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Archive for the ‘Venezuela’ Category

Yesterday’s column was my annual end-of-year round-up of the best and worst developments of the concluding year.

Today I’ll be forward looking and give you my hopes and fears for the new year, which is a newer tradition that began in 2017 (and continued in 2018 and 2019).

With my glass-half-full outlook, we’ll start with the things I hope will happen.

Supreme Court strikes down civil asset forfeiture – It is nauseating that bureaucrats can steal property from citizens who have never been convicted of a crime. Or even charged with a crime. Fortunately, this disgusting practice already has attracted attention from Clarence Thomas and other sound-thinking Justices on the Supreme Court. Hopefully, this will produce a decision that ends this example of Venezuela-style government thuggery.

Good free-trade agreements for the United Kingdom – This is a two-pronged hope. First, I want a great agreement between the U.S. and the U.K., based on the principle of mutual recognition. Second, I want the best-possible agreement between the U.K. and the E.U., which will be a challenge since the political elite in Brussels has a spiteful desire to “punish” the British people for supporting Brexit.

Maduro’s ouster in Venezuela – I already wished for this development in 2018 and 2019, so this is my “Groundhog Day” addition to the list. But if I keep wishing for it, sooner or later it will happen and I’ll look prescient. But I actually don’t care about whether my predictions are correct, I just want an end to the horrible suffering for the people of Venezuela.

Here are the things I fear will happen in 2020.

A bubble bursts – I hope I’m wrong (and that may be the case since I’ve been fretting about it for a long time), but I fear that financial markets are being goosed by an easy-money policy from the Federal Reserve. Bubbles feel good when they’re expanding, but last decade should have taught us that they can be very painful when they pop.

A loss of economic liberty in Chile and/or Hong Kong – As shown by Economic Freedom of the World, there are not that many success stories in the world. But we can celebrate what’s happened in Hong Kong since WWII and what’s happened in Chile since the late 1970s. Economic liberty has dramatically boosted prosperity. Unfortunately, Hong Kong’s liberty is now being threatened from without and Chile’s liberty is now being threatened from within.

Repeal of the Illinois flat tax – The best approach for a state is to have no income tax, and a state flat tax is the second-best approach. Illinois is in that second category thanks to a long-standing provision of the state’s constitution. Needless to say, this irks the big spenders who control the Illinois government and they are asking voters this upcoming November to vote on whether to bust the flat tax and open the floodgates for an ever-growing fiscal burden. By the way, it’s quite likely that I’ll be including the Massachusetts flat tax on this list next year.

I’ll also add a special category for something that would be both good and bad.

Trump gets reelected – Because Trump is producing better tax policy and better regulatory policy, and because of my hopes for judges who believe in the Constitution’s protections of economic liberty, it would be good if he won a second term.

Trump gets reelected – Because Trump is producing worse spending policy and worse trade policy, and because of my concerns never-ending Keynesian monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, it would be bad if he won a second term.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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Fifty years ago, Venezuela was ranked #10 for economic liberty and enjoyed the highest living standards in Latin America

Today, the nation is an economic disaster. Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro deserve much of the blame. Their socialist policies have dropped Venezuela to last place according to Economic Freedom of the World.

Predictably, this has resulted in horrific suffering.

And it’s going from bad to worse.

In ways that are unimaginable for those of us living in civilized nations.

For instance, the Associated Press reports that grave-robbing is now a problem in the country.

Even the dead aren’t safe in Maracaibo, a sweltering, suffering city in Venezuela. Thieves have broken into some of the vaults and coffins in El Cuadrado cemetery since late last year, stealing ornaments and sometimes items from corpses as the country sinks to new depths of deprivation. “Starting eight months ago, they even took the gold teeth of the dead,” said José Antonio Ferrer, who is in charge of the cemetery, where a prominent doctor, a university director and other local luminaries are buried. Much of Venezuela is in a state of decay and abandonment, brought on by shortages of things that people need the most: cash, food, water, medicine, power, gasoline. …Many who have the means leave, joining an exodus of more than 4 million Venezuelans who have left the country in recent years. …Some people sift through trash, scavenge for food.

And hyper-inflation is creating a barter economy according to the AP.

…the economy is in such shambles that drivers are now paying for fill-ups with a little food, a candy bar or just a cigarette. Bartering at the pump has taken off as hyperinflation makes Venezuela’s paper currency, the bolivar, hard to find and renders some denominations all but worthless, so that nobody will accept them. Without cash in their wallets, drivers often hand gas station attendants a bag of rice, cooking oil or whatever is within reach. …This barter system…is just another symptom of bedlam in Venezuela. …The International Monetary Fund says inflation is expected to hit a staggering 200,000% this year. Venezuela dropped five zeros from its currency last year in a futile attempt to keep up with inflation. …Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, was once rich. But the economy has fallen into ruin because of what critics say has been two decades of corruption and mismanagement under socialist rule.

Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal points out that the poor are being hurt the most.

…the gap in living standards between the haves and the have-nots is wider than ever. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Economic equality is the socialists’ Holy Grail. People are poor, the logic goes, because the rich have too much. Ergo, all it takes to end poverty is the use of state coercion to distribute economic gains evenly. …Tell that to the Venezuelan poor. Not only have their numbers increased under socialism, but the suffering among the most vulnerable has grown more intense. …Venezuela now experiences recurring blackouts and brownouts… in the “ranchos,”…residents now make “lamps” out of mayonnaise jars, diesel taken from vehicles, and pieces of cloth. One local described it to the reporter as going back to “prehistoric” times. With water, sanitation and other public services, the story is the same. …the have-nots are at Mr. Maduro’s mercy.

College students also are suffering, as reported by the Union Journal.

…5 youngsters had fainted and two of them have been whisked away in an ambulance. The faintings on the major college have turn into a daily prevalence as a result of so many college students come to class with out consuming breakfast, or dinner the evening earlier than. In different faculties, youngsters wish to know if there’s any meals earlier than they resolve whether or not to go in… Venezuela’s devastating six-year financial disaster is hollowing out the varsity system… Starvation is simply one of many many issues chipping away at them now. Thousands and thousands of Venezuelans have fled the nation in recent times, depleting the ranks of scholars and academics alike. …Many colleges are shuttering within the once-wealthy nation as malnourished youngsters and academics who earn nearly nothing abandon lecture rooms to scratch out a residing on the streets or flee overseas. It’s a significant embarrassment for the self-proclaimed Socialist authorities.

In a column for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof shares some sad observations about the consequences of Venezuelan socialism.

This country is a kleptocracy ruled incompetently by thugs who are turning a prosperous oil-exporting nation into a failed state sliding toward starvation. …Serrano, 21, lives in the impoverished, violent slum of La Dolorita, where I met her. The baby was fading from malnutrition in May, so she frantically sought medical help — but three hospitals turned the baby away, saying there were no beds available, no doctors and no supplies. …Daisha…died at home that night. …President Nicolás Maduro’s brutal socialist government is primarily responsible for the suffering, and there are steps Maduro could take to save children’s lives, if he wanted to. …Venezuela may now be sliding toward collapse and mass starvation, while fragmenting into local control by various armed groups. Outbreaks of malaria, diphtheria and measles are spreading, and infant mortality appears to have doubled since 2008.

By the way, Kristof argues that sanctions imposed by Obama and Trump are making a bad situation worse.

That’s true, but it doesn’t change the fact that Venezuela’s awful government deserves the overwhelming share of the blame.

Let’s measure how the people of Venezuela have suffered. Here are the per-capita GDP numbers since Chavez took power in 1999. There’s volatility in the data, presumably because of changes in oil prices. But the trend is unmistakably negative.

The bottom line is that Venezuela’s living standards have collapsed by about 50 percent since the socialists took over.

That makes Greece seem like an economic powerhouse by comparison.

Let’s close, though, by comparing Venezuela to Latin America’s most market-oriented nation.

As you can see, per-capita economic output in Chile (in blue) has soared while per-capita GDP in Venezuela (in red) has collapsed.

In other words, free markets and small government are the right recipe if the goal is broadly shared prosperity.

P.S. I’ve explained on many occasions that lower-income people in Chile have been the biggest beneficiaries of pro-market reforms.

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How do we measure the cost of Venezuelan socialism?

Actually, it’s all of the above.

And there’s plenty of additional evidence. All of which shows that more socialism results in more misery.

Let’s review some examples.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. But with government running the industry, producing petroleum products has been a challenge. To put it mildly.

Venezuela — home to the world’s largest oil reserves — has started introducing in some areas to tackle extreme fuel shortages. …for ordinary Venezuelans, it is a cruel joke without a punchline — a driver recently died of a heart attack after waiting in line for days to fill his tank. …Lopez had been waiting in line to fill her tank for six hours in Lara’s capital Barquisimeto, but had to leave without getting any fuel because she had to go search for medicine for her ailing brother, who suffers from meningitis. “It’s a joke!” she fumed again as she left the gas station empty-handed, despite the fact that between state-regulated gas prices, hyper-inflation and black-market dollar exchange rates, a dollar could technically buy almost 600 million liters of fuel. …According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Venezuela’s oil output has dropped from 3.2 million barrels per day a decade ago to 1.03 million barrels in April this year. Other estimates put that output as low as 768,000 barrels per day.

Here’s another sign of Venezuela’s descent into third-world status.

…the Center for Malaria Studies in Caracas..is not immune to Venezuela’s economic crisis and is struggling to treat patients. This is a country that lacks 85 percent of the medicines it needs, according to the pharmaceuticals industry. …Scientists who would later work for this clinic contributed in 1961 to helping Venezuela become the first country to eradicate malaria. However, there was a resurgence seven years ago, worsening to become an epidemic in 2016, according to the Red de Epidemiologia NGO. Today the clinic is in a sorry state: yellowed microscopes, a dishwasher stained by purple chemicals, refrigerators corroded by rust. …According to the World Health Organization, Venezuela registered more than 400,000 malaria cases in 2017, making it one of the hardest-hit countries in the Americas. Noya, though, believes the true extent of the epidemic is “close to two million” people affected.

I have no idea if Juan Guaido, the putative leader of the opposition, has what it takes to lead Venezuela out of the dark ages (maybe he’s another Macri rather than a Thatcher). But he’s definitely getting some first-hand experience with socialism.

On Thursday, Juan Guaido woke up and doused himself with a bucket of water. It was his shower. Like millions of Venezuelans, the man who dozens of countries recognize as the legitimate leader of his broken country can’t rely on the taps to run. …“It’s going to get worse” before things turn, he warned.

Reuters reports on how parts of Venezuela are descending into autarky and barter.

At the once-busy beach resort of Patanemo, tourism has evaporated over the last two years as Venezuela’s economic crisis has deepened and deteriorating cellphone service left visitors too afraid of robbery to brave the isolated roads. …These days, its Caribbean shoreline flanked by forested hills receives a different type of visitor: people who walk 10 minutes from a nearby town carrying rice, plantains or bananas in hopes of exchanging them for the fishermen’s latest catch. With bank notes made useless by hyperinflation, and no easy access to the debit card terminals widely used to conduct transactions in urban areas, residents of Patanemo rely mainly on barter. It is just one of a growing number of rural towns slipping into isolation as Venezuela’s economy implodes amid a long-running political crisis. …In the mountains of the central state of Lara, residents of the town of Guarico this year found a different way of paying bills – coffee beans. Residents of the coffee-growing region now exchange roasted beans for anything from haircuts to spare parts for agricultural machinery.

One can only wonder, by the way, why the collapse of trade isn’t creating more jobs and prosperity. Could it be that Trump is wrong on the issue?

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to our main topic.

What can you say about a country that’s so poor that even criminals are suffering?

Venezuela’s crippling economic spiral is having a negative impact on an unlikely group in society: criminals, who are struggling to afford bullets, and unable to find things to steal as the country’s wealth declines rapidly. …While bullets are widely available on the black market, many muggers cannot afford the $1 price tag anymore, a criminal known as “Dog” told the news organization. …Another gangster, “El Negrito,” who leads a gang called Crazy Boys, has found it increasingly hard to support his wife and daughter with assaults. Firing a bullet is a luxury now, he said. …homicide rate…went down by nearly 10% last year— though Venezuela remains one of the most violent countries in the world. The non-profit, which aggregates the data from morgues and media reports, partly attributes this decrease to the reduction in muggings — because there is nothing to steal. …Shoemaker Yordin Ruiz told The Washington Post: “If they steal your wallet, there’s nothing in it.”

What a perfect symbol of socialism! People are so poor that there’s nothing left to steal.

I want to conclude by emphasizing a point that I’ve made before about greater levels of socialism being associated with greater levels of misery.

As you can see from this chart (based on EFW data), Hong Kong has the most freedom, though it isn’t perfect.

Then you have nations such as the United States and Denmark, that have some statist characteristics but are mostly market oriented. Followed by France, which has a lot more socialist characteristics, and then Greece, which presumably can be described as a socialist nation.

But Venezuela is an entirely different category. It’s in the realm of near-absolute statism.

P.S. Cuba and North Korea presumably rank below Venezuela, but they’re not part of the EFW rankings because of inadequate and/or untrustworthy data.

P.P.S. It’s hard to believe, given the pervasive statism that now exists, but Venezuela in 1970 was ranked in the top 10 for economic liberty.

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Looking through an economic lens, what’s the best country in the world?

If your benchmark is economic liberty, then Hong Kong is the answer according to both the Fraser Institute and Heritage Foundation.

If per-capita GDP or per-capita wealth is your benchmark, then Monaco wins the prize.

And you get different answers if you focus on specific features such as competitiveness (the United States) or ease of doing business (New Zealand).

You can also measure national performance by looking at key economic variables.

And that’s what Professor Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University has done.

In the sphere of economics, misery tends to flow from high inflation, steep borrowing costs and unemployment. …Many countries measure and report these economic metrics on a regular basis. Comparing them, nation by nation, can tell us a lot about where in the world people are sad or happy. …To answer this question, I update my annual Misery Index measurements.

Hanke explains the evolution of the Misery Index and how he puts together his version.

The first Misery Index was constructed by economist Art Okun in the 1960s as a way to provide President Lyndon Johnson with an easily digestible snapshot of the economy. That original Misery Index was just a simple sum of a nation’s annual inflation rate and its unemployment rate. The Index has been modified several times, first by Robert Barro of Harvard and then by myself. My modified Misery Index is the sum of the unemployment, inflation and bank lending rates, minus the percentage change in real GDP per capita. Higher readings on the first three elements are “bad” and make people more miserable. These are offset by a “good” (GDP per capita growth), which is subtracted from the sum of the “bads.”

You can see the entire list of 95 nations (some countries don’t report adequate data, so they aren’t counted) by clicking here.

And here are the nations with the best scores (remember, this is a Misery Index, so the top results are at the bottom of the list).

Professor Hanke comments on Thailand’s first-place results and Hungary’s second-place results.

Thailand takes the prize as the least miserable country in the world on the 2018 Misery Index. It’s 2018 rank of No. 95 out of 95 countries is a stunner. …Hungary delivered yet another stunner, making a dramatic improvement from 2017 to 2018.  It comes in at No. 94 as the second least miserable country in the world. While the European Union and the international elites have thrown everything they can throw at Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, it’s easy to see why he commands a strong following at home.

Keep in mind, by the way, that Hanke’s list is a measure of annual economic outcomes.

So a relatively poor country can get a very good score. Indeed, they should get comparatively good scores according to convergence theory.

Assuming, of course, that they have decent policy.

However, if you look at the nations with the most miserable outcomes, you can see that many countries don’t have decent policy.

Here’s Hanke’s analysis of the world’s worst performers.

Venezuela holds the inglorious title of the most miserable country in the world in 2018, as it did in 2017, 2016, and 2015. The failures of President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist, corrupt petroleum state have been well documented… Argentina jumped to the No. 2 spot after yet another peso crisis. Since its founding, Argentina has been burdened with numerous economic crises. Most can be laid at the feet of domestic mismanagement and currency problems (read: currency collapses). To list but a few of these crises: 1876, 1890, 1914, 1930, 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1985, 1989, 2001, and 2018.

For what it’s worth, if you look at the actual Misery Index numbers, Venezuela is in first place by an enormous margin. Chalk that up as another “victory” for socialism.

Moreover, I’m not surprised to see that Jordan, Ukraine, and South Africa are doing poorly. Sadly, there’s not much hope for improvement in those nations.

It’s also not a surprise to see Brazil on the list, though there may be room for optimism if the new government can adopt meaningful reforms.

