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Venezuela: an evolving story

Misreporting Venezuela’s economy – Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian in September 2010

Venezuela’s devaluation doom-mongers – Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian in March 2013

Sorry, Venezuela haters: this economy is not the Greece of Latin America – Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian in November 2013

For some reason Mr Weisbrot has not written much for the Guardian comment pages on the subject of Venezuela recently, but to its credit the Guardian has covered developments in that country in the news pages:

‘At least 35,000’ Venezuelans cross border to Colombia to buy food and medicine – a story from the Associated Press appearing in the Guardian on 17 July 2016.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans poured into neighbouring Colombia to buy food and medicine on Saturday after authorities briefly opened the border that has been closed for almost a year.

A similar measure last week led to dramatic scenes of the elderly and mothers storming Colombian supermarkets and highlighted how daily life has deteriorated for millions in Venezuela, where the economy has been in a freefall since the 2014 crash in oil prices.

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39 comments to Venezuela: an evolving story

  • CaptDMO

    Hmmmm…..Let’s start with the names Kennedy, and Penn.

  • Kevin

    I travelled all over Venezuela in 1987. As in most south American countries, there was a vast gap between rich and poor. But a significant middle class was starting to grow. Given the oil revenues, there seemed a strong chance that Venezuela would become an emerging nation with a quickly improving economy. Those hopes were damned by the economic crises of the early 90s, which allowed Chavez to take power.
    What a triumph of state planning and Bolivarian socialism he and Maduro have run – massive inflation, curbs on political expression and opposition; and most of all, a lack of even basic items in the shops. Not even toilet rolls.
    Venezuela should stand as a warning to us all.

  • rxc

    It is all the fault of the wreckers and the kulaks. We just need to hang about 100 of them in a public place, to send a message to the rest. Then, the system will work, next time.

  • Laird

    I guess the moral of this story is that you can’t hide the truth forever. But the lengths to which the “true believers” will go to obfuscate and cover up requires constant exposure. Mr. Weisbrot (whoever he is) is clearly someone whose reporting” cannot be trusted, and people will need regular reminders of that.

  • TimR

    I lived and worked in Venezuela for fifteen years, from 1982. It had always had the largest middle class of any south or Central American country. When Chavez won the first election he commented to Fidel Castro that the middle class, disgusted by the political corruption had overwhelmingly voted for him. Castro told him to get rid of them, as they were the ones who could remove him from power.

  • “While all the other arts and crafts have advanced, politics is practically at a stand – little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.” John Adams.

    At around the same time, Burke warned against “the unpitied calamity of being repeatedly caught in the same snare.”

    It is regrettable that modern education tries so hard not to let pupils learn from the discoveries that have been made in politics – by ensuring they do not know of them.

    I suppose such knowledge would offer “insufficient opportunities for graft” – to quote a more modern pundit.

  • Snorri Godhi

    What Niall said! except that we have learned at least one thing in the last 2000 years: to do without slavery. (John Adams himself did not own slaves.)

    As for Mark Weisbrot, he does show some consistency:
    Venezuela’s devaluation doom-mongers (March 2013)
    Sorry, Venezuela haters: this economy is not the Greece of Latin America (November 2013)

    Leave aside the fact that the 2nd headline is actually complimentary to Greece. What strikes me is that, if Mr Weisbrot thinks that devaluation can do good, then it makes sense that he also thinks that Venezuela is in a better position than Greece, whatever the evidence to the contrary.

  • Theophrastus

    Venezuela was never true socialism, because…. And the dream will never die.

  • Stonyground

    “Venezuela should stand as a warning to us all.”

    The thing that puzzles me is, why doesn’t it? Why do lefties continue to be lefties despite the overwhelming evidence that socialism is a really bad idea?

    “I guess the moral of this story is that you can’t hide the truth forever.”

    I always thought that this would apply to the climate change scam. But I have been expecting the bubble to burst ever since the climategate emails were released and I am still waiting.

  • Jerry

    It’s called ‘lying’ by the scammers. They know it doesn’t work but it allows, at least temporarily, the opportunity to stuff ones pockets
    and / or seize more power ( politically or otherwise ) at least until ‘the goose’ is strangled. When caught in a lie, just tell more and bigger lies – it’s always worked before – hence very little change in the climate change SCAM !

    … and to the true believers, it’s called. I believe, cognitive dissonance. The fault ( I’m sure some think of it as an ability ) to ignore, disregard or ‘explain away’ FACTS ( or history ) that PROVE one’s idea(s) or belief(s) is simply wrong and will not, cannot and never has worked.

    In the long run, I’m afraid, the scammers and the true believers will eventually win. All it takes is an ignorant and lazy populace ( we’re well on our way – gimme gimme gimme everything is FREEEEEEEE ) and a VERY small nucleus of greedy / or delusional ‘leaders’. Fortunately for me, I won’t see but I really do weep for my children who will undoubtedly suffer because of it !!

  • Runcie Balspune

    Why do lefties continue to be lefties despite the overwhelming evidence that socialism is a really bad idea?

