In the course of this piece on Venezuela’s bankrupt socialist government using tanks against “paramilitary” opposition, I came across this tidbit of crime information:
The homicide rate in Venezuela is surging again in 2016, the Prosecutor General’s office warned in its first quarterly report of the year last week. Venezuela suffered 18,000 homicides in 2015 according to the Prosecutor General, but NGO’s put that figure closer to 28,000 murders for last year.
Even given that Latin American murder rates are generally higher than North America and Europe, that’s shockingly high for a nation of 30 million. In fact, both figures are more murders than for all of the United States for 2013 (the last year full FBI figures are available). And U.S. figures include such idyllic peaceful environs as Chicago, Baltimore and Detroit.
And life for Venezuelans who aren’t outright murdered continues to get worse. “The experiment with “21st-century socialism” as introduced by the late President Hugo Chavez, a self-described champion of the poor who vowed to distribute the country’s wealth among the masses, and instead steered the nation toward the catastrophe the world is witnessing under his handpicked successor Maduro, has been a cruel failure.”
What our country is going through is monstrously unique: It’s nothing less than the collapse of a large, wealthy, seemingly modern, seemingly democratic nation just a few hours’ flight from the United States.
In the last two years Venezuela has experienced the kind of implosion that hardly ever occurs in a middle-income country like it outside of war. Mortality rates are skyrocketing; one public service after another is collapsing; triple-digit inflation has left more than 70 percent of the population in poverty; an unmanageable crime wave keeps people locked indoors at night; shoppers have to stand in line for hours to buy food; babies die in large numbers for lack of simple, inexpensive medicines and equipment in hospitals, as do the elderly and those suffering from chronic illnesses.
But why? It’s not that the country lacked money. Sitting atop the world’s largest reserves of oil at the tail end of a frenzied oil boom, the government led first by Chavez and, since 2013, by Maduro, received over a trillion dollars in oil revenues over the last 17 years. It faced virtually no institutional constraints on how to spend that unprecedented bonanza. It’s true that oil prices have since fallen—a risk many people foresaw, and one that the government made no provision for—but that can hardly explain what’s happened: Venezuela’s garish implosion began well before the price of oil plummeted. Back in 2014, when oil was still trading north of $100 per barrel, Venezuelans were already facing acute shortages of basic things like bread or toiletries.
The real culprit is chavismo, the ruling philosophy named for Chavez and carried forward by Maduro, and its truly breathtaking propensity for mismanagement (the government plowed state money arbitrarily into foolish investments); institutional destruction (as Chavez and then Maduro became more authoritarian and crippled the country’s democratic institutions); nonsense policy-making (like price and currency controls); and plain thievery (as corruption has proliferated among unaccountable officials and their friends and families).
A case in point is the price controls, which have expanded to apply to more and more goods: food and vital medicines, yes, but also car batteries, essential medical services, deodorant, diapers, and, of course, toilet paper. The ostensible goal was to check inflation and keep goods affordable for the poor, but anyone with a basic grasp of economics could have foreseen the consequences: When prices are set below production costs, sellers can’t afford to keep the shelves stocked. Official prices are low, but it’s a mirage: The products have disappeared.
When a state is in the process of collapse, dimensions of decay feed back on each other in an intractable cycle. Populist giveaways, for example, have fed the country’s ruinous flirtation with hyperinflation; the International Monetary Fund now projects that prices will rise by 720 percent this year and 2,200 percent in 2017. The government virtually gives away gasoline for free, even after having raised the price earlier this year. As a result of this and similar policies, the state is chronically short of funds, forced to print ever more money to finance its spending.
Though much of it will be familiar to anyone who follows this blog, read the entire story, if only for the factory owner who got in trouble for not stocking his bathrooms with toilet paper as per union rules (because it was unavailable at government stores), only to get in even more trouble for “hoarding” when he bought it on the black market…