P.S. Professor Hanke noted that Arthur Okun created the first Misery Index. Okun also is famous for his explanation of the equity-efficiency tradeoff. Okun supported redistribution in order to increase equality of outcomes, but he was honest and admitted that this would mean less prosperity. Too bad international bureaucracies such as the OECD and IMF don’t share Okun’s honesty.

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I listed the collapse of Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship as one of my “hopes” for 2018.

That didn’t happen, so I included the same hope in my list for 2019.

But will it happen? David Asman seems very confident in this clip from a recent interview.

I was a bit less hopeful. Or at least more guarded in my ability to predict.

But one thing I can state with full certainty is that I hope it happens as soon as possible.

Though I have become a bit jaded. I no longer share lengthy compilations of everything that is going awry in the country.

As far as I’m concerned, the real debate is now whether a new government will adopt the right policies when Maduro is finally evicted (in other words, is there any hope for Chilean-style economic liberation?).

But there are a couple of stories and columns about the ongoing crisis that caught my eye.

Especially ones written by Venezuelans.

Andres Malave wrote for Investor’s Business Daily about what has happened to his country.

Hugo Chavez took power, promising to usher in shared prosperity for all with his “21st century socialism.” …So, when Teen Vogue tweeted recently, “Can’t #endpoverty without ending capitalism!” my initial reaction was, “Let them come to Venezuela.” Venezuela was once the most prosperous country in Latin America, but today almost 90% of its population lives in poverty. Venezuela’s economy is in shambles. …Venezuela’s misery means that it is not uncommon to see children rummaging through the garbage for food. And as basic medical supplies and medicine run dangerously low, newborns and the elderly die unattended in Venezuelan hospitals. …In a 2006 column, Sen. Sanders wrote: “These days, the American Dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina,” all practitioners of 21st century socialism. …What’s particularly galling about Sen. Sanders waxing poetic about the virtues of socialism is that he looks the other way as socialist leaders live in opulence while the masses starve.

A retired professor who still lives in Venezuela explained the wrenching descent of his nation in the U.K.-based Spectator.

The descent began in the early 2000s when the Hugo Chavez government began to take control of…private companies, the judiciary and the police. The descent turned into a nosedive when Nicolas Maduro came to power and the state tightened its grip on oil production, our country’s main source of revenue. Investors fled and skilled workers emigrated. As living standards plummeted, the response was to print more money. Hyperinflation has been the result. …my friends and relatives have lost a lot of weight. We call it the ‘Maduro diet’. …Not so long ago, I lived as you do. I would have thought it impossible that my country, with its hard-won progress, could fall so quickly into the abyss. The wrong politicians with the wrong ideas can have a bigger effect than anyone can imagine.

I don’t want to discriminate against non-Venezuelans, so let’s look at excerpts from some other authors.

In a column for CapX, Kristian Niemietz points out that Venezuela was supposed to be an example of modern “democratic socialism.”

Chávez fans frequently emphasised the many ways in which Venezuela differed from the old Eastern Bloc. They were especially proud of the fact that there was no apparent conflict between socialist economics and political democracy. They also pointed out that the Chavez government, rather than just nationalising lots of big companies like the socialists of yore, was experimenting with lots of different models of social ownership, looking for alternatives to both private enterprise and conventional state-owned enterprises. And they were right. Chávez and Maduro never tried to imitate the former Soviet Union or any of its allies. They tried, really hard, to build something new. And look how that turned out. …Previous socialist experiments have gone through the same honeymoon period as Venezuela, during which they were widely and enthusiastically praised by Western intellectuals.

Notwithstanding, I’m sure we’ll still hear about how “real socialism hasn’t been tried.”

Actually, I’m open to the argument that what happened in Venezuela was a different form of statism.

Though the end result is always the same.

In the case of Venezuela, it’s like Atlas Shrugged in real life.

Francisco Toro opined in the Washington Post about the recent collapse of Venezuela’s power system.

In a country already trudging through a serious humanitarian crisis, the collapse of the electric grid is a final catastrophe. Venezuelans were already chronically hungry, with large numbers reportingthey lost weight because they could not afford enough food. …The stories coming out of hospitals up and down the country have been harrowing. Only some had working back-up generators, and virtually none were designed to carry a whole hospital over many days. A video of a nurse using a hand pump to try to keep an infant alive has been circulating on social media. Thousands of kidney dialysis patients, unable to receive treatment, may face a slow and agonizing death. …the Maduro government has blamed U.S. sabotage for the power crisis. …sabotage accusations against the United States lack any semblance of credibility: Venezuela’s power grid has been in gradual decline for over a decade. …over the past 12 years, the government has run the grid into the ground. After nationalizing the utility companies, the government simply stopped investing in routine maintenance of power stations or transmission lines, setting off a slow deterioration that has made the grid unstable for years.

A story from Fox looks at the wretched circumstances of ordinary Venezuelans.

Thousands upon thousands of Venezuelans pour into Colombia over the crowd cross-country bridge, their faces gaunt, carrying little more than a backpack. Rail-thin women cradle their tiny babies, and beg along the trash-strewn gutters. Teens hawk everything from cigarettes to sweets and water for small change. …the Venezuelans – many with university degrees or decent jobs in what was once the wealthiest nation in Latin America – are now resorting to whatever it takes to survive. …Women sell their locks to local wigmakers in Colombia for around $10-30, depending on length and quality. Other women sell their bodies. Girls as young as 14 line the Cucuta streets available “for hire,” earning around seven dollars “per service.” …more than 55 percent of the healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, and others – have left the country. Resident doctors who have stayed in Venezuela earn the equivalent of $24 a month, while specialists make just a little more, at $30.

I’ve saved the worst for last.

BBC reports that Venezuela has become such a basket case that graves are being robbed.

At Caracas’s largest cemetery, Cementerio del Sur, most of the graves have been looted, for jewellery, gold teeth, or even bones, which can be sold for use in rituals. For grieving relatives like Eladio Bastida, who checks on his wife’s grave every week to make sure it’s not been looted, the situation is a metaphor for that of embattled Venezuela as a whole.

As far as I know, Venezuela has yet to experience cannibalism, so I suppose things can still get worse.

But that begs the question. Why did Bernie Sanders and other leftists and socialists lavish so much praise on Venezuela?

And now that the chickens have come home to roost and the economy has collapsed, why are they dodging questions about their past support?

Most important of all, why do they want similar policies for the United States?!?

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With the surprising success of Senator Bernie Sanders in the last presidential race and the more-recent instant-celebrity status of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, some are wondering if the United States is about to enter a “socialist era”.

I’ve criticized some of the proposals that are part of this movement, such as confiscatory tax rates and the so-called Green New Deal, so it goes with saying that I’m not a fan.

To learn more about the implications of socialism, let’s look around the world.

We’ll start with Venezuela, which is the focus of a very interesting article in the Washington Post. Here are some excerpts.

Did socialism kill Venezuela? Blessed with the world’s largest oil reserves, this South American nation was once the region’s richest per capita. Twenty years after the launch of the late Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution, it is now one of the poorest. …In Washington…Republicans are seizing on Venezuela to score points against those Democrats who have newly embraced the term… But socialism’s role in Venezuela’s collapse, observers say, is not as clear as either side likes to think. At least fleetingly, socialist policies propped up by state petrodollars helped bolster the country’s status as one of the Western Hemisphere’s most equitable societies. But state-heavy policies that distorted prices and exchange rates, coupled with corruption, mismanagement and official repression, turned Venezuela’s economic landscape into scorched earth. …But it is also not communist Cuba or North Korea, where foreign investment and private ownership are strictly limited. …wealthy Venezuelans still own private companies and high-walled mansions in elite neighborhoods. They play golf at country clubs and are taxed at a relatively manageable 34 percent.

This is very fair reporting.

All the main points are accurate: Living standards have plummeted in Venezuela, oil money complicates the analysis, and the economy isn’t quite as statist as Cuba and North Korea.

The article goes on to cite the views of several Venezuelans.

“All the wrongs were created under Chávez,” said Henkel Garcia, head of Econometrica, a Caracas-based financial analysis firm. “The economy only survived as long as it did because of high oil prices.” …Today, roughly a third of the nation, pollsters say, still appears to back socialism — although only half that many remain loyal to Maduro. …With hyperinflation causing acute shortages of food and medicine, more and more former Chavistas, or adherents of Chávez’s ideals, are saying mea culpas and increasingly turning out against Maduro. “Before I die, I want socialism gone from Venezuela,” said Yessid Merlano, a 50-year-old waiter. …Scarcities of food and medicine first surfaced years ago but are now so chronic that he and millions of other Venezuelans have shed pounds and sought work abroad. Before returning to Caracas last year, he spent 10 months working as a laborer in neighboring Colombia, “where all I saw were Venezuelans begging in the streets,” he said. “I feel guilty that I was a Chavista,” he said. “It’s all my fault, all the suffering.”

I’m glad that many Venezuelans now realize that socialism is misguided.

Though I wonder if they will support the reforms that will be necessary once the current regime is deposed (and given the perverse incentives of politicians, I’m even more worried whether a new government will implement those reforms).

The article concludes with some damning data on the country’s economic decay.

State health care, once a pride of the socialists, collapsed as hyperinflation and shrinking resources left hospitals with shortages of syringes and antibiotics, as well as broken equipment too expensive to repair. …Chávez purged skilled managers, engineers and technicians from the state-owned oil giant PDVSA, stocking it with government loyalists. That set it up for a catastrophic failure as global prices fell from record highs. Venezuelan oil output is now at its lowest levels since the 1950s. Industries nationalized by Chávez, who expropriated 1,500 companies, collapsed as regulated prices distorted markets. In two decades, the government seized nearly 5 million acres of productive farmland that has now been largely abandoned. In 1999, there were 490,000 private companies in Venezuela. By last June — the most recent count available — that number had fallen to 280,000.

None of this is a surprise. Venezuela is a basket case.

But that’s not our topic today. We’re focusing instead on whether there are any lessons that the United States can learn from the Venezuelan debacle.

Or, to be more accurate, I think the key question is whether advocates of democratic socialism in America have learned anything from Venezuela’s miserable performance.

Plenty of leftists, including Sen. Sanders, praised the awful policies of Chavez and Maduro.

Now that the chickens have come home to roost and Venezuela’s economy has tanked, have any of them apologized? Or tried to rationalize what happened? Or even expressed second thoughts about the supposed wisdom of socialism?

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Years ago, I shared a joke about American leftists fleeing to Canada.

But since Canada actually has a lot of pro-free enterprise policies (completely decentralized education and school choice, welfare reform and reduction, privatized air traffic control, etc), it doesn’t make much sense for statists to head north.

Last year, I followed up with some humor asking why leftists don’t move to places where socialism actually exists, such as Venezuela.

Well, the satirists at Babylon Bee have big news.

The caravan of Central American migrants heading to the U.S. is going to cross paths with a southbound caravan.

A migrant caravan full of leftists desiring to enter the socialist paradise of Venezuela departed the United States Thursday and began marching toward through Mexico, stating they will demand asylum so they might experience the far better life that socialism offers. …”Everyone there has the same quantity of possessions and food,” said one marcher. “Everyone makes millions of dollars, and very few people work. It’s a real paradise.” The refugees have complex motivations, but the vast majority simply want to see everything socialism has to offer after suffering the amazing benefits of capitalism for too long. …At its current pace, the caravan is expected to arrive just in time for Venezuela to run out of food entirely.

That sounds like a good trade to me.

Venezuela gets a bunch of crazies who will revel in equal levels of poverty (with the exception of the ruling elite, of course), and America will get a bunch of folks who want to work hard for a better life (an outcome that will be more likely since there will be fewer statists offering them welfare and telling them not to assimilate.

Speaking of assimilation, I suspect the leftists will have a very hard time adjusting to life under socialism.

P.S. Sticking with satire, American refugees have also fled to Peru.

P.P.S. If leftists don’t want to leave, maybe they’d go with this proposed national divorce agreement?

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I periodically explain that labor and capital are the two factors of production and that our prosperity depends on how efficiently they are allocated.

But I probably don’t spend enough time highlighting how they are complementary, meaning that workers and capitalists both benefit when the two factors are combined. Simply stated, workers become more productive and earn more when investors buy machines and improve technology.

In other words, the Marxists and socialists are wrong when they argue that workers and capitalists are enemies. Heck, look around the world and compare the prosperity of workers in market-oriented nations with the deprivation of workers in statist economies.

This becomes painfully clear when you read this Wall Street Journal story on the statist hellhole of Venezuela.

Irish packaging giant Smurfit Kappa recently joined other multinational companies abandoning Venezuela…President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government. But this case comes with a twist. Hundreds of employees, who counted on the Irish company for transport, education, housing and food, continue to show up at work. They take turns protecting idled heavy machinery from looting that has become rampant as Venezuela plunges into hyperinflation and economic chaos. …“Help, we need a boss here. We’re desperate,” said Ramón Mendoza, a Smurfit forestry division worker for 17 years. “We’re so scared because we now know that all the government does is destroy everything, every business.” Their plight underscores the devastation that rural Venezuelan communities face as private companies pull out of a country that was once Latin America’s richest. The economy has shrunk by half over the past four years.

Wow, Mr. Mendoza hit the nail on the head when he explained that “all the government does in destroy everything.”

Maybe he can replace Obama as Libertarian Man of the year. Except he would get the award on merit rather than satire.

But let’s not digress. Here’s more bad news from the article.

Workers who live in the surrounding area had received interest-free loans from Smurfit for their houses. Residents said they no longer can count on the four ambulances that the company paid for to serve communities of tin-roofed shacks. At the Agricultural Technical School in the nearby town of Acarigua, which was entirely financed by Smurfit, nearly 200 children living in extreme poverty used to receive an education, lodging, as well as hot meals that have become a luxury as public schools collapse. Over two decades, many of its graduates had gone on to work for Smurfit. The academic year was supposed to start on Oct. 1. But with no money to feed and transport students, there’s silence in the halls… “It’s like poof,” Ms. Sequera said, snapping her fingers. “Our whole future was taken away.”

Needless to say, the thuggish government of Venezuela has no idea how to fix the mess it has caused.

In recent days, the cash-strapped Maduro administration said it had come up with a solution for the Smurfit plant: That the workers would run it themselves. The government said it wouldn’t nationalize it but named a temporary board to help restart operations. The Labor Ministry offered no details over how it would replace Smurfit’s distribution network through which the company supplied its own subsidiaries abroad. But the workers say they can’t run the plant on their own and insist they want bosses—just not from the government. “We know how to move the lumber from here to the plants. What do we know about finances and marketing?” said Mr. Mendoza.

My heart goes out to the former Smurfit workers.

They simply want to do honest work in exchange for honest pay. But the wretched policies of the Venezuelan socialists have made that impossible.

By the way, I’m not implying that employers are motivated by love for workers. Nor am I implying that workers are motivated to create profits for companies. The two sides are in a constant tug of war over how to slice the pie.

But the key thing to understand is that the pie grows when markets are allowed to function.

Which is why this old British political cartoon is a powerfully accurate depiction of real-world economics.

Indeed, I’ll have to add it to my collection of images that teach economics.

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Ever since 2010, I’ve been pointing out that Venezuela is a horrifying and tragic example of what happens when the private sector in a country is almost completely suffocated by excessive government.

And with the country now in a death spiral, you would think it’s a perfect time for further commentary. I sometimes wonder, though, what I can write that isn’t ridiculously repetitive.

But a couple of recent conversations have convinced me of the need to address two points.

First, it’s important to emphasize that not all statism is created equal. When writing recently about Denmark, I created a chart to show how that country was much more pro-market than France. And that same chart showed that France was much more capitalist than Greece.

And guess which country was the most statist? If you said Venezuela, you’re right.

And the lesson from this data is that the degree of statism matters. Venezuela is a total mess because of total statism, Greece is in trouble because of lots of statism, France is anemic because of run-of-the-mill statism, and Denmark does okay because it’s only statist in one area (fiscal policy).

Imagine you were a teacher and these countries were students. Here are the grades you’d assign for economic policy.

F – Venezuela
D – Greece
C – France
B – Denmark

Second, I want to answer a question that often gets asked, which is how long can the current government survive?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. That’s partly because bad policy doesn’t cause overnight collapse (Adam Smith noted more than 200 years ago, “there is great deal of ruin in a nation”).

Venezuela historically has propped up its statist regime with oil revenue, but that’s shrinking as an option because of government incompetence.

Thousands of workers are fleeing Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, abandoning once-coveted jobs made worthless by the worst inflation in the world. …Desperate oil workers and criminals are also stripping the oil company of vital equipment, vehicles, pumps and copper wiring, carrying off whatever they can to make money. The double drain — of people and hardware — is further crippling a company that has been teetering for years yet remains the country’s most important source of income. …Venezuela is on its knees economically, buckled by hyperinflation and a history of mismanagement. Widespread hunger, political strife, devastating shortages of medicine and an exodus of well over a million people in recent years have turned this country, once the economic envy of many of its neighbors, into a crisis.

At the end of the day, the regime can rely on force. And Venezuela’s politicians cleverly have put the army in charge of graft and shakedowns, thus earning at least temporary loyalty.

Venezuela’s military has come to oversee the desperate and lucrative water trade as reservoirs empty, broken pipes flood neighborhoods and overwhelmed personnel walk out. Seven major access points in the capital of 5.5 million people are now run by soldiers or police, who also took total control of all public and private water trucks. Unofficially, soldiers direct where drivers deliver — and make them give away the goods at favored addresses. President Nicolas Maduro’s autocratic regime has handed lucrative industries to the 160,000-member military as the economic collapse gathers speed, from the mineral-rich region of the Arco Minero del Orinoco to top slots at the state oil producer to increasingly precious control over food and water.

Moreover, it’s difficult for people to revolt since the regime has followed the totalitarian playbook and banned private guns.

So it’s no surprise that many disaffected people (the ones who otherwise might revolt) are simply escaping the country.

Hundreds turn up each day, many arriving penniless and gaunt… Once they cross, many cram into public parks and plazas teeming with makeshift homeless shelters, raising concerns about drugs and crime. The lucky ones sleep in tents and line up for meals provided by soldiers — pregnant women, the disabled and families with young children are often given priority. …this is happening in Brazil, where a relentless tide of people fleeing the deepening economic crisis in Venezuela… The tens of thousands of Venezuelans who have found refuge in Brazil in recent years are walking proof of a worsening humanitarian crisis that their government claims does not exist. …more Venezuelans are leaving home each month than the 125,000 Cuban exiles who fled their homes during the 1980 Mariel boat crisis.

And the ones who haven’t left still have some options besides starve or revolt.

A few years ago, there were so many donkeys, or burros, in the Venezuelan state of Falcón that they were a problem — herds everywhere, causing highway crashes and blocking airport runways. But over the past three years, the herds have shrunk dramatically as thousands of burros have been slaughtered for their meat by Venezuelans suffering through a near-famine. …The collapse of the Venezuelan economy is radically changing the eating habits in the oil-producing country, where large sectors of the population are being forced to pick through garbage and slaughter domestic animals to sate their hunger. …The clandestine slaughter of the animals also has become a sanitary and environmental problem, Stefaneli added. There are no sanitary controls, and the burro has been disappearing from its native habitats. …Years back, residents of Paraguana used to eat goat, fish and beef. And when those were in short supply they ate rabbits, grains and even iguanas. Burro meat was not liked because it’s tough and smells, even from far away, according to residents who have eaten it. But it has become a necessity for many people.

The bottom line is that Venezuela is in free-fall, but I don’t know where the bottom is. And I don’t know what will happen when the country hits rock bottom.

But if you hold a gun to my head, I’ll predict that the regime somehow collapses in 2020.

P.S. The silver lining of Venezuela’s dark cloud is that we have some grim humor from inside and outside the country.

P.P.S. Venezuela is such a disaster that even the World Bank acknowledged Chile’s market-oriented system is far superior.

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Move over, Crazy Bernie, you’re no longer the left’s heartthrob. You’ve been replaced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an out-of-the-closet socialist from New York City who will enter Congress next January after beating a member of the Democratic leadership.

Referring to the boomlet she’s created, I’ve already written about why young people are deluded if they think bigger government is the answer, and I also pointed out that Norway is hardly a role model for “Democratic socialism.”

And in this brief snippet, I also pointed out she’s wrong to think that you can reduce corporate cronyism by giving government even more power over the economy.

But there’s a much bigger, more important, point to make.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wants a radical expansion in the size of the federal government. But, as noted in the Washington Examiner, she has no idea how to pay for it.

Consider…how she responded this week when she was asked on “The Daily Show” to explain how she intends to pay for her Democratic Socialism-friendly policies, including her Medicare for All agenda. “If people pay their fair share,” Ocasio-Cortez responded, “if corporations paid — if we reverse the tax bill, raised our corporate tax rate to 28 percent … if we do those two things and also close some of those loopholes, that’s $2 trillion right there. That’s $2 trillion in ten years.” She should probably confer with Democratic Socialist-in-arms Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whose most optimistic projections ($1.38 trillion per year) place the cost of Medicare for All at roughly $14 trillion over a ten-year period. Two trillion in ten years obviously puts Ocasio-Cortez a long way away from realistically financing a Medicare for All program, which is why she also proposes carbon taxes. How much she expects to raise from this tax she didn’t say.

To be fair, Bernie Sanders also didn’t have a good answer when asked how he would pay for all the handouts he advocated.

To help her out, some folks on the left have suggested alternative ways of answering the question about financing.

I used to play basketball with Chris Hayes of MSNBC. He’s a very good player (far better than me, though that’s a low bar to clear), but I don’t think he scores many points with this answer.

Indeed, Professor Glenn Reynolds of the University of Tennessee Law School required only seven words to point out the essential flaw in Hayes’ approach.

Simply stated, there’s no guarantee that a rich country will always stay rich.

I wrote earlier this month about the importance of long-run economic growth and pointed out that the United States would be almost as poor as Mexico today if growth was just one-percentage point less every year starting in 1895.

That was just a hypothetical exercise.

There are some very sobering real-world examples. For instance, Nima Sanandaji pointed out this his country of Sweden used to be the world’s 4th-richest nation. But it has slipped in the rankings ever since the welfare state was imposed.

Venezuela is another case study, as Glenn Reynolds noted.

Indeed, according to NationMaster, it was the world’s 4th-richest country, based on per-capita GDP, in 1950.

For what it’s worth, I’m not familiar with this source, so I’m not sure I trust the numbers. Or maybe Venezuela ranked artificially high because of oil production.

But even if one uses the Maddison database, Venezuela was ranked about #30 in 1950, which is still impressive.

Today, of course, Venezuela is ranked much lower. Decades of bad policy have led to decades of sub-par economic performance. And as Venezuela stagnated, other nations become richer.

So Glenn’s point hits the nail on the head. A relatively rich nation became a relatively poor nation. Why? Because it adopted the statist policies favored by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

I want to conclude, though, with an even better example.

More than seven years ago, I pointed out that Argentina used to be one of the world’s richest nations, ranking as high as #10 in the 1930s and 1940s (see chart to right).

Sadly, decades of Peronist policies exacted a heavy toll, which dropped Argentina to about #45 in 2008.

Well, I just checked the latest Maddison numbers and Argentina is now down to #62. I was too lazy to re-crunch all the numbers, so you’ll have to be satisfied with modifications to my 2011 chart.

The reverse is true as well. There are many nations that used to be poor, but now are rich thanks to the right kind of policies.

The bottom line is that no country is destined to be rich and no country is doomed to poverty. It’s simply a question of whether they follow the right recipe for growth and prosperity.

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I’m in China this week, giving various lectures at Northeastern University in Shenyang. My topic today was “Real-World Examples,” which gave me an opportunity to share many of the charts I’ve developed showing how market-oriented nations enjoy much more long-run success.

One of the charts shows how Chile has enjoyed strong growth since it shifted to free markets, especially compared to Venezuela, which is burdened by a vicious form of statism.

But I noticed that I created that chart back in 2011 and it only shows data for the years between 1980 and 2008. And I thought that might lead students to think I was deliberately omitting recent years because the data somehow contradicts my message about free markets and small government.

So it’s time for me to update my comparison of Chile and Venezuela. And I’m going to have lots of evidence to share because the World Bank published a lengthy report on Puzzles of Economic Growth just a couple of years ago. And chapter 7 specifically compares the two countries we’re examining today.

Chile and República Bolivariana de Venezuela are South American countries of similar size and population. They…share a similar history, cultural heritage and comparable social structures. In 1971, they recorded a similar level of per capita income, that is, $6,603 (chained dollars with a base year of 20001) in Chile and $7,231 in República Bolivariana de Venezuela.

The report explains how neither country enjoyed much success in the 1970s, though oil-rich Venezuela at least benefited from rising energy prices.

What’s most relevant, at least for today’s discussion, is how Chile then jumped over Venezuela thanks to pro-market reforms,

In 2003, this value was nearly twice as high in Chile ($12,140) as in República Bolivariana de Venezuela ($6,253). …Chile became a stellar economic growth example in the region and has been outperforming República Bolivariana de Venezuela ever since. The ratio of GDP per capita in Chile and in República Bolivariana de Venezuela changed from 0.75 in 1983 to 1.94 in 2003.

Here’s a chart from the report, showing how Chile’s economy grew rapidly while Venezuela languished.

The report is filled with lots of data.

One item that caught my attention (in part because of Trump’s short-sighted policies in America) is how Chile dramatically reduced trade barriers while Venezuela was more protectionist.

From 1979, Chile’s economy was characterized by the lowest level of tariff restrictions in all of Latin America (10 percent) and a lack of nontariff barriers… República Bolivariana de Venezuela increased its trade restrictions to force consumers to purchase goods produced by the nationalized industries.

But Chile’s success goes well beyond trade policy.

Here’s a table looking quality of governance and red tape.

And here’s some data looking at obstacles to entrepreneurship. As you can see, it took almost four times longer to open a business in Venezuela in 1999.

I assume the numbers are even worse today. Assuming, of course, than anyone even wanted to open a business in that sad country.

Here are some excerpts from the conclusion of the World Bank report. This is a pretty good summary of how Chile reversed its descent to socialism while Venezuela doubled down on bad policy.

In 1971–2003, both Chile and República Bolivariana de Venezuela experienced periods of growing statism in their economic policy. In Chile, however, it was only a short episode (Allende’s socialist experiment in 1971–73), while in República Bolivariana de Venezuela this policy direction was maintained nearly for the entire period covered by the analysis (with its culmination being Chávez’s populist administration elected in 1998). During these periods, state-owned enterprises grew in both countries; market mechanisms were additionally disturbed by administrative price controls and restrictions imposed on freedom of entry into the market—and constrained business activity in many sectors of the economy… Furthermore, severe restrictions on foreign trade and capital flows were imposed. In Chile, the statist experiment was interrupted after three years—once it had driven the economy into a state of profound imbalance with a giant deficit and unchecked inflation. A radical program of economic stabilization and reforms broadening the scope of economic freedom was initiated. This dramatic change in economic orientation produced positive results. From the second half of the 1980s until the end of the analyzed period (2003), Chile was the fastest-growing country in South America.

Now it’s time for me to share an updated version of my chart (though I’m removing Argentina so we can focus just on Chile and Venezuela). As you can see, the updated numbers from the Maddison database tell the exact same story as my 2011 chart.

And why has Chile grown so much faster? As I told the students here in China, it’s because there’s more liberty to engage in voluntary exchange.

In the latest report from Economic Freedom of the World, Chile is ranked #15 while Venezuela is at the very bottom.

P.S. Some people have tried to portray Chile as a failure, but such assertions are easily debunked.

P.P.S. Kudos to the World Bank for publishing a very substantive report. For what it’s worth, it’s the international bureaucracy most likely to produce sensible publications.

P.P.P.S. The only bad World Bank study I’ve encountered equated high tax burdens with a good report card.

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Yesterday’s column looked at the continued government-caused decay of Venezuelan society. To put it mildly, it’s a very sad story of how pervasive statism can destroy a country.

I also wondered whether leftists such as Bernie Sanders, Michael Moore, and Jeremy Corbyn will ever change their minds and (hopefully) apologize for giving aid and comfort to the evil Chavez-Maduro regime. (I’m not holding my breath.)

Today, let’s revisit the issue.

But instead of citing news reports, let’s look at four videos on the tragedy in Venezuela. We’ll start with Reason‘s excellent summary.

I like how the video concludes with a warning that America should avoid the same mistakes.

And that’s not just a throwaway line. Venezuela did not become a basket case overnight. There wasn’t an on-off switch that Chavez or Maduro used to turn the country from capitalism to statism.

Instead, it was the combined effect of decades of bad policy decisions.

In other words, gradual deterioration eventually turned into major disaster. Which may help explain why I’m so distressed about the creeping statism of the Bush and Obama (and perhaps Trump) years.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the videos. Our next item is a report from the New York Times. It’s disappointing (but not overly surprising) that there’s no mention of the big-government policies that have reduced people to scouring for garbage, but you will learn about the horror of daily life for the poor.

Our next video, from Prager University, is a very straightforward description of how socialism has destroyed Venezuela.

I especially like how she concludes with a warning about how big government erodes societal capital, which then makes it very hard to restored liberty.

And the part about classifying involuntary weight loss as the “Maduro Diet” also was a highlight, at least if you like dark humor.

Our last video is an excerpt from a speech by a Venezuelan economist.

The part that grabbed my attention was the downward cycle of government-created inflation and government-imposed minimum-wage hikes. One bad policy leading to another bad policy, over and over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And while he doubtlessly exaggerated when he said that every single person in Venezuela would be happy to eat out of America’s trash cans, it’s still horrifying that a big chunk of the population would welcome such an opportunity.

So where will all this lead? At the start of the year, I expressed hope that the people of Venezuela would rise up and overthrow their tyrannical government. I don’t know if I should turn that hope into a prediction, but it certainly seems like it is only a matter of time before something dramatic happens.

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As far as I’m concerned, everything you need to know about capitalism vs. statism is captured in this chart comparing per-capita economic output in Chile and Venezuela.

Ask yourself which country offers more opportunity, especially for the poor? The obvious answer is Chile, where poverty has rapidly declined ever since the country shifted to free enterprise. In Venezuela, by contrast, poor children die of malnutrition thanks to pervasive interventionism.

Indeed, having shared several horrifying stories of human suffering and government venality from Venezuela (including 28 separate examples in April 2017 and 28 different separate examples in December 2017), I’ve reached the point where nothing shocks me.

So now I mostly wonder whether leftist apologists feel any shame when they see grim news from that statist hellhole.

For instance, what does Joe Stiglitz think about this report from the Miami Herald?

At 16, Liliana has become the mother figure for a gang of Venezuelan children and young adults called the Chacao, named after the neighborhood they’ve claimed as their territory. The 15 members, ranging in age from 10 to 23, work together to survive vicious fights for “quality” garbage in crumbling, shortage-plagued Venezuela. Their weapons are knives and sticks and machetes. The prize? Garbage that contains food good enough to eat. …A year ago, the gang was “stationed” around a supermarket at a mall called Centro Comercial Ciudad Tamanaco that generates tons of garbage. But a feared rival gang from the neighborhood Las Mercedes also wanted the garbage.

And what does Bernie Sanders think about this story from NPR?

The Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela estimates the country is suffering from an 85 percent shortage of medicine amid an economic crisis… The entire Venezuelan health care system is on the verge of collapse, says Francisco Valencia, head of the public health advocacy group Codevida. Some hospitals lack electricity, and more than 13,000 doctors have left Venezuela in the past four years in search of better opportunities. “They don’t give food to the patients in the hospital…” Government data shows infant mortality rose by 30 percent in 2016… The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will soar to 13,000 percent this year and the economy will shrink by 15 percent. …The monthly minimum wage for many Venezuelans is now equal to $3, according to the AP. …Maduro blames the country’s growing crisis on…the U.S…leading an effort to wipe out socialism in Venezuela.

I’d be curious to know what Michael Moore thinks about this news from CNN?

Venezuela’s devastating food crisis means wheat flour has become a rare commodity in the country. Some churches have run out of the ingredient needed to make the sacramental bread that is central to celebrating the Holy Eucharist… So, members of the Catholic diocese of Cúcuta, Colombia, braved heavy rain this week to deliver the wafers over a bridge that connects the two countries… Venezuela’s economic crisis, fueled by a decline in oil production, shows no signs of improvement.People are starving because of routine food shortages. They are dying in hospitals because basic medicine and equipment aren’t available.

And what does Jeremy Corbyn think about this Bloomberg report?

Ruiz’s weekly salary of 110,000 bolivares — about 50 cents at the black-market exchange rate — buys him less than a kilo of corn meal or rice. His only protein comes from 170 grams of canned tuna included in a food box the government provides to low-income families. It shows up every 45 days or so. “I haven’t eaten meat for two months,” he said. …Hunger is hastening the ruin of Venezuelan’s oil industry as workers grow too weak and hungry for heavy labor. With children dying of malnutrition and adults sifting garbage for table scraps, food has become more important than employment, and thousands are walking off the job. …Venezuela, a socialist autocracy that once was South America’s most prosperous nation, is suffering a collapse almost without precedent.

Or how about getting Sean Penn‘s reaction to this story from the New York Times?

For the past three weeks, Wilya Hernández, her husband and their daughter, 2, have been sleeping on the garbage-strewn streets of Cúcuta, a sprawling and chaotic city on Colombia’s side of the border with Venezuela. Though Antonela, the toddler, often misses meals, Ms. Hernández has no desire to return home to Venezuela. …“I sold my hair to feed my girl,” Ms. Hernández said, pulling back her locks to reveal a shaved head underneath, adding that wigmakers now walk the plazas of Cúcuta where many Venezuelans congregate, wearing signs advertising that they give cash for hair. …“If I can’t afford to go the bathroom, I’ll go on the street,” Ms. Hernández added. “That’s when guys walking by say creepy things.”

I wonder if Noam Chomsky has any comments about this Washington Post story?

A friend recently sent me a photograph…, just a blurry cellphone shot of trash… And yet I can’t stop thinking about it, because strewn about in the trash are at least a dozen 20-bolivar bills, small-denomination currency now so worthless even looters didn’t think it was worth their time to stop and pick them up. …according to the “official” exchange rate, …each of those bills is worth $2. In fact, as Venezuela sinks deeper…into…hyperinflation…, bolivar banknotes have come to be worth basically nothing: Each bill is worth about $0.0001 at the current exchange rate… It’s easy to see why the thieves left them behind.

Last but not least, I wonder what Jesse Jackson thinks about this news from the U.K.-based Guardian?

More than half of young Venezuelans want to move abroad permanently, after food shortages, violence and a political crisis escalated to new extremes in 2017, according to a new survey. Once Latin America’s richest country, Venezuela’s economy is now collapsing… One of the most painful effects of the current crisis has been widespread hunger. In 2015, when inflation and food shortages were well below current levels, nearly 45% of Venezuelans said there were times when they were unable to afford food; in the latest study, that figure had risen to 79% – one of the highest rates in the world. …Norma Gutiérrez, a radiologist in eastern Caracas, is one of those…would-be migrants. Acute shortages in the hospital where she works depress her, and she says the idea of emigrating crosses her mind at least once a week.

By the way, in an example of unintended humor, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has a ready-made answer to all those questions. The misery is the fault of capitalism. I’m not kidding.

And folks on the establishment left occasionally try to imply that it’s all the result of falling oil prices.

Two years ago, I concocted a visual showing the “Five Circles of Statist Hell” and speculated that Venezuela was getting close to the fourth level. Though I still don’t think it’s nearly as bad as North Korea.

P.S. Since I mentioned unintentional humor, you’ll be amused to know a “Happy Planet Index” created by radical environmentalists places Venezuela above the United States.

P.P.S. And here’s some intentional dark humor about hunger in Venezuela.

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It’s now a pattern. I’ll come across a soul-sapping story about terrible suffering caused by statism in Venezuela and I think the country has hit rock bottom. Such as back in September, when I read about people literally starving.

But then I will read another report about incredible misery and realize that the socialist regime is even worse than I thought. Such as back in December, when I read about economic deprivation ruining sex for the women of the country.

And then I find another horrifying example of how big government destroys lives and I’m forced to reconsider the definition of failure. Such as last month, when I read about criminal gangs using food to recruit children.

Despite this pattern, I’m going out on a limb and asserting that nothing possibly could be worse than this Washington Post story of Venezuelan parents giving up their children because they can’t afford to feed them.

In September, her mother left her at a subway station with a bag of clothes and a note begging someone to feed the child.  Poverty and hunger rates are soaring as Venezuela’s economic crisis leaves store shelves empty of food, medicine, diapers and baby formula. Some parents can no longer bear it. They are doing the unthinkable.  Giving up their children. …it was a challenge to actually meet the tiniest victims of this broken nation. My requests to enter orphanages run by the socialist government had gone unanswered. One child-protection official — warning of devastating conditions, including a lack of diapers — confided that such a visit would be “impossible.” …A child-welfare official in El Libertador — one of the capital’s poorest areas — called the situation at public orphanages and temporary-care centers “catastrophic.”  “We have grave problems here,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals from the authoritarian government.

Fortunately, there are still some private facilities that help families.

But even though such institutions are run more efficiently and compassionately, it’s still a tragedy that they have to exist. And the stories the reporter uncovered are heartbreaking.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” said Angélica Pérez, a 32-year-old mother of three, near tears. …she showed up at Fundana with her 3-year-old son and her two daughters, ages 5 and 14. She lost her job… Her plan: leave the children at the center, where she knew they would be fed, so she could travel to neighboring Colombia to find work. She hoped she would eventually be able to take them back. Typically, children are allowed to stay at Fundana for six months to a year before being placed in foster care or put up for adoption. “You don’t know what it’s like to see your children go hungry,” Pérez told me. “You have no idea. I feel like I’m responsible, like I’ve failed them. But I’ve tried everything. There is no work, and they just keep getting thinner.

Here’s another incomprehensibly sad example.

For many Venezuelan families, hunger presents an excruciating choice.  I met Dayana Silgado, 28, as she entered Fundana’s new food center for parents in economic crisis. Silgado seemed drained. The shoulder blades on her thin frame protruded from her tank top. In November, she surrendered her two youngest children to Fundana after losing her job… At the center, she knew, they would get three meals a day. Fundana’s home for children did not accept older kids, so Silgado was still trying to feed her two eldest — ages 8 and 11 — at home. …After eating dinner, Silgado said, her children tell her, “Mom, I want more.” “But I don’t have more to give,” she said.

What a terrifying awful country.

Shame on Bernie Sanders. Shame on Joe Stiglitz. Shame on every leftist who offered support for the evil government of Venezuela.

Since we’re on the topic of that despotic regime, here are a few additional stories that are worth a mention.

We’ll start with a lesson about inflation.

Street vendors in Venezuela are weaving baskets from banknotes after 13,000 per cent inflation rendered them practically worthless. …Cash is worth so little there bank notes are often seen littered on the streets. …street seller Wilmer Rojas has found a use for them. …The 25-year-old is selling origami-style handbags, purses, hats and baskets – all made out of money. …Mr Rojas, a father-of-three, said: ‘People throw them away because they are no good to buy anything. …These things are no good for buying anything. At least I am putting them to good use rather than throwing them away.’ …Jose Leon, a 26-year-old designer, draws the faces of Star Wars characters over the image of Simon Bolivar and other famous Venezuelans pictured on the notes. Foreign customers pay him up to £14 ($20) for each piece of ‘money art’, which he said increases the note’s value by nearly 5,000 per cent.

Wow. I periodically gripe about the Federal Reserve, but I guess I should consider myself lucky.

Now let’s look at our next story. Rather than weave money, some Venezuelans have turned to crime.

When he set off at sunset from the town of La Grita in western Venezuela on his 900-km (560-mile) journey, Aguilar knew he was taking his life in his hands. With hunger widespread amid a fifth year of painful economic implosion under President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has seen a frightening surge in attacks on increasingly lawless roads. Just a few days earlier, Aguilar said he sat terrified when hundreds of looters swarmed a stationary convoy, overwhelming drivers by sheer numbers. They carted off milk, rice and sugar from other trucks but left his less-prized vegetables alone. “Every time I say goodbye to my family, I entrust myself to God and the Virgin,” said the 36-year-old trucker. …looting of cargoes on roads has soared in Venezuela in recent times and appears…directly linked to growing hunger and desperation among the population of 30 million. …“The hunger and despair are far worse than people realize, what we are seeing on the roads is just another manifestation of that. We’ve also been seeing people stealing and butchering animals in fields, attacking shops and blocking roads to protest their lack of food. It’s become extremely serious,” said ORC director Oswaldo Ramirez. …The dystopian attacks in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates are pushing up transport and food costs in an already hyperinflationary environment, as well as stifling movement of goods in the crisis-hit OPEC nation.

Given these horrifying condition, is it any surprise that people are doing whatever they can to escape the socialist hellhole of Venezuela?

Thousands of desperate Venezuelans are trying to enter Colombia in a bid to escape the hunger and soaring crime rate caused by the spiralling economic crisis. Incredible pictures show the mass exodus of refugees crossing the Simon Bolivar international bridge trying to flee the political crisis threatening to engulf Venezuela. Colombia – along with its neighbour Brazil – has sent extra soldiers to patrol their porous border with the country after officially taking in more than half a million migrants over the last six months of 2017. …In a visit to a border city at the epicenter of Colombia’s mounting migration crisis, President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday announced new measures that could make it more difficult for Venezuelan migrants to cross into the country illegally or remain there without any official status. ‘Colombia has never lived a situation like the one we are encountering today,’ Santos said. Migration into Colombia has surged as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has moved to consolidate his rule and the nation’s economy plummets. Colombia migration authorities say there are an estimated 600,000 Venezuelans currently in Colombia – double the number six months ago.

I also know from my visits to Panama that the Venezuelan population has exploded there as well. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the same is true for other nations in Latin America as well.

In other words, this image may be humorous, but it’s also true.

P.S. To be fair, while Venezuela has an awful government, it does allow citizens to escape. So it’s not as bad as the despotic dictatorships of Cuba and North Korea. At least not yet.

P.P.S. Some leftists are disowning Venezuela. But only because it isn’t sufficiently socialist!

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In recent months, I’ve written two very lengthy columns about the deterioration of Venezuela’s evil government.

And I’ve also looked at long-run economic data to show how statism produces awful results for ordinary people.

But I sometimes think anecdotes are the most persuasive for the simple reason that ordinary people can relate. That’s why I shared last month the story about how the government has even made sex less pleasurable.

The Miami Herald has a story that underscores the horrible consequences of statism.

…on the streets, walking around with a bag of groceries can attract more thieves than a full wallet. The critical food shortages pummeling Venezuela have started to change the nature of crime in the country, at times increasing what some experts have started to call “hunger crimes” and at other times turning food into a valuable item to be taken by force. …The crisis has forced millions of Venezuelans to eat just once a day, and thousands of others to regularly search garbage cans in hopes of finding something to eat, according to recent surveys.

This is very grim, but it gets worse.

Not only are people committing crimes because of hunger, children are being recruited into gangs because that is the way to eat.

Venezuelan gangs are no longer recruiting youths in some poor areas by offering them easy money to buy clothes or the latest cell phones. Instead, they are offering food baskets. …Criminal gangs are also using food to recruit children and teenagers in Venezuela, a country with one of the world’s highest crime rates. …“The recruitment techniques, the bait that in the past used to be fashion or luxury goods, have been replaced by the offer of basic food items,” said the report, published this week. That’s how “crime gangs are gaining ground in conquering thousands of youths who are joining in the violence and whose destiny is death, prison and the frustration of so many dreams and hopes forged by their families and communities,” the report added.

As a parent, this is a horrifying story. Imagine not being able to feed your children and then watching getting lured into a life that almost certainly will not end well.

Utterly depressing. A very bad situation keeps getting worse.

The only good news is that leftists used to make excuses for Venezuela and now some of them are trying to disown that brutal regime.

P.S. In spite of the wretched state of the Venezuelan economy, some nutty leftists who put together a “Happy Planet Index” that ranked Venezuela above the United States. I still haven’t figured out whether that was crazier than the Jeffrey Sachs’ index that put Cuba above America.

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Happy New Year!

We listed yesterday the good and bad policy developments of 2017, so now let’s speculate about potential victories and defeats in 2018.

Here are two things I hope will happen this year.

  • Welfare reform – If my friends and contacts on Capitol Hill are feeding my accurate information, we may see a bigger and better version of the 1996 welfare reform in 2018. The core concept would be to abolish the dozens of means-tested programs (i.e., redistribution programs targeted at low-income people) in Washington and replace them with a “block grant.” This could be good news for federal taxpayers if the annual block grant is designed to grow slowly. And it could be good news for poor people since state government would then have the ability and flexibility to design policies that help liberate recipients from government dependency.
  • Collapse of Venezuela – Given the disastrous deterioration of the Venezuelan economy, it’s difficult to envision how the Maduro dictatorship can survive the year. Yes, I know the regime is willing to use the military to suppress any uprising, but I suspect hungry and desperate people are more likely to take chances. My fingers are crossed that the corrupt government is overthrown and Venezuela becomes another Chile (hopefully without a transition period of military rule).

Here are two things I fear may happen in 2018.

  • Pulling out of NAFTA – America dodged a bullet in 2017. Given Trump’s protectionist instincts, I worried he would do something very dangerous on trade. But pain deferred is not the same thing as pain avoided. The President has made some very worrisome noises about NAFTA and it’s possible he may use executive authority to scrap a deal that has been good for the United States.
  • A bad version of Brexit – Given the statist mindset in Brussels and the continent’s awful demographics, voting to leave the European Union was the right decision for our British friends. Simply stated, it makes no sense to stay on a sinking ship, even if it sinking slowly. But the net benefits of Brexit depend on whether the United Kingdom seizes the moment and adopts pro-growth policies such as tax cuts and free-trade pacts. Sadly, those good reforms don’t appear likely and it appears instead that the feckless Tory leadership will choose to become a satellite member of the EU, which means living under the thumb of Brussels and paying for harmonization, bureaucratization, and centralization. The worst possible outcome in the short run, though at least the U.K. is better positioned to fully extricate itself in the future.

I’m adding a new feature to my hopes-and-fears column this year.

These are issues where I think it’s likely that something consequential may occur, but I can’t figure out whether I should be optimistic or pessimistic. I sort of did this last year, listing Obamacare reform and Italian fiscal crisis as both hopes and fears.

It turns out I was right to be afraid about what would happen with Obamacare and I was wrong (or too early) to think something would happen with Italy.

Here are three things that could be consequential in 2018, but I can’t figure out whether to be hopeful or fearful.

  • Infrastructure reform or boondoggle – I put an “infrastructure boondoggle” as one of my fears last year, but the President and Congress postponed dealing with the issue. But it will be addressed this year. I’m still afraid the result may be a traditional pile of pork-barrel spending, but it’s also possible that legislation could be a vehicle for market-based reform.
  • Normalization of monetary policy – I try to stay clear of monetary policy, but I also recognize that it’s a very important issue. Indeed, if I was to pick the greatest risk to the economy, it’s that easy-money policies (such as artificially low interest rates) have created a bubble. And bursting bubbles can be very messy, as we learned (or should have learned) in 2008. The Federal Reserve supposedly is in the process of “normalizing” monetary policy. I very much hope they can move in the right direction without rattling markets and/or bursting bubbles.
  • A China bubble – Speaking of macroeconomic risks, I’m very glad that China has partially liberalized and I’m ecstatic that reform has dramatically reduced severe poverty, but I also worry that the government plays far too large a role in the banking sector and interferes far too much in the allocation of capital. I’m guessing this eventually leads to some sort of hiccup (or worse) for the Chinese economy, and all I can do is cross my fingers and hope that the government responds with additional liberalization rather than the bad policies being advocated by the OECD and IMF.

By the way, I fully expect the Democrats to sweep the 2018 elections. And since the Party is now much farther to the left than it used to be, that could lead to very bad news in 2019 – particularly if Trump unleashes his inner Nixon.

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Since it’s the last day of the year, let’s look back on 2017 and highlight the biggest victories and losses for liberty.

For last year’s column, we had an impressive list of overseas victories in 2016, including the United Kingdom’s Brexit from the European Union, the vote against basic income in Switzerland, the adoption of constitutional spending caps in Brazil, and even the abolition of the income tax in Antigua and Barbuda.

The only good policies I could find in the United States, by contrast, were food stamp reforms in Maine, Wisconsin, and Kansas.

This year has a depressingly small list of victories. Indeed, the only good thing I had on my initial list was the tax bill. So to make 2017 appear better, I’m turning that victory into three victories.

  • A lower corporate tax rate – Dropping the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent will boost investment, wages, and competitiveness, while also pressuring other nations to drop their corporate rates in a virtuous cycle of tax competition. An unambiguous victory.
  • Limits on the deductibility of state and local taxes – It would have been preferable to totally abolish the deduction for state and local taxes, but a $10,000 cap will substantially curtail the federal tax subsidy for higher taxes by state and local government. The provision is only temporary, so it’s not an unambiguous win, but the whining and complaining from class-warfare politicians in New York and California is music to my ears.
  • No border-adjustment tax – Early in 2017, I was worried that tax reform was going to be tax deform. House Republicans may have had good intentions, but their proposed border-adjustment tax would have set the stage for a value-added tax. I like to think I played at least a small role in killing this bad idea.
  • Regulatory Rollback – The other bit of (modest) good news is that the Trump Administration has taken some steps to curtail and limit red tape. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step.

Now let’s look elsewhere in the world for a victory. Once again, there’s not much.

  • Macron’s election in France – As I scoured my archives for some good foreign news, the only thing I could find was that a socialist beat a socialist in the French presidential election. But since I have some vague hope that Emanuel Macron will cut red tape and reduce the fiscal burden in France, I’m going to list this as good news. Yes, I’m grading on a curve.

Now let’s look at the bad news.

Last year, my list included growing GOP support for a VAT, eroding support for open trade, and the leftward shift of the Democratic Party.

Here are five examples of policy defeats in 2017.

  • Illinois tax increase – If there was a contest for bad state fiscal policy, Illinois would be a strong contender. That was true even before 2017. And now that the state legislature rammed through a big tax increase, Illinois is trying even harder to be the nation’s most uncompetitive state.
  • Kansas tax clawback – The big-government wing of the Kansas Republican Party joined forces with Democrats to undo a significant portion of the Brownback tax cuts. Since this was really a fight over whether there would be spending restraint or business-as-usual in Kansas, this was a double defeat.
  • Botched Obamacare repeal – After winning numerous elections by promising to repeal Obamacare, Republicans finally got total control of Washington and then proceeded to produce a bill that repealed only portions. And even that effort flopped. This was a very sad confirmation of my Second Theorem of Government.
  • Failure to control spending – I pointed out early in the year that it would be easy to cut taxes, control spending, and balance the budget. And I did the same thing late in the year. Unfortunately, there is no desire in Washington to restrain the growth of Leviathan. Sooner or later, this is going to generate very bad economic and political developments.
  • Venezuela’s tyrannical regime is still standing – Since I had hoped the awful socialist government would collapse, the fact that nothing has changed in Venezuela counts as bad news. Actually, some things have changed. The economy is getting worse and worse.
  • The Export-Import Bank is still alive – With total GOP control of Washington, one would hope this egregious dispenser of corporate welfare would be gone. Sadly, the swamp is winning this battle.

Tomorrow, I’ll do a new version of my annual hopes-and-fears column.

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I wrote a lengthy column yesterday on the horrific situation in Venezuela.

As I thought about the suffering, especially among the poor, I wondered whether Bernie Sanders and Joe Stiglitz are still willing to defend that country’s barbaric government.

And I also contemplated whether there are any comments from Jeremy Corbyn, Sean Penn, Jesse Jackson, Michael Moore, and Noam Chomsky, who also carried water in the past for that despicable regime.

Would these people still defend Venezuelan statism? And if they did, what could they possibly say?

It’s not my job to give advice to Sanders, Stiglitz, et al, but they may want to borrow the strategy of the Socialist Party in the United Kingdom. Those folks are actually arguing that the real problem with Venezuela is that it’s not socialist enough.

I’m not joking.

Let’s look at some recent tweets.

To be fair, since there is still some degree of private ownership in the nation, the statism practiced in Venezuela is probably closer to fascism than pure socialism, so there was a tiny bit of merit to that tweet.

The U.K.’s socialists double down on this argument by claiming that true socialism only exists when there is collective ownership of the means of production.

That’s also a reasonable point. But on that basis, then it’s silly for anyone (like Bernie Sanders) to claim that places such as Denmark and Sweden are socialist.

Let’s take a look at one final tweet from Socialist Party on the other side of the Atlantic. What makes this one special is that they actually claim that North Korea is an example of capitalism.

This is utterly bizarre. Are they smoking crack? In North Korea, the government does own and control the means of production (factories, mines, railways, etc).

If you read the fine print on the last row, you’ll see that they define socialism to exist only in a make-believe world where there’s basically no state. Anarcho-socialism, or something like that.

If that’s how they want to redefine socialism, then I have no problem with it. If a bunch of people want to set up some sort of commune based on voluntary sharing of everything, that’s fine with me so long as they don’t try to force me to either pay for it or be part of it.

I’ll simply close by noting that the Pilgrims used that model when they first landed in America and many of them starved to death.

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What country has the world’s worst government? It’s not an easy question. There may be a different set of answers based on whether the focus is political oppression or economic mismanagement.

Regardless of methodology, there are some nations that will probably show up on just about any list.

Today, though, I want to make the case for Venezuela. That unfortunate country used to be rich compared to other Latin American nations, but decades of bad policy have now morphed into awful policy. The long-run drop in economic freedom – from 10th-freest to 159th-freest – is staggering.

Wow. Combined with growing political oppression, the country may zip through the fourth circle of statist hell and soon find itself in the fifth and final circle.

To grasp the horror of the situation, let’s look at what’s happened since April, when I put together a column of 28 headlines to capture the death throes of Venezuelan socialism.

Now, in just the last six months, we have another 28 examples.

On May 30, a column in the New York Times catalogued the misery in Venezuela.

…huge protests rocking Venezuela… President Nicolás Maduro has responded with an iron fist. More than 50 people have been killed, 1,000 injured, and 2,700 arrested, and that last figure doesn’t include the country’s more than 180 long-term political prisoners. …economic and humanitarian crisis. It is hard to overstate the severity of the suffering of the 31 million people of this once-rich country. …hospitals lack 98 percent of needed medical supplies and 85 of 100 drugs are totally unavailable. As a result, in the last year, some 11,500 infants died before their first birthday… Cases of malaria are up 76 percent and diphtheria, which had been eradicated 20 years ago, has returned to Venezuela.

On June 1, we learned about the bravery and ingenuity of protestors.

Daniella Liendo is gaining frontline practical experience as she completes her medical studies. …On the streets of Caracas this week, the second-year student treated a demonstrator who had been shot at close range with a marble pellet in the city’s Chacao neighbourhood. “Once we get to a patient we must decide with the more senior doctors if [the injured] must be taken away for treatment,” she said. “The most common problem is asphyxia from the tear gas. We’ve also had a lot of head traumas and burns to deal with.” …An exodus of Venezuelan medical graduates has meant that even those with the most basic training are in demand. An estimated 15,000 doctors have left to work abroad since 2003.

On June 2, Reuters exposed the gilded lives of the government elite.

One is shown blowing a kiss from a private jet. Another is seen posing in front of a store of luxury jeweler Cartier in China. Others grin as they tuck into a plate of lobster or a massive birthday cake. Venezuelan activists are increasingly posting details of locations and lifestyles of leftist officials and their families, depicting them as thriving off corruption while the population struggles to eat in a devastating economic crisis. …One Twitter account published photos purportedly showing the wife of Vice President Tareck El Aissami enjoying champagne and lounging on a pristine beach with her sisters. In another case, an alleged lover of a powerful Socialist Party official is shown on trips to the Middle East. Venezuela’s opposition accuses officials of profiting from currency controls and a decade-long oil boom to fill their pockets. The opposition-led congress estimates that at least $11 billion have “disappeared” from state-run oil company PDVSA .

On June 5, Fox reported on women driven to prostitution by poverty.

As a humanitarian and political crisis in neighboring Venezuela deepens, a growing number of Venezuelan women are working in bars and brothels across Colombia. “I didn’t do this in Venezuela. I never ever imagined I’d be doing this in Colombia,” said Maria, who…charges $17 for 15-minutes of sex, and the money earned is spent on buying medicine for her mother who has cancer. …According to Asmubuli, a Colombian sex workers association, currently there are around 4,500 Venezuelan sex workers in the country. …It’s not just women who say they have no option but to sell their bodies for sex, but young Venezuelan men too. Dorian, 25, started working in Bogota’s Lourdes Park about two weeks ago. “It’s disappointing. I’m disappointed in myself,” said Dorian, a business studies university graduate unable to find a job and with no money to pay for rent and food.

On June 6, we learned about the current regime’s utter depravity.

Norma Camero Reno has been shipping a steady supply of desperately needed medicines from the United States to Venezuela. Reno and other members of her nonprofit, Move Foundation, pack painkillers, cold medicines and other supplies to be distributed to hospitals, health clinics and churches throughout the beleaguered nation. Two weeks ago, however, that all changed. …Reno discovered that none of the recent medicine shipments had made it to her contacts in the country. …“They are stopping everything from going in,” Reno told Fox News. “They are taking everything for themselves.”

On June 28, a column in the New York Times condemned Maduro’s brutal regime.

Every day, Venezuelans of all stripes pour into the streets protesting the loss of their freedom and their constitutional rights by a tyrannical regime that condemns them to scarcity, illness, malnutrition and outright hunger. …There has been terrible economic and social destruction. Across 15 years, a trillion dollars’ worth of oil income has been squandered and 80 percent of Venezuelans have fallen into poverty. …Venezuela has become the Zimbabwe of the Americas, a shameless alliance of corrupt politicians and the military acquiescent to the dictates of Cuba. …They have kidnapped the Latin American nation that is richest in oil resources, which they wish to appropriate for themselves, permanently and at whatever human cost it may require.

On July 3, we learned that poor people are waking up to the downside of socialism.

In Caracas, the rich and poor are suddenly less divided. For most of Venezuela’s two-decade socialist experiment, the city’s wealthier, whiter east has been the hotbed of anti-government sentiment. Now, noisy protests are erupting in poorer-but-calmer western neighborhoods that were strongholds for embattled President Nicolas Maduro as crime explodes and medicine and food are scarce and expensive. …They’re increasingly demanding a change in government, infuriated by mismanagement… “Everyone protests, without differences, because the hunger of the stomach and the hunger for democracy have been united,” said Carlos Julio Rojas, a La Candelaria activist… Services are shaky in Caracas, particularly in the slums that surround the capital. Water pipes go dry for days at a time, trash sits rotting and lights go out.

On July 20, the Economist shared news of despair about the plight of Venezuelan women.

Barbara and her cousin Sophia have more serious business: they hope to make enough money from selling sex to live decently after fleeing Venezuela, where survival is a struggle. Barbara, who is 27, prefers her former occupation as the owner of a nail and hair business in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. But polish and shampoo are as hard to find as food and medicine, and so she has come to Medellín. In an hour a sex worker can make the equivalent of a month’s minimum wage in Venezuela. Colombian pesos “are worth something”, unlike Venezuela’s debauched currency, the bolívar, Barbara says. “At least here one can eat breakfast and lunch.” …Some 4,500 Venezuelan prostitutes are thought to be working in Colombia… The sex workers are joined by electricians, mechanics, empanada vendors—all of whom are seeking a way to cope with their country’s shortages and queues, and an inflation rate expected to exceed 700% this year.

On July 30, a column in the Wall Street Journal analyzed the crumbing of Venezuela.

Hungry, hurting Venezuelans are done talking. The country is in the early stages of civil war. …In polls, some 80% of Venezuelans oppose Mr. Maduro’s “constituent assembly.” But the opposition boycotted Sunday’s election because they know Cuba is running things, that voter rolls are corrupted, and that there is no transparency in the operation of electronic voting machines. …faith and hope in a peaceful solution has been lost. One symptom of this desperation is the mass exodus under way. On Tuesday the Panam Post reported that “more than 26,000 people crossed the border into Colombia Monday, July 26… But a citizens’ revolt, led by young people whose families are starving, is already under way.

On July 31, we got a thorough analysis of economic chaos in Venezuela.

With per capita GDP down by 40% since 2013, Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the US, Western Europe, or the rest of Latin America. And yet headline GDP numbers actually understate the magnitude of the economy’s decline. …Venezuelans clearly want out – and it’s not hard to see why. Media worldwide have been reporting on Venezuela, documenting truly horrible situations, with images of starvation, hopelessness, and rage.

On August 2, the Associated Press published a first-person look at the country’s decline.

The first thing the muscled-up men did was take my cellphone. They had stopped me on the street as I left an interview in the hometown of the late President Hugo Chavez and wrangled me into a black SUV. …I had thought that being a foreign reporter protected me from the growing chaos in Venezuela. But with the country unraveling so fast, I was about to learn there was no way to remain insulated. I came to Caracas as a correspondent for The Associated Press in 2014, just in time to witness the country’s accelerating descent into a humanitarian catastrophe. …the men trained a camera on me for an interrogation. One said that I would end up like the American journalist who had recently been beheaded in Syria. Another said if I gave him a kiss I could go free. …In the end, the secret police cut me loose a few hours after they arrested me, with a warning not to return.

On August 7, a CNN story looked at Venezuela’s looming default.

he country, which is engulfed in crisis, …has other payments coming due in the near future and could fall short on those if the economy continues to tailspin… “This model is broken, and default is inevitable,” says Siobhan Morden, an expert in Latin American bonds at Nomura Holdings. …Venezuela’s economy continues to spiral our of control. The unofficial exchange rate that most Venezuelans use has more than doubled since late July. Inflation is expected to soar 720% this year and and over 2,000% next year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

On August 13, we learned about the plight of Jews in Venezuela.

Jews in Venezuela are increasingly fleeing the country amid the rising political instability and violence under President Nicolas Maduro, with a growing number decamping for Israel. Estella and Haim Sadna, a religious couple with four kids from the Venezuelan capital Caracas, described the food scarcity and rampant crime that drove them to move the Jewish state. …While Venezuela once had one of the largest Jewish communities in the region, numbering some 25,000 in 1999, only about 9,000 Jews are believed to remain in the country.

On August 15, the Miami Herald reported that even the military must beg for food.

Venezuelan soldiers — armed and in uniform — were caught in neighboring Guyana last week begging for food, local police reported, another sign of Venezuela’s deepening hunger crisis. …Hunger is on the rise in Venezuela, amid triple-digit inflation and the government’s inability to import basic goods. And neighboring Colombia, Brazil and Guyana have seen a spike in Venezuelans looking for food. …That soldiers would cross into Guyana is telling. The two nations have been locked in a centuries-old border dispute over a swath of Guyanese territory known as the Esequibo and are not on good terms.

On August 29, the incompetent brutality of the government was discussed.

…socialist policies exacerbated the oil crisis and created the poverty we see in Venezuela today. …the poorest economies in the world are characterized by oppressive government intervention. …In Venezuela’s case, a government takeover of the oil industry reduced supply, sowing the seeds of future impoverishment. …When Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, he…closed Venezuela’s oil fields to foreign investment and stopped reinvesting oil proceeds in the company. He fired 18,000 workers at PDVSA, replacing professional oil employees with inept but politically loyal workers. …Healthy non-oil industries could have diversified Venezuela’s economy and blunted the impact of falling oil prices. By strangling them, Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, forced the economy to rely more on oil at precisely the wrong time. …Commentators who dismiss Venezuela’s suffering as being caused by the oil crisis need to explain why other oil-dependent countries have not collapsed. According to the World Bank, seven nations rely more on oil than Venezuela. All seven saw economic growth from 2013 to 2017.

On September 11, it was reported that even the United Nations is appalled by the regime’s actions.

The United Nations human rights chief has said that Venezuelan security forces may have committed “crimes against humanity” against protesters and called for an international investigation. …Zeid said the government was using criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amounted to torture. …Last month, Zeid’s office said Venezuela’s security forces had committed extensive and apparently deliberate human rights violations in crushing anti-government protests and that democracy was “barely alive”. …Venezuela is among the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, where it enjoys strong support from Cuba, Iran and other states.

On September 15, we learned more about the depravity of the socialist government.

The association Prepara Familia denounced yesterday the death of 11-year old Cristhian Malavé, contaminated with a bacteria from the hemodialysis unit of the the J. M. de los Ríos Children’s Hospital. He’s the fifth child to die of this cause. Others die of unattended complications and their records are blurred and their names are lost in view of a State unable to offer a response to our simplest and most urgent needs. …Tamara Suju, head of the Casla Institute, denounced in fron of the OAS the tortures and violations committed by public force officers against 289 people, protesters and citizens. There are complaints of assaults and rapes (with batons or firearms), feces force-feeding, electroshocks, beating, in most cases, and psychological torture, in all of them. The huge majority of victims are men, 79% between 18 and 30 years old. Torture in Venezuela went from selective to massive and no government representative has denied torture cases.

On September 22, the Miami Herald reported on the tragic growth of prostitution.

At a squat, concrete brothel on the muddy banks of the Arauca River, Gabriel Sánchez rattled off the previous jobs of the women who now sell their bodies at his establishment for $25 an hour. “We’ve got lots of teachers, some doctors, many professional women and one petroleum engineer,” he yelled over the din of vallenato music. “All of them showed up with their degrees in hand.” And all of them came from Venezuela. As Venezuela’s economy continues to collapse amid food shortages, …waves of economic refugees have fled the country. …with jobs scarce, many young — and not so young — women are turning to the world’s oldest profession to make ends meet. …“Prostitution obviously isn’t a good job,” she said. “But I’m thankful for it, because it’s allowing me to buy food and support my family.”

On September 25, we learned more about the suffering of the people.

As the economic and political crisis deepens in, so do the levels of hunger. A survey by a top university found the average Venezuelan has lost nine kilogrammes in the past year. Many families are now forced to scavenge for food in what was once South America’s richest country. At a soup kitchen run by the Catholic Church in Caracas, …many of the children are given a special formula after arriving, when they are found to be severely malnourished. …Venezuela’s prolonged and acute economic crisis – characterised by food shortages and hyperinflation – has seen infant mortality rise to almost 35 percent and maternal mortality to 65 percent in just the last year. Anemia is rampant.

On October 6, Reuters reported on the country’s miserable business environment.

With Venezuela’s economy in shambles, Ford has furloughed Nunez and 1200 colleagues at its moribund plant here in Valencia, Venezuela’s third-largest city. …Nunez hasn’t reported for work in ten months, save for a few days in September… But he still collects a quarter of his weekly salary of 50,000 bolivars, the equivalent of just $1.70 at the widely used black-market exchange rate. The father of two teenagers counts himself lucky. …Ford is among roughly 150 multinationals still hanging on in Venezuela. The once-prosperous OPEC nation is now in the fourth year of a recession caused by a fall in oil prices and, economists say, failed policies of its socialist government. …As of April 2016, half of Venezuela’s working population was either jobless or employed only in part-time, “informal” jobs.

On October 11, the horror of Venezuela was captured by a single story.

Conditions in socialist Venezuela are so diabolical that people are forced to eat cats in the street. A stomach-churning video shows a homeless woman sitting on the roadside with her possessions around her and a dead domestic cat in front of her. She painstakingly skins the cat and then slices off pieces of its body before popping them in her mouth. …Viewers have blamed the socialist government for leaving people penniless and hungry with price controls, soaring inflation and shortages of basic essentials.

On October 19, we learned more about the exodus from the socialist hellhole.

Ana Linares…earns about $15 a day — more than she made in a month in her native Venezuela. …Linares arrived in Lima last May after enduring a six-day bus trip from central Venezuela, her 8-month-old son on her lap… Life in Venezuela had become intolerable, with millions struggling with hyperinflation, food shortages, lack of work and lawlessness. “Everything there has turned ugly. There’s hunger and crime. You can’t leave your house after 5 p.m. because you’re going to be robbed or killed,” Linares said, adding that she now earns enough to afford three meals a day, an impossibility for many these days in Venezuela. …as many as 500,000 Venezuelans have fled their country in the last two years and a total of 2.1 million since 1998.

On November 3, Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason correctly assigned blame for the horrible situation.

Venezuela—which is the midst of a brutal food shortages brought about by a brutal socialist regime—…continues to worsen. Good soldiers are rewarded with scarce basic necessities such as toilet paper. Citizens are urged to eat rabbits. Opposing forces have taken to the streetsas the country’s socialism descends into dictatorship. Meanwhile the government is reserving food aid for loyalists and others turn to bitcoin to survive.

On November 4, we learned that animals in zoos are on the menu because of starvation.

In a country that once was rich, but where people are beginning to starve, few animals are safe. One morning in August at the metropolitan zoo in the torrid city of Maracaibo, workers were shocked to find the bones of a buffalo and some wild pigs inside their cages with clear signs of mutilation. …In west Caracas, …the same sort of thing happened. Watchmen found the bones and offal of a black horse inside its enclosure. Apparently the perpetrators only took the edible parts of the animal.

Though the people eating zoo animals are the lucky ones.

Every Saturday, Natalí wakes up…dresses in a hurry and whenever she can she feeds something to her sons and daughters and tells them to wait patiently for her return. …Natalí takes a four-wheel-drive car, then a bus, and then the train from Antímano to municipal Coche Market in south Caracas where, for the last three and a half months, she has made her pilgrimage to dig through the garbage left by the vendors—trying to find a half-rotted vegetable, a piece of fruit, or, if luck is on her side, chicken skin to take back home and feed her children.

On November 19, a column in the Wall Street Journal points out that the misery is deliberate policy.

Venezuelan shortages of everything are widely acknowledged. But there is less recognition that strongman Nicolás Maduro is using control of food to stamp out opposition. Hyperinflation has shriveled household budgets and the government has taken over food production and distribution. Most damning is evidence that access to government rations has become conditional on Maduro’s good favor. The hardship is killing and deforming children. …some communities are experiencing undeniable “famine” and that in some parts of the country 50% of the children have left school because of hunger.

On December 14, USA Today looked at the people escaping Venezuelan tyranny.

Although Venezuelans for years have been fleeing the “socialist revolution” first launched by the late Hugo Chávez in 1999, in recent months the trickle has turned into a flood as living conditions become ever more dire — from hyperinflation to acute shortages of food and medicine to one of the worst homicide rates in the world. …In response to…the once-wealthy country’s seeming demise, …many exiles had fled to the United States, surging numbers, like the Sequieras, now head to other Latin American nations. …From Mexico to Argentina, immigration agencies are reporting skyrocketing numbers of Venezuelan arrivals, doubling and even tripling the total for previous years.

On December 17, the New York Times exposed the pervasive hunger and horror in Venezuela.

Kenyerber Aquino Merchán was 17 months old when he starved to death. …Hunger has stalked Venezuela for years. Now, it is killing the nation’s children at an alarming rate, doctors in the country’s public hospitals say. …Riots and protests over the lack of affordable food, excruciating long lines for basic provisions, soldiers posted outside bakeries and angry crowds ransacking grocery stores have rattled cities, providing a telling, public display of the depths of the crisis. But deaths from malnutrition have remained a closely guarded secret by the Venezuelan government. …doctors at 21 public hospitals in 17 states across the country said that their emergency rooms were being overwhelmed by children with severe malnutrition… Parents like Kenyerber’s mother go days without eating, shriveling to the weight of children themselves.

On December 18, we got the latest details on the victims of Venezuelan statism.

Joel Rodriguez, a one legged panhandler, bursts into tears as a young man dressed as Santa Claus gives him food and clothing — a rare scene of holiday cheer in economically-depressed Venezuela. “Sometimes we eat out of the garbage,” said Rodriguez… In a Caracas with no Christmas lights or decorations this year because of the economic crisis, …Venezuelans are enduring acute shortages of food and medicine, and inflation is forecast by the IMF to hit a staggering 2,349 percent in 2018. “…are you doing the Maduro diet?” people shouted… They were using a popular expression used to refer to President Nicolas Maduro and people who have lost weight because of the hard economic times. This is so common it has been documented by Venezuelan universities.

Now that we’ve caught up with the calendar, let’s return the economic freedom scores from the Fraser Institute.

We started today’s column looking at Venezuela’s amazing (in a bad way) loss of overall economic liberty since 1970. Now let’s look at the specific issue of monetary policy. The country has gone from an almost-perfect score to the world’s most abysmal rating.

When I look at that data, it makes me glad that at least some Venezuelans are able to protect themselves with either offshore bank accounts or bitcoin.

And it makes me grateful to be in the United States. In my video on the history of central banking, I groused that the dollar has lost 95 percent of its value since the Federal Reserve was created in 1913. But that’s a heck of a lot better than losing 95 percent its value every year, which seems to be what’s happening in Venezuela.

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One of my specialty pages deals with the unfortunate nexus between sex and government. You can find columns about taxes and sex, Obamacare and sex, and licensing and sex.

My new addition to that collection involves the venal government of Venezuela.

Here’s a story from the Washington Post that will forever symbolize the utter failure of statism. It seems that big government can even ruin sex.

In a country beset by shortages, this is one of the most difficult: the disappearance of contraceptives. When she couldn’t renew her supply of birth-control pills, Gutierrez and her husband…tried to be careful, but soon she was pregnant with her second child. “We barely eat three times a day now,” said a distraught Gutierrez, a former hair washer in a beauty salon who lost her job because of the economic crisis. “I don’t know how we’re going to feed another mouth.” In Venezuela, …nearly two decades of socialist policies…has sparked a severe recession and one of the world’s highest inflation rates. People often wait hours in line to buy bread. Prices for staples jump almost by the day. Medical short­ages range from antibiotics to cancer drugs.

Socialism is infamous for creating shortages of critical things like food and important things like toilet paper.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that it produces shortages of birth control. With grim consequences.

Venezuelan doctors are reporting spikes in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases that are adding to the country’s deepening misery. …media outlets have published articles about the “counting method” of contraception that women can use to calculate when they are ovulating and likely to get pregnant. An article on the Venezuelan website Cactus24 offered “15 home remedies to avoid pregnancy,” including eating papaya twice a day and drinking two cups of tea with ginger. …Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have become informal exchanges for the purchase or trading of birth-control pills, intrauterine devices and implants — albeit at black-market ­prices.  Other women beg friends and relations to bring them contraceptives from outside Venezuela.

There is a black market, which helps a few people, but that option is prohibitively expensive given the horrific state of the Venezuelan economy.

…a female customer in her 20s looking for pills was told, “We only have the imported ones” — implying they would be sold at a black-market rate. The manager offered her a single pack of 21 pills for 120,000 bolívares. That’s about $3, equal to one-third of Venezuela’s monthly minimum wage. …condoms, meanwhile, have disappeared from store shelves. But the cheaper brands taking their place are still imported, and therefore still unaffordable for many. A three-pack can now cost several days’ minimum-wage pay.

By the way, I hope this next anecdote about condoms doesn’t mean what I think it means.

…said Juan Noguera, 28, an unemployed economic researcher…“we just share them between friends. This is the sharing economy.”

For what it’s worth, I’ve always though recycling was overrated.

That being said, a shared condom may be better than nothing.

…the gynecologist from Caracas University Hospital, said the number of patients with STDs she is seeing has soared. “In my private practice, out of every 10 patients, five or six now have an STD,” she said. “Two years ago it was just two or three.” Making matters worse, drug shortages are so severe that doctors often lack what they need to treat patients with STDs. “Something as simple as penicillin — the cheapest antibiotic in the world — can’t be found in the country,” said Moraima Hernández, an epidemiologist at Concepción Palacios Maternity Hospital.

Unsurprisingly, government officials have no defense of the terrible situation.

Officials at Venezuela’s Health Ministry did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.

I’d be curious, however, to see comments from pro-Venezuelan leftists in America. Do Bernie Sanders and Joe Stiglitz still think Venezuela is a praiseworthy role model?

I remarked last year that Venezuela was entering the fourth circle of statist hell. Why don’t we stipulate that the country in now fully and (un)comfortably ensconced in that grim position. Who knows, maybe it can join North Korea in the fifth circle if Maduro clings to power a few more years.

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Back in 2015, I mocked Venezuelan socialism because it led to shortages of just about every product. Including toilet paper.

But maybe that doesn’t matter. After all, if people don’t have anything to eat, they probably don’t have much need to visit the bathroom.

The Washington Post reports that farmers are producing less and less food because of government intervention, even though the nation is filled with hungry people.

Venezuela, whose economy operates on its own special plane of dysfunction. At a time of empty supermarkets and spreading hunger, the country’s farms are producing less and less, not more, making the caloric deficit even worse. Drive around the countryside outside the capital, Caracas, and there’s everything a farmer needs: fertile land, water, sunshine and gasoline at 4 cents a gallon, cheapest in the world. Yet somehow families here are just as scrawny-looking as the city-dwelling Venezuelans waiting in bread lines or picking through garbage for scraps. …“Last year I had 200,000 hens,” said Saulo Escobar, who runs a poultry and hog farm here in the state of Aragua, an hour outside Caracas. “Now I have 70,000.” Several of his cavernous henhouses sit empty because, Escobar said, he can’t afford to buy more chicks or feed. Government price controls have made his business unprofitable…the country is facing a dietary calamity. With medicines scarce and malnutrition cases soaring, more than 11,000 babies died last year, sending the infant mortality rate up 30 percent, according to Venezuela’s Health Ministry. …Child hunger in parts of Venezuela is a “humanitarian crisis,” according to a new report by the Catholic relief organization Caritas, which found 11.4 percent of children under age 5 suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition… In a recent survey of 6,500 Venezuelan families by the country’s leading universities, three-quarters of adults said they lost weight in 2016 — an average of 19 pounds. This collective emaciation is referred to dryly here as “the Maduro diet,” but it’s a level of hunger almost unheard-of… Venezuela’s disaster is man-made, economists point out — the result of farm nationalizations, currency distortions and a government takeover of food distribution. …The price controls have become a powerful disincentive in rural Venezuela. “There are no profits, so we produce at a loss,” said one dairy farmer.

Here’s where we get to the economics lesson. When producers aren’t allowed to profit, they don’t produce.

And when we’re looking at the production of food, that means hungry people.

Even the left-wing Guardian in the U.K. has noticed.

Hunger is gnawing at Venezuela, where a government that claims to rule for the poorest has left most of its 31 million people short of food, many desperately so. …Adriana Velásquez gets ready for work, heading out into an uncertain darkness as she has done since hunger forced her into the only job she could find at 14. She was introduced to her brothel madam by a friend more than two years ago after her mother, a single parent, was fired and the two ran out of food. “It was really hard, but we were going to bed without eating,” said the teenager, whose name has been changed to protect her. …Venezuela’s crisis has deepened, the number of women working at the brothel has doubled, and their ages have dropped. “I was the youngest when I started. Now there are girls who are 12 or 13. Almost all of us are there because of the crisis, because of hunger.” She earns 400,000 bolivares a month, around four times the minimum wage, but at a time of hyperinflation that is now worth about $30, barely enough to feed herself, her mother and a new baby brother.

This is truly sad.

Our leftist friends like to concoct far-fetched theories of how prostitution is enabled by everything from low taxes to global warming.

In the real world, however, socialism drives teenage girls (or even younger) to work in brothels.

That’s such a depressing thought that let’s shift the topic back to hunger and toilet paper.

Especially since Venezuela’s dictator is bragging that the nation’s toilet paper shortage has been solved!

This is definitely a dark version of satire.

But Venezuela is such a mess that it’s hard to know where to draw the line between mockery and reality.

For instance, here’s another “benefit” of limited food. If you don’t eat, it’s not as necessary to brush your teeth.

And is the socialist paradise of Venezuela, that makes a virtue out of necessity since – surprise – there’s a shortage of toothpaste.

The Washington Post has the grim details.

Ana Margarita Rangel…spends everything she earns to fend off hunger. Her shoes are tattered and torn, but she cannot afford new ones. A tube of toothpaste costs half a week’s wages. “I’ve always loved brushing my teeth before going to sleep. I mean, that’s the rule, right?” said Rangel, …“Now I have to choose,” she said. “So I do it only in the mornings.” …The government sets price caps on some basic food items, such as pasta, rice and flour. …those items can usually be obtained only by standing in lines for hours or by signing up to receive a subsidized monthly grocery box from the government… Since 2014, the proportion of Venezuelan families in poverty has soared from 48 percent to 82 percent… Fifty-two percent of families live in extreme poverty, according to the survey, and about 31 percent survive on two meals per day at most.

Isn’t socialism wonderful! You have the luxury of choosing between two meals a day, or one meal a day plus toothpaste!

By the way, the central planners have a plan.

Though it won’t make Bugs Bunny happy.

Rabbit is now on the menu! Here are some excerpts from a CNN report.

Let them eat rabbits. That was basically the message from President Nicolas Maduro to Venezuelans starving and struggling through severe food shortages… The Venezuelan leaders…recommend that people raise rabbits at home as a source of food. …The agriculture minister argued that rabbits easily reproduce and are a source of protein. He also recommended citizens consider raising and growing other animals and vegetables at home. It’s just the latest attempt to try and solve the food shortage problem. The government forces citizens to pick up groceries on certain days of the week depending on social security numbers.

Gee, isn’t this wonderful. The government cripples markets so they can’t function and then advocates people live like medieval peasants.

Maybe there should be price controls on clothing, along with having the government in charge of distribution. That will wreck that market as well, so people can make their own clothes out of rabbit pelts.

I wonder whether a certain American lawmaker is rethinking his praise of Venezuelan economic policy?

Based on what he said as recently as last year, the answer is no.

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Nations usually don’t suffer overnight economic collapse. Indeed, Adam Smith was right about the ability of a country to survive and withstand lots of bad public policy.

But at some point, as a nation gravitates in the wrong direction on the statism spectrum, it goes from prosperity to stagnation to decline.

Which is sort of what happened in Argentina because of Peronism (though Pope Francis learned the wrong lesson from his country’s big mistake).

But Venezuela is even worse. It’s going from prosperity to stagnation to decline to collapse.

In a must-read article for the Mises Institute, explains how cronyism and redistributionism helped to sap Venezuela’s economy way before Chavez and Maduro made a bad situation far worse.

While Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro deserve the brunt of the blame for Venezuela’s current economic calamity, the underlying flaws of Venezuela’s political economy point to much more systemic problems. …Years of gradual economic interventionism took what was once a country bound to join the ranks of the First World to a middle-tier developing country. This steady decline eventually created an environment where a demagogue like Chávez would completely exploit for his political gain.

But it wasn’t always this way. Indeed, Venezuela at one point was market-oriented and prosperous.

From the 1910s to the 1930s, the much-maligned dictator Juan Vicente Gómez…modernized an otherwise neocolonial backwater by allowing market actors, domestic and foreign, to freely exploit newly discovered oil deposits. Venezuela would experience substantial economic growth and quickly establish itself as one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries by the 1950s. In the 1950s, General Marcos Pérez Jiménez would continue Gómez’s legacy. At this juncture, Venezuela was at its peak, with a fourth place ranking in terms of per capita GDP worldwide. …A combination of a relatively free economy, an immigration system that attracted and assimilated laborers from Italy, Portugal, and Spain, and a system of strong property rights, allowed Venezuela to experience unprecedented levels of economic development from the 1940s up until the 1970s.

But the seeds of economic decline were planted during this time.

Pérez Jiménez did introduce some elements of crony capitalism, pharaonic public works projects, and increased state involvement in “strategic industries” like the steel industry. …social democrat political leader Rómulo Betancourt would…assume the presidency from 1959 to 1964. The Fourth Republic of Venezuela — Venezuela’s longest lasting period of democratic rule, was established… Venezuela’s Fourth Republic marked the beginning of a process of creeping socialism that gradually whittled away at Venezuela’s economic and institutional foundations. …Betancourt still believed in a very activist role for the State in economic matters. Betancourt was part of a generation of intellectuals and student activists that aimed to fully nationalize Venezuela’s petroleum sector and use petroleum rents to establish a welfare state… At its core, this vision of economic organization assumed that the government must manage the economy through central planning.

And policy went further left in the 1970s. And beyond.

in 1975, …Carlos Andrés Pérez’s government nationalized the petroleum sector. The nationalization of Venezuela’s oil industry fundamentally altered the nature of the Venezuelan state. Venezuela morphed into a petrostate, in which the concept of the consent of the governed was effectively turned on its head. Instead of Venezuelans paying taxes to the government in exchange for the protection of property and similar freedoms, the Venezuelan state would play a patrimonial role by bribing its citizens with all sorts of handouts to maintain its dominion over them. …Pérez would take advantage of this state power-grab to finance a profligate welfare state and a cornucopia of social welfare programs… Venezuela’s economy became overwhelmingly politicized. …the nationalization of the petroleum industry…laid the groundwork for institutional decay that would clearly manifest itself during the 80s and 90s.

Jose’s article is a valuable contribution to the discussion.

Indeed, if you peruse the historical data at Economic Freedom of the World, you’ll find that Venezuela enjoyed a high degree of economic freedom at late as the early 1970s.

And it’s no coincidence that Venezuela was much richer than its neighbors  at the time.

But bad policy has caused economic decline, and bad policy has accelerated as the country has shifted from cronyism and vote buying to explicit socialism (otherwise known as entering the fourth circle of statist hell).

Let’s look at what big government has produced in Venezuela.

An article in Foreign Policy sees parallels in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of Venezuela.

Venezuela is not the first developed country to put itself on track to fall into a catastrophic economic crisis. But it is in the relatively unusual situation of having done so while in possession of enormous oil assets. …the Soviet Union’s similar devastation in the late 1980s…may be instructive for Venezuela… The Venezuelan government, though it doesn’t claim to be full-fledged in its devotion to Marxism-Leninism, has been pursuing as absurd an economic policy mix as its Soviet predecessor. It has insisted for years on maintaining drastic price controls… the government financed the budget deficit by printing money. The inevitable result was skyrocketing inflation. …The collapse of the Maduro regime will not be pretty, but it is difficult to see how it can be avoided.

Hopefully, the collapse will happen quickly.

A thoroughly depressing story in the Wall Street Journal reveals the suffering of the country’s poor people.

Jean Pierre Planchart, a year old, has…a cry that is little more than a whimper. His ribs show through his skin. He weighs just 11 pounds. His mother, Maria Planchart, tried to feed him what she could find combing through the trash—scraps of chicken or potato. She finally took him to a hospital in Caracas, where she prays a rice-milk concoction keeps her son alive. …Her country was once Latin America’s richest, producing food for export. Venezuela now can’t grow enough to feed its own people in an economy hobbled by the nationalization of private farms, and price and currency controls. …Venezuela has the world’s highest inflation—estimated by the International Monetary Fund to reach 720% this year—making it nearly impossible for families to make ends meet. Since 2013, the economy has shrunk 27%… Hordes of people, many with children in tow, rummage through garbage… People in the countryside pick farms clean at night, stealing everything from fruits hanging on trees to pumpkins on the ground, adding to the misery of farmers hurt by shortages of seed and fertilizer. Looters target food stores. Families padlock their refrigerators. …Dr. Machado and her team of doctors are seeing a dramatic increase in emaciated infants brought to the Domingo Luciani Hospital in Caracas, where they work. …The most recent Caritas study of 800 children under the age of 5 in Yare and three other communities showed that in February nearly 11% suffered from severe acute malnutrition, which is potentially fatal…nearly a fifth of children under age 5 in those four communities suffered from chronic malnutrition. …Nearly a third of Venezuelans, 9.6 million people, eat two or fewer meals a day…four of out five in the nation are now poor.

But not everyone is suffering, reports the U.K.-based Times.

Ministers in President Maduro’s government have been accused of hypocrisy by Venezuelans struggling to feed themselves after it emerged that many children and cronies of senior officials are living abroad in luxury. …The scandal has been likened to that of the “princelings” in China — the sons and daughters of Communist Party officials who have been exposed as leading lavish capitalist lifestyles. The recent series of outings of the children of Maduro’s inner circle began with the case of Lucía Rodríguez, daughter of Jorge Rodríguez, the hard-left mayor of Caracas, and niece of Delcy Rodríguez, the foreign minister. Both politicians routinely describe the opposition in Venezuela as the “bourgeoisie”. After Ms Rodríguez began posting images of her own bourgeois life in Sydney, where she is enrolled in a media studies course at the private SAE university, she was tracked down by an opposition activist to Bondi Beach, where she was photographed surfing and sipping cocktails. …Rumours have long surrounded the suspiciously lavish lifestyles of two of the daughters of Mr Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez. María Gabriela Chávez, the late president’s elder daughter, is the deputy ambassador to the United Nations. Opposition MPs claim that she is a billionaire. She has been likened to the socialite Paris Hilton… Many families linked to the Maduro government and former officials have moved to America, despite it being denounced as the evil “imperio” by the president.

While the socialist elite enjoy luxury, unimaginable misery spreads across Venezuela.

Thousands of babies died in Venezuela last year, new official data show, highlighting the tragic impact of the country’s economic crisis… The health ministry said deaths of infants under the age of one soared by 30 percent in 2016, a year when hospitals and protesters complained of severe  shortages of medical supplies. Deaths of mothers linked to childbirth soared by two-thirds meanwhile, according to the data published by the ministry — the latest such figures since 2015. …The Venezuelan Medical Federation says hospitals have only three percent of the medicines and supplies that they need to operate normally.

Given these horrifying and outrageous stories, is anyone surprised that this is happening?

There has been violence and widespread looting this week in Valencia, a once bustling industrial hub two hours from the capital by road. In an incident loaded with symbolism, a group of young men destroyed a statue of the late leader Hugo Chávez… Footage shows the statue, which depicts Chávez saluting and wearing a sash, being yanked down to cheers in a public plaza before it is bashed into a sidewalk and then the road as onlookers swear at the leftist, who died in 2013… “Students destroyed this statue of Chávez. They accuse him, correctly, of destroying their future,” the opposition lawmaker Carlos Valero said about the incident… Venezuela’s opposition…now enjoys majority support… Polls show the ruling Socialists would badly lose any conventional vote due to four years of economic crisis that has led to debilitating food and medicine shortages.

Or this?

Eugenio Vásquez Orellana, who was former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s minister of public banking, probably shouldn’t have gone to a Venezuelan bakery in Miami, Florida. Shouts of “thief” and “rat” rang out as the crowd realized who this man was.

He should be grateful that he wasn’t tarred and feathered. Or worse.

Let’s review some additional examples of Venezuela’s misery.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the plight of  low-level government security officials.

Ana, a five-year veteran of the national police, …and her colleagues use tear gas and rubber bullets against increasingly desperate protesters armed with stones, Molotov cocktails and even bags of feces. The showdowns take place in scorching heat, and she says the authorities provide her with no food, water or overtime pay. …She and many of her exhausted colleagues say they are wavering as protests enter a seventh week with no end in sight. “One day I will step aside and just walk away, blend into the city,” she said. “No average officers support this government anymore.” …loyalty…has largely given way to demoralization, exhaustion and apathy amid an economic collapse and endless protests, said eight security officers from different forces and locations… Most of them say they want only to earn a steady wage amid crippling food shortages and a decimated private sector. Others say fear of a court-martial keeps them in line.

While I feel some empathy for poorly paid cops, who are doing bad things but mostly trying to keep their jobs, I have zero sympathy for these elites who merely want to wind up on the winning side.

…as Venezuela sinks into chaos, with clashes between protesters and the police escalating, why have its powerful political and military elites stuck by President Nicolás Maduro? …Demonstrators have overwhelmed city streets, so far undeterred by a police crackdown in which hundreds have been arrested and dozens killed. The violence deepens a monthslong crisis marked by food shortages, economic collapse and Mr. Maduro’s fumbling attempts to consolidate authority. In quasi-democratic systems like Venezuela’s, such pressures have often led elites to force a change, and have provided them an excuse to do so. …splits are beginning to emerge, as a few figures in major institutions signal opposition to Mr. Maduro, hinting at growing dissatisfaction and the government’s inability to silence it. Recent actions by both elites and the government suggest they take the possibility of fracture seriously — maneuvering in a high-stakes contest… Elite fracture operates as a kind of game… Stay loyal to a failing government too long and you risk going down with it. But if you break with the government and others don’t, you’ll pay a high price for disloyalty. …Mr. Maduro can also play this game. He has enabled loyalists to profit from corruption and patronage, giving them a financial stake in the government’s survival. …Drug and food smuggling also generate revenue, including for the military. But as the economy worsens, elites compete over a smaller pie. “When elites begin to compete among themselves, usually somebody defects,” Mr. Levitsky said

Which suggests – fingers crossed – that the regime may soon collapse.

In our 2017 forecast, we predicted that Venezuela’s government would not survive the year. …nationwide protests that seemed to be reaching a critical point, and the problem has not subsided. For more than a month now, large-scale protests against the government have taken place across the country nearly every day. The death toll continues to rise as protests show no sign of stopping. …foreign intervention either in support of the government or of the opposition is not a viable way to end this crisis. …International organizations could also intervene, but they lack the capability or political will to do so. …Without foreign support, the opposition will need to rely heavily on public protests to increase pressure on the Maduro government. …So far, Maduro has resisted resignation and a negotiated exit from power, believing he can withstand the protests against him. …If the military and other security forces can no longer keep the protests in check, it will be a game changer for the Maduro government.

Shifting from news reports to opinion journalism, Kevin Williamson of National Review shares his thoughts.

People are starving in Venezuela. That, too, is familiar enough to students of the history of socialism. The Ukrainian language contains a neologism—holodomor—necessitated by the fact that the socialist rulers of that country used agricultural policy to murder by starvation between 2 million and 5 million people who were guilty of the crime of resisting the socialists’ agricultural policy. In the 1990s, famine killed something on the order of 10 percent of the population of North Korea, where people were reduced to cannibalism. A recent study found that the average Venezuelan has lost nearly 20 pounds in the past year as food supplies dwindle. …Hayek and his colleagues in what has become known as the Austrian school of economics, …believed that the central-planning aspirations of the socialists were not simply inefficient or unworkable but impossible to execute, even in principle… Hayek believed that efforts to impose central planning on economies were doomed to fail, and that this failure would not be met with humility but with outrage. …which leads to outright political repression, scapegoating, and violence. …there is something about socialism itself that throws up monsters.

Having endured all these depressing snippets of information (as well as the 28 horrifying headlines I shared last month), your reward is some dark humor.

In a video for Reason, Remy promotes the highly successful Venezuela Diet.

Let’s close with a different type of humor.

It’s time to mock the leftists who went on record in favor of Venezuela’s totalitarian regime.

Recent figures show that a majority of Venezuelans go to bed hungry and 15 percent of people eat garbage to survive. The country desperately lacks basic resources, such as medicine and power. …Venezuela’s problems date back to 1999, with the election of socialist president Hugo Chávez, whose mass redistribution of wealth and financial mismanagement laid the groundwork for the country’s economic collapse. …Chávez’s regime received plaudits from numerous left-wing academics, politicians, and celebrities who have now gone quiet.

Here are a few examples.

  • The darling of the left, retired MIT professor Noam Chomsky was a supporter of Chávez’s Venezuela and his anti-Americanism, arguing that he brought forward the “historic liberation of Latin America” proving “destructive to the rich oligarchy.”

  • Actor Sean Penn met with Hugo Chavez on numerous occasions, describing him as a “fascinating guy” who did “incredible things for the 80% of the people that are very poor there.”

  • Film director Oliver Stone was such a fan of Chávez and the rise Latin American socialism that he made a film about it, entitled South of the BorderIn the film, he conducted interviews with the continent’s left-wing leaders, including Chávez, Cuba’s Raúl Castro, Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

  • Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson…said there was no evidence that Venezuela posed a threat to the United States, while praising Chávez for his “focus on foreign debt, debt relief, and free and fair trade to overcome years of structural disorder, unnecessary military spending, [and] land reform.” After Chávez’s death, Jackson also offered a prayer at his funeral while celebrating his socialist legacy.

  • …filmmaker Michael Moore…, after Chávez’s death, …praised him for “eliminating 75 percent of extreme poverty” while “[providing] free health and education for all.”

  • The leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, …thanked Chávez for allegedly insuring “that the poor matter and wealth can be shared,” adding he had made “massive contributions to Venezuela and the world.”

  • The economist Joseph Stiglitz, a recipient of a Nobel Laureate, praised Hugo Chávez’s socialist policies whilst on a visit to Caracas in 2007. Speaking at a World Economic Forum, Stiglitz said: “Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appears to have had success in bringing health and education to the people in the poor neighbourhoods of Caracas.”

And speaking of cosseted left-wing elites, does anyone think Bernie Sanders feels remorse for his support of Venezuela’s evil government? If this interview is any indication, the answer is no.

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I wrote last year that Venezuela was entering the “fourth circle of statist hell.”

How else, after all, can you describe a government that is so venal and incompetent that it resorts to confiscating toys in an effort to strengthen its hold on power?

I also wrote last year that Atlas was “shrugging” in Venezuela.

But shrugging may soon turn to shrugged. It’s hard to see how Maduro’s despotic regime can hold power much longer. Consider this collection of horrifying stories.

The Washington Post reported:

With inflation spiraling out of control, food and medicine supplies dwindling and violent crimes on the rise, women as young as 27 are seeking out surgeons to avoid unwanted pregnancies. A study by PLAFAM, the biggest family planning clinic in the country, estimates that about 23 percent more Venezuelan women are being sterilized today as compared to four years ago, said the clinic’s director, Enrique Abache. “The financial crisis is one of the main causes for this,” he explained. Years of government mismanagement have fueled what is now a full-blown humanitarian crisis in a country where infant mortality has almost doubled in recent years. …mothers often spend whole days searching for milk powder or diapers. Those who can’t find them are simply forced to go without.