    Because lefties are just the modern evolvement of the natural progression of prod-nosed puritan elites, who believe if everyone was only just like them the world would be a better place. It is faith without reason that keeps them going, and if human history is anything to go by, they’ll always be there.

  • It goes like this:

    “Venezuela cares about poor people! Long live Socialism!”

    Economy collapses creating more poor people to care about.

    “Venezuela failed because it was ‘State Capitalism’ & they deviated from ‘Real Socialism’. Long live Socialism!”

    And so on and so on…

  • Laird

    “who believe if everyone was only just like them the world would be a better place.”

    The thing is, they’re right: if everyone were just like them the world would be a better place. Uniformity necessarily minimizes disagreement and dispute. The problem is that everyone is not just like them and never will be. This is the left’s central fallacy; human nature isn’t going to change just because they wish it to. And that the left simply can’t accept, so they continue pushing the same tired nostrums and failed policies. They are incapable of learning from failure.

  • Snorri Godhi

    To those who are generalizing the lesson of Venezuela: please note that not all forms of socialism are the same. As Yegor Gaidar showed, the Soviet Union delayed collapse for decades by exporting oil to pay for food imports. Chavez was not as brutal as Lenin or Stalin, but his so-called “Bolivarian” socialism is even worse than Leninism.

  • Snorri Godhi

    There is a sentence missing in my comment: between “imports.” and “Chavez”, i should have written: Venezuela cannot even manage to pump enough oil to pay for imports anymore. Sorry about that, although i guess the concept was implicit.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The thing is, they’re right: if everyone were just like them the world would be a better place.

    It would be a better place – for them.

    Not for the miserable souls who by dint of Gulag have to humor the righteous and play along.

    The great calamity of socialism is that society is made of individuals and that’s it, the “state” and “society” become separate entities, like “god” or “humanity” or “mother earth” or some other tribal deity, to which the will of the individual needs to be sacrificed.

  • Paul Marks

    Notice the Guardian still blames “falling oil prices”, not statism, for the failure of Venezuela.

    As if such things as price controls could work – if only oil prices were higher.

    At least the Guardian admits to being socialist.

    The BBC (and much of the international media) present the same excuses – but do not admit to being socialists.

  • WTP

    Why do lefties continue to be lefties despite the overwhelming evidence that socialism is a really bad idea?

    Because non-lefties are afraid to stand up to them, to refute their BS. Mostly this is due to a decidedly biased media, academia, and entertainment industry. Though if non-lefties would stop supporting such it would be easier for them to be refuted. Well, that and the abortion and creationism issues that seem to get center stage whenever the right gets any traction. But I repeat myself.

  • Well, that and the abortion and creationism issues that seem to get center stage whenever the right gets any traction.

    Well that might be true in the USA but abortion is really not a political issue at all in the UK, and creationism does not even register in the consciousness of the ‘right’ (whatever that really means these days) over here.

    Our ‘mass delusion issue’ on this side of the Atlantic is not Jesus-based but rather the secular religion known as the NHS. And any who spurn that True Faith are cast out into the Outer Darkness where nought but lunatics, unclean spirits and libertarians wander (said outer darkness being somewhere near Cleethorpes I am told).

  • Eric

    The NYT had an article a few weeks back where the author said all the problems in Venezuela stem from corruption, and that’s independent of policy which was, apparently, fine.

    These people will never, ever, admit their utopia doesn’t work.

  • Eric

    Because non-lefties are afraid to stand up to them, to refute their BS. Mostly this is due to a decidedly biased media, academia, and entertainment industry.

    Academia is a big part of this. No matter what the hare-brained policy is they want to enact or protect and how obviously it makes no sense, there’s always a study that says it’s the right thing to do. Once you have a study, and particularly if you have some numbers (no matter how fanciful), about half the population is willing to return to the folding.

    It probably explains why most academic studies can’t be replicated.

    Well, that and the abortion and creationism issues that seem to get center stage whenever the right gets any traction.

    Abortion wasn’t an issue until the Supreme Court made it an issue by federalizing policy that had always been left (and constitutionally so) to the states. Everyone knows the dangers of democracy, but republics can be just as tyrannical if the wrong people get into the wrong positions.

  • Lee Moore

    Why do lefties continue to be lefties despite the overwhelming evidence that socialism is a really bad idea?

    Because, in most cases, lefties are not really interested in what comes after. What they are mostly interested in is destroying the now. You do not liquidate the bourgeoisie in order to make a better world for the working class, you liquidate the bourgeoisie for the sheer joy of destroying the bourgeoisie and its hateful institutions. You don’t destroy every xxxxxxx grammar school in England to create better education for the kiddy-widdies, you do it because you hate grammar schools, per se. Socialism is merely the theoretical rationalisation of the primal emotional urge – to set fire to buildings.

    This is also, incidentally, why some lefties find it quite easy to make the passage from socialism to libertarianism. Because libertarians want to tear down large chunks of the state, libertarianism isn’t a bad emotional fit for undergruntled socialists. (So, it must be conceded are Nazism and Islamism. They’re all in the tearing down and burning business.) The Jacobin libertarian is not an unfamiliar type.

