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]

Toast or not toast, that is the question

Tim Worstall writes, “You know the Bolivarian Revolution is toast when…”. His criteria for Bolivarian toastiness is “when even the Guardian is running reports on how socialism makes the food supply go tits up.” He links to a Guardian article about the “economic war” launched by Chavez in Venezuela which does indeed make it sound as if Chavez has defied reality once too often.

Trouble is, as The Remittance Man says in the comments, we saw the same and worse from Mugabe – and he is still in power, sort of. Indeed we saw the same and much worse in the Soviet Union and that lasted seventy years.

How do these regimes hold on for so long? Shopkeepers in Venezuela are being ordered on pain of imprisonment to sell at a loss. One would think they would just walk away. Why does it take so long for Atlas to shrug? Perhaps most of his economic war is just bluster and shopkeepers know this. Perhaps there is some mechanism of benign corruption operating that means that the shopkeepers do continue to make money regardless. Perhaps Chavez is right and they do have a lot of money stashed away and can afford to run at a loss for a time, and also have some reason to believe that this episode will be sufficiently brief that it is worth their while to do so.

Or perhaps the toast is about to burn.

A thought

Over the next two days, there are two linguistically Spanish versus Portuguese games in the World Cup: Chile plays Brazil this evening, and Spain itself plays Portugal itself tomorrow evening. Brazil and Spain are two of the favourites to win the tournament, Portugal is a good side, although perhaps without the depth of the first two, and Chile have played much more impressively than most people expected in this tournament, but are outsiders. So probably a hard fought but still one-sided game this evening, and a good game tomorrow night. Although one of course never knows.

However, disregarding the actual sport and thinking about bigger things, it seems pretty clear that the governments of the two Latin American countries are rather less profligate and rather less broke than those of the two Latin European countries.

How did we get here?

The foolishness of half measures when dealing with power obsessed people

It is fascinating how so many government cannot abide the idea of constitutional limits on the power of the state. Clearly the US and Brazilian governments are beside themselves that many in Honduras seem unwilling to allow their country to go the way of Venezuela.

If I was the government of Honduras I would simply give the government of Brazil 48 hours to get their embassy the hell out of Honduras permanently, and when they do… solve the ‘issue’ of Hugo Chavez wannabe Jose Manuel Zelaya the way they should have initially… with a 9 mm wide object moving at 360 metres per second.

After hubris, comes…..

The One comes out with some jaw-dropping remarks at times.

Cuban delusions

This guy clearly is not impressed by the recent Hollywood film about ‘Che’ Guevara, which I will not be watching:

I wish that Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Del Toro could live in Cuba, not as the pampered VIPs that they are when they visit today, but as Cubans do, with no United States Constitutional rights, with ration cards entitling them to tiny portions of provisions that the stores don’t even stock anyway, with chivatos surveilling them constantly. How long would it be before Mr. Soderbergh started sizing up inner tubes, speculating on the durability and buoyancy of them, asking himself, could I make the crossing on that? How long before Mr. Del Toro started gazing soulfully at divorced or widowed tourist women, hoping to seduce and marry one of them and get out? Only then could they see why this insipid, frivolous and pretentious movie they have made is nothing less than an insult to millions of people, who really do live like that, and who’ve lived like that their entire lives.

The quote was seen at the blog of David Thompson.

I have said it before and I will repeat: for all its possible charms, I am not setting foot in Cuba until it becomes a haven of capitalist decadence. Not a minute before. Even if that means paying more for cigars and the booze.

Here is a film about Cuba, starring Andy Garcia, which is much more worthwhile.


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.


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?