans who can afford it can now stay at tourist hotels and buy a cellphone.

Agriculture is being decentralized, farmers can decide for themselves what supplies they need and the prices paid to them are rising to boost food production.

Seriously, these steps represent real progress. If the reforms are real, it clearly makes sense for the US and other countries to lift sanctions against the country. A sharp dose of free trade should put a stake in the heart of the failed Marxist experiment in that island for good.

Meanwhile, let’s hope sanity eventually returns across the Atlantic in Zimbabwe. Surely, one of the great lessons of the 20th century, continuing to this day in Cuba, Zimbabwe or for that matter, Venezuela, is that state central planning is a disaster, whether applied to agriculture or anything else.

Your word for the day, Mister Chavez, is ‘Fungible’

Fungible: Etymology: New Latin fungibilis, from Latin fungi to perform
: being something (as money or a commodity) one part or quantity of which can be substituted for another of equal value in paying a debt or settling an account – oil, wheat, and lumber are fungible commodities.

Hugo Chavez, the paleo-socialist who is working tirelessly to turn Caracas into Pyongyang, has threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States due to actions brought against the Venezuelan government in British, Dutch and US courts by ExxonMobil. Following the freezing of $12 billion in assets by a British court, Chavez said:

“If you end up freezing (Venezuelan assets) and it harms us, we’re going to harm you,” Chavez said during his weekly radio and television program, “Hello, President.” “Do you know how? We aren’t going to send oil to the United States. Take note, Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger.”

Chavez has repeatedly threatened to cut off oil shipments to the United States, which is Venezuela’s No. 1 client, if Washington tries to oust him. Chavez’s warnings on Sunday appeared to extend that threat to attempts by oil companies to challenge his government’s nationalization drive through lawsuits.

And your word for the day, Mister Chavez, is ‘fungible’.

If his intention is to sell Venezuelan oil to no one, he will push up the price to everyone, that much is true. And of course that also means he is cutting off the cash flow being used to finance the Glorious Bolivarian Revolution. Your call, El Presidente.

If on the other hand he intends to sell Venezuelan oil to anyone except the USA (and presumably the UK and Netherlands as well as they have also been crossed off his Christmas Card list), then… who cares? As oil is fungible, it just goes into a big global market and what does it matter if Venezuelan oil goes to China instead of the USA when all it means is that someone else’s oil will take its place?

Very bad news for Cuba

Fidel Castro is on the mend and is ready to resume a political role, according to Brazillian President Luis Inacio Lula de Silva.

Although his future has been a matter of speculation, Dr Castro on December 17 gave his strongest hint he would not return to power, in a letter read on television. “My basic duty is not to cling to office, nor even more so to obstruct the rise of people much younger, but to pass on experiences and ideas whose modest value arises from the exceptional era in which I lived,” he said in a signed letter.

Very modest value indeed.

Defying Chavez

Venezuela is a case study of how democracy is no sure defence against tyranny and how it can actually be the means by which it comes about. I realise we already have the example of Germany in the 1930′s, but unlike the NSDAP, the democratic majority for Chavez was far less ambiguous than the ones that incrementally brought Hitler to power.

It was interesting to note how many on the left (with many honourable exceptions I must add) have supported the establishment of a state television monopoly in Venezuela once the Chavez regime announced it was going to shut down anti-government station Rádio Caracas Televisión.

However is good to see people on the street marching in defiance of Hugo Chavez. Will it make any difference? In the short run, probably not, but it is never wrong to make a stand against a tyrant regardless of how popular he may be.

Kevlar for Krusty?

This has to rank as one of the strangest reports I have read so far this year:

Two circus clowns have been shot dead during a performance in the eastern Colombian city of Cucuta, police say…

Last year, a prominent circus clown, known as Pepe, was also shot dead by a unknown assailant in Cucuta.

I find clowns deeply irritating but surely lethal force is a little excessive. Don’t they have custard pies in that part of the world?

“Arranged Historical Place as Museum”

In the latest pull-out-of-the-middle-and-bin travel supplement in the Radio Times, there is an advert for going on holiday in Cuba:

Warm golden sand touched by shimmering seas, endlessly clear and calm. Sparkling contrasts. A deep sense of harmony. Cuba is life.

Unless you are one of the poor bastards who actually has to live there.

A Cuba tourism website was mentioned at the bottom of the advert. I went there, seeking further Cubanities to sneer at. I was not disappointed. In the Knowing Culture section, I read:

Cuba’s cultura is very prestigious. It happy people live very rooted to its traditions and customs. If you want to know about that go and visit the museums.

“Rooted to its traditions and customs” as in “bugger all has happened for the last fifty years”. Say what you like about communism, at least it avoids disfiguring the landscape with a lot of mucky economic development. Well, muck they can do. It’s the economic development they avoid. Film companies love communism, because huge swathes of ancient places get preserved by it as if in aspic, needing only a scrub-down and then some mending and a lick of paint to bring the distant past back to instant and authentic life.

As the heading says here, about some very boring-looking historical building:

Arranged Historical Place as Museum

A phrase that would do well as a description of Cuba itself. One instinctively knows which questions not to ask.

Meanwhile, back at the Knowing Culture section, the blurb ends thus:

If you take a tour of our cities you will see the development of music, dance or plastic arts, manifestations that have left a trace in the world.

Mostly in Miami.

So, potential tourists living outside Cuba have no problem accessing the internetted tourist version of Cuba. But what is internet access like for the the natives?

With less than 2 per cent of its population online, Cuba is one of the most backward Internet countries. An investigation carried out by Reporters Without Borders in October revealed that the Cuban government uses several levers to ensure that this medium is not used in a “counter-revolutionary” way. Firstly, it has more or less banned private Internet connections. To surf the Internet or check their e-mail, Cubans have to go to public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and “youth computer clubs” where their activity is more easily monitored. Secondly, the computers in all the Internet cafes and leading hotels contain software installed by the Cuban police that triggers an alert message whenever “subversive” key-words are spotted. The regime also ensures that there is no Internet access for dissidents and independent journalists, for whom communicating with people abroad is an ordeal. Finally, the government also relies on self-censorship. You can get 20 years in prison for writing “counter-revolutionary” articles for foreign websites. You can even get five years just for connecting to the Internet illegally. Few Internet users dare to run the risk of defying the regime’s censorship.

Which would explain the “deep sense of harmony”.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Castro Reportedly in Grave,” begins an Associated Press headline. Unfortunately, the next word is “Condition.”

- James Taranto