From a story in CapX:

How serious is Venezuela’s crisis? Bad enough that, in 2016, Venezuelans became the top US asylum-seekers… Venezuelan asylum claims increased by 150 per cent from 2015 to 2016.The Conversation Though Venezuela does not publicly circulate emigration information, estimates suggest that between 700,000 and two million Venezuelans have emigrated since 1999. …Sometimes, from here, it can seem as though the entire population – fed up with shortages of medicine and food, with crime and with the political trajectory of the nation – wants to leave.

Some grim news from the Japan Times:

Julio Noguera…spends his evenings searching through the garbage for food. “I come here looking for food because if I didn’t, I’d starve to death,” Noguera said as he sorted through a pile of moldy potatoes. “With things like they are, no one helps anyone and no one gives away meals.” Across town, unemployed people converge every dusk at a trash heap on a downtown Caracas sidewalk to pick through rotten fruit and vegetables tossed out by nearby shops. They are frequently joined by small business owners, college students and pensioners — people who consider themselves middle class even though their living standards have long ago been pulverized by triple-digit inflation, food shortages and a collapsing currency. …Nearly half of Venezuelans say they can no longer afford to eat three meals a day, according to a recent poll.

The Wall Street Journal opines:

cities around the country…have been hit hard by police, national guard troops and the regime’s paramilitary forces as the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro tries to contain a wildfire of rebellion. …The government is running out of money to buy imports, and since it has crippled domestic production, privation is growing more profound. …Roving bands of government-sponsored militias terrorize civil society as they have for more than a decade. …a 16-year-old girl politely informed Mr. Maduro that students in her school often faint from hunger. …Mr. Maduro was pelted with stones as he left a military rally in Bolívar state… Meanwhile, Mr. Maduro is doubling down on centralized control of a shrinking food supply. …Those who do not support the regime can be cut off.

The thuggery will worsen according to the Washington Free Beacon:

The socialist leader of Venezuela announced in a speech to regime loyalists his plan to arm hundreds of thousands of supporters after a years-long campaign to confiscate civilian-owned guns. …The Venezuelan government justified the gun bans and confiscations by saying they were needed to combat the country’s violent crime and murder epidemic. However, statistics reported by the nonprofit Venezuelan Violence Observatory show the murder rate in Venezuela increased from 73 murders per 100,000 inhabitants the year the gun ban was instituted to 91.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016. …As protests and unrest increase in Venezuela, Maduro’s regime has created a landscape where civilians are disarmed but his supporters are not. The latest round of mass demonstrations in the streets of Caracas have already claimed five lives.

Even zoo animals are suffering, as reported by the Miami Herald:

An apparently malnourished African elephant in a Venezuelan zoo — her ribs showing through her sagging skin — has become the latest symbol the deep economic crisis in what was once one of Latin America’s most prosperous nations. …Ruperta is suffering from diarrhea and dehydration after zoo officials only had squash to feed her for several days. According to the newspaper, when neighbors tried to bring food to the elephant over the weekend, the donations were turned away by zoo officials… in a nation where a grinding economic crisis is forcing many to skip meals and go hungry, Ruperta’s fate has touched a nerve. …Román Camacho, a local reporter who broke the story, said a whistle-blower within the park service alerted him that Ruperta had grown so hungry that she collapsed last Thursday. …Also last year, a horse at a local zoo was reportedly butchered by hungry Venezuelans.

The New York Times has noticed:

Venezuela was once one of Latin America’s economic powerhouses… A growing number of Venezuelans are going hungry in a food shortage, and dying from treatable ailments in squalid, ill-equipped hospitals. …Until political prisoners are released, the prospects for a restoration of democratic rule are very dim. …Inflation has soared to an estimated 700 percent, while people in this oil-rich nation are left digging through piles of trash for scraps of food.

Productive people are escaping, Bloomberg reports:

For Venezuelan exiles with money, Madrid has become a home away from home. They are increasingly turning to the Spanish capital as a place to invest as their home country falls further into economic chaos and the political mood turns more sour in U.S. havens such as Miami. The number of Venezuelans arriving in Spain rose more than 50 percent in 2015, according to the Spanish statistics office.

The monetary system is also a disaster reports the New York Times:

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela made a baffling announcement…, saying that his government intended to yank the 100 bolívar note from circulation… Venezuelans, who have endured months of chronic food and medicine shortages, mobbed banks and A.T.M.s in a desperate attempt to offload their stacks of the highest denomination bill, which has become so devalued it is now worth roughly 3 cents in American dollars. …the Maduro government…has spent years…imposing arbitrary currency controls that have made a once prosperous economy one of the world’s most dysfunctional. …Venezuela was expelled from the regional trade bloc Mercosur in early December.

The outflow of people is staggering according to Fox:

Along with basic food, medicine and even toilet paper, Venezuela now lacks the materials to meet to the soaring demand for new passports – making it almost impossible for those few Venezuelans with the monetary means of escaping the troubled Latin American nation to do so. While estimates of how many passport requests the socialist government received last year vary from between 1.8 million to 3 million, only 300,000 of the elusive documents were doled out. Everyday, hundreds of people line up outside the passport agency, known as Saime, in the capital of Caracas in the hopes of obtaining one. It’s an ironic, and yet sad situation, for a country that used to be one of Latin America’s wealthiest and one that was used to seeing people flock to, not away from. …Adding to the overall misery are a drastic rise in violent crime – especially in the capital city of Caracas – rolling blackouts and widespread and often times bloody protests against the government. …since Chávez took power in 1999 nearly 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country and hundreds of thousands are marking their time until they obtains the funds and the passport that will allow them to leave.

Government insiders are getting rich, as noted by the New York Post:

Venezuela is no longer a country with a government, institutions and a civil society. It’s a geographic area terrorized by a criminal enterprise that pretends to govern, with a civil society made up of two sets of people: accomplices and victims. More than 30 million of the latter. …The Hugo Chavez-led looting spree began in 2000. …More than $1 trillion has disappeared… Loving parents are putting their children up for adoption because they have nothing to feed them; the elderly are starving; patients with treatable conditions are dying in hospitals that lack basic medicine like insulin and oxygen, where vital equipment has been pilfered and emergency rooms operate without electricity. …Meanwhile, those in power can focus on what they do best: looting the country’s natural-resource wealth and manufacturing and trafficking illegal narcotics. In fact, Maduro just upped his game by appointing Tareck el-Aissami, a drug kingpin, as vice president.

CNN shares some bad news:

Venezuela only has $10.5 billion in foreign reserves left, according to its most recent central bank data. For rest of the year, Venezuela owes roughly $7.2 billion in outstanding debt payments. In 2011, Venezuela had roughly $30 billion in reserves. In 2015, it had $20 billion. The trend can’t persist much longer, but it’s hard to know exactly when Venezuela will run completely out of cash. …The thinning reserves paint a scary financial picture as the country faces a humanitarian crisis sparked by an economic meltdown. Venezuelans are suffering massive food and medical shortages, as well as skyrocketing grocery prices. Massive government overspending, a crashing currency, mismanagement of the country’s infrastructure and corruption are all factors that have sparked extremely high inflation in Venezuela. Inflation is expected to rise 1,660% this year and 2,880% in 2018, according to the IMF.

A dour column from Real Clear World:

Socialist economic policies and government corruption have destroyed a once-thriving economy sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves. …Index of Economic Freedom…looks at the economic freedom of countries throughout the world. In that period of time, Venezuela’s score has declined the most out of any country, going from 59.8 to 27.0 (on a scale of 1-100). It is now in second-to-last place, right behind Cuba and better only than North Korea. …The World Health Organization estimates that there are shortages for 75 percent of necessary medications and medical supplies such as antibiotics, vaccines, and scalpels. Blackouts resulting from a crumbling energy infrastructure are a daily occurrence. The death of newborns has become a common phenomenon… All the while, Venezuelan government officials have been using oil revenues to line their own pockets.

The Washington Post opines on the disaster:

Venezuela, which was once Latin America’s richest country, has become an unwilling test site for how much economic and social stress a modern nation can tolerate before it descends into pure anarchy. …Venezuelans have struggled with mounting shortages of food, medicine and other consumer goods, as well as triple-digit inflation that has rendered the national currency, the bolivar, worthless. … President Nicolás Maduro, an economically illiterate former bus driver, …also closed Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil, on the theory that traders were hoarding currency in those countries. …the president is doing his best to blame the United States for the fiasco… Venezuelans no longer believe such nonsense. A survey released this month by pollster Alfredo Keller showed that only 1 percent said the United States was to blame for the country’s crisis, while 76 percent blamed Mr. Maduro and the regime founded by Hugo Chávez. …Only 19 percent said they still supported the regime.

Investor’s Business Daily piles on:

Want to lose weight fast? …Just move to Venezuela. There, the new Socialist Diet has caused the population to lose millions of pounds in 12 months. Unwillingly, of course. …A new study of Venezuela’s stunning decline under Hugo Chavez’s socialist model…reports that the average Venezuelan lost 19 pounds in the last year. Today, the 2016 Living Conditions Survey finds, 32.5% of Venezuelans eat only once or twice a day, up from 11.3% just one year ago. And 93.3% of all people don’t earn enough to buy sufficient food. …Bring socialism to your country, and you bring misery. It’s the one thing that socialism produces an abundance of. …formerly middle-class Venezuelans scavenge for food — some even stooping to dumpster diving and eating formerly beloved pets just to stay alive — socialists allied with Maduro have changed nothing. …rule of law has been rejected for the rule of one tyrant. Children aren’t spared; they’re dying by the hundreds from curable diseases, a lack of medicine, electricity outages and no incubators for newborns.

Some heartbreak from the New York Times:

Kevin Lara Lugo…died on his 16th birthday.He spent the day before foraging for food in an empty lot, because there was nothing to eat at home. Then in a hospital because what he found made him gravely ill.Hours later, he was dead on a gurney, which doctors rolled by his mother as she watched helplessly. She said the hospital had lacked the simplest supplies needed to save him on that day last July. … Inflation has driven office workers to abandon the cities and head to illegal pit mines in the jungle, willing to subject themselves to armed gangs and multiple bouts of malaria for the chance to earn a living. Doctors have prepared to operate on bloody tables because they did not have enough water to clean them. Psychiatric patients have had to be tied to chairs in mental hospitals because there was no medication left to treat their delusions. Hunger has driven some people to riot — and others into rickety fishing boats, fleeing Venezuela on reckless journeys by sea. But it was the story of a boy with no food, who had gone searching for wild roots to eat but ended up poisoning himself instead, that seemed to embody everything that had gone wrong in Venezuela.

Peak socialism, as reported by Foreign Policy:

A fleet of rundown Venezuelan oil tankers carrying some 4 million barrels of oil and other fuels is wallowing in the Caribbean Sea. Not because of bad weather, or mechanical problems, but because Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA, doesn’t have the cash to get them to their final destinations. …it’s doubly bad news for Venezuela, a country in dire economic straits and full-fledged crisis, with a political impasse, looting, dangerous food and health supply shortages, and massive protests. Venezuela is massively reliant on oil exports to bankroll government services. But the cash-strapped country can’t even find the money to service the vessels that carry its exports. …Venezuela, once Latin America’s most powerful petrostate, is on the brink of collapse after decades of economic mismanagement.

More on insider corruption, exposed by the Washington Post:

Formerly a stable, sophisticated, middle-income country awash in oil wealth, Venezuela has experienced a dizzying downward spiral over the past two years. Today, Venezuela’s is arguably the world’s worst-run economy. Food shortages are pervasive, and food prices are rising fast — a deadly combination that has left millions unable to find enough to eat. …Why doesn’t the army rebel? …we have the genuinely shocking answer: Far from rebelling, Venezuela’s armed forces actively profit from their countrymen’s hunger.This year, President Nicolás Maduro granted the armed forces virtually unlimited authority over the nation’s food imports and distribution. Domestic food production is down sharply in the wake of a botched land reform program, meaning imports now account for most of the nation’s food. But putting the military in charge of this delicate domain has led to an explosion of corruption, as well-connected officers mercilessly prey on every part of the distribution chain, from the initial contracts and the foreign currency needed to fund them to storage, transportation and distribution. …A government that bills itself as radically pro-poor in fact drips with contempt for the poor.

More tragic sadness, this time from Reuters:

Struggling to feed herself and her seven children, Venezuelan mother Zulay Pulgar asked a neighbor in October to take over care of her six-year-old daughter, a victim of a pummeling economic crisis. …”It’s better that she has another family than go into prostitution, drugs or die of hunger,” the 43-year-old unemployed mother said… With average wages less than the equivalent of $50 a month at black market rates, three local councils and four national welfare groups all confirmed an increase in parents handing children over to the state, charities or friends and family. …the trend highlights Venezuela’s fraying social fabric and the heavy toll that a deep recession and soaring inflation are taking on the country with the world’s largest oil reserves. …most economists pin the responsibility on socialist policies introduced by former president Hugo Chavez, which his successor Nicolas Maduro has doubled down on… Two-thirds of 1,099 households with children in Caracas, ranging across social classes, said they were not eating enough in a survey released last week by children’s’ rights group… In some cases, parents are simply abandoning their kids. Last month, a baby boy was found inside a bag in a relatively wealthy area of Caracas and a malnourished one-year-old boy was found abandoned in a cardboard box in the eastern city of Ciudad Guayana, local media reported. …There are also more cases of children begging or prostituting themselves

Even Vox is aware of the problem:

…new data capturing the woes of the once well-heeled South American nation is shocking: According to new results from an annual national survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents reported losing an average of 19 pounds between 2015 and 2016. …Shortages of food, medicine, and many basic items abound in what was once the richest country in South America per capita in the 20th century. Malaria is ravaging a country that was the first in the world to eliminate the disease in its populated areas. Now there’s evidence that the economic chaos is translating into a malnutrition crisis… Alejandro Velasco, a scholar of Latin American history at New York University, believes Chávez’s model of socialism…”strangled the already meager productive apparatus of Venezuela,” he explained during an interview in January. …Chávez’s spending regime also left the country acutely vulnerable to emergency. Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Center for International Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School, notes…that Chávez’s government.. “over-spent and quintupled the public foreign debt.”

The Economist has given up on Venezuelan statism:

Every weekday morning, a queue of several dozen forlorn people forms outside the dingy headquarters of SAIME, Venezuela’s passport agency. As shortages and violence have made life in the country less bearable, more people are applying for passports so they can go somewhere else. …As desperation rises, so does the intransigence of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” regime, whose policies have ruined the economy and sabotaged democracy. The economy shrank by 18.6% last year, according to an estimate by the central bank, leaked this month to Reuters… Inflation was 800%. …In 2001 Venezuela was the richest country in South America; it is now among the poorest.

Venezuela is even begging at the UN according to the Associated Press:

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has asked the United Nations for “help” boosting medicine supplies as he struggles to combat crippling shortages. …acknowledging that Venezuela needs outside help is a telling sign of how far the nation sitting atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves has fallen under Maduro. …Venezuelans…have been suffering from widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation… OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro is pushing to expel Maduro’s government from the group for breaking the country’s democratic order and violating human rights. Maduro’s government disavowed a landslide loss to the opposition in legislative elections in 2015, and then suspended a recall campaign seeking to force him from office before the 2018 election.

Bloomberg notes that an oil-rich nation even has shortages of gas:

…drivers lined up at filling stations amid a worsening shortage of fuel. While Petroleos de Venezuela SA says the situation is normalizing and blamed the lines on transport delays, the opposition says the company has had to reduce costly fuel imports as it tries to preserve cash to pay its foreign debt. …As the company’s crumbling refineries fail to meet domestic demand, imports have become a financial burden because the country buys fuel abroad at market prices only to sell it for pennies per gallon at home. … “It’s unbelievable that this is happening in an oil producing country.” …The hunt for gasoline is just the latest headache for consumers after years of severe economic contraction and triple-digit inflation have produced shortages of everything from bread to antibiotics.

The Miami Herald reports the government is making it even harder for hungry people to get fed:

Facing a bread shortage that is spawning massive lines and souring the national mood, the Venezuelan government is responding this week by detaining bakers and seizing establishments. In a press release, the National Superintendent for the Defense of Socioeconomic Rights said it had charged four people and temporarily seized two bakeries as the socialist administration accused bakers of being part of a broad “economic war” aimed at destabilizing the country. …The government said bakeries are only allowed to produce French bread and white loaves, or pan canilla, with government-imported flour. …The notion that bread could become an issue in Venezuela is one