    The real political divide in society is an emotional one – between cautious conservative types who like bourgeois values and who don’t want to upset apple carts and people who feel contempt and loathing for existing institutions (whatever they happen to be) and who cannot even look at an apple cart without wanting to tip it over, burn it, and string up whoever was pushing it.

  • David Moore

    Venezuela needs more socialism and the people of Venezuela need more education on socialism’s great achievements. Just look at how little food is wasted for example.

  • Jonly Smith

    Just shows Weisbrot to be as failed a communist shill as the Venezuelan commies themselves.

  • Jonly Smith

    Bingo!

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Socialism means a stronger hand for the central government- but socialists don’t have to be communists. Thus, just as there are different varieties of Libertarian, so you can have different types of socialism.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I hadn’t heard of this Weisbrot person before. It seems impressive how the Guardian attracts such characters (Monbiot, Milne, Murphy, Mason, Toynbee) who seem almost maniacally determined to be wrong on almost every issue of the day, although Toynbee occasionally has moments of lucidity).

    Venezuela – you can just bet that a few years ago, Barack Obama was a fan of Chavez before it went tits-up.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Clearly Mr. Weisbrot should be awarded the Pulitzer prize.

  • Alisa

    Very true, Lee, but only up to a point.

    The real political divide in society is an emotional one – between cautious conservative types who like bourgeois values and who don’t want to upset apple carts and people who feel contempt and loathing for existing institutions (whatever they happen to be) and who cannot even look at an apple cart without wanting to tip it over, burn it, and string up whoever was pushing it.

    Yes, but there are other divides, just as real and just as emotional – like the one between those who want to meddle or be meddled with (or both), and those who want to be just left alone. The former may include both the conservative and the revolutionary types, while the latter probably wouldn’t care either way, if it weren’t for the fact that the existing institutions (of whatever political color of the day) just wouldn’t leave us alone.

  • Lee Moore

    Agreed, Alisa.

    But the very use of the phrase “only up to a point” marks you ineluctably as a miserable bourgeois conservative, with verkrampte ambitions like buying or selling apples, and wholly lacking cart tipping la lutta continua fervour.

  • Alisa

    LOL Lee, that wholly depends on crucial conditions, such as the way I wake up and the weather outside 😀

  • Gene

    The thing that puzzles me is, why doesn’t it? Why do lefties continue to be lefties despite the overwhelming evidence that socialism is a really bad idea?

    Max Planck was quoted saying “Science advances one funeral at a time.” Presumably that opinion was based on his own observations of other scientists. If even Planck’s brilliant peers were likely to hang onto cherished beliefs forever, what chance do we have of seeing better behavior from the ordinary schmuck or Guardian columnist (but I repeat myself)?

    If large numbers of leftists began changing their opinions based on observations of Venezuela or other socialist hell-holes, it would be frankly shocking (though delightful), and force a revision of everything we know about human nature. Any number of historical genocidaires understood this stubbornness of human nature, and unfortunately were prepared to act on it.

  • Watchman

    Lefties continue to be lefties because people don’t like to admit they’re wrong (not a problem for me – I have never been wrong…), so try to rationalise things. I have a friend who is the archetypical Marxist professor (who also spent a lot of his time giving me good advice, because he is a functioning human being who can overcome political differences) who still holds to the view that Communism has not yet been done correctly, despite my pointing out that it has been tried incorrectly a rather worryingly large amount of times.

    And young people often adopt leftish views because they are ‘rebellious’ and rather simplistic (re-reading this, this can be both the young people and the views…), and then have the problem above of admitting they are wrong.

  • Rob Fisher

    “young people often adopt leftish views because they are ‘rebellious’”

    Amazing how rebellion currently seems to mean clamouring for more government…

  • Julie near Chicago

    A pure cheap-shot Snark:

    Mr. Weisbrot’s ideas seem appropriate to his name: “White bread,” the kind that goes Whoosh! when you squeeze it.

    [Actually, the phrase is “real American white bread, the kind that,” so forth. Also, you German-speakers: Shouldn’t it really be “weissbrot”? With the German ß where the impoverished Mr. Weisbrot makes do with a single “s”? Also, is the German beta-looking character taken from the Greek alphabet?]

  • Snorri Godhi

    What Gene said, about scientists! and let’s admit it, it’s not just stubbornness: it makes sense for people, scientists as well as laymen, to hang on to their beliefs in spite of falsifications, within reason: after all many falsifications later turn out to be no such thing. Consider also how many cranks there are out there: who has the time to read up and think about all their theories?

    Crucial words in the above paragraph are “within reason”, and i cannot explicitly define what the boundaries of reason are, but if Weisbrot still believes in the “Bolivarian” model then he is patently outside the bounds of reason.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Perry: thank you for the link, This confirms my suspicion, that Weisbrot thinks that Greece is in trouble because they cannot pay their debts by printing money.

    Note also Weisbrot’s use of the term “neoliberal”, which immediately raises suspicions of charlatanry.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    People will not blame all varieties of Socialism, just as anarchy is but one brand of Libertarianism. Indeed, between Communism and Anarchy lie all the other types- as many as there are philosophers! Every way between Communism and Anarchy is a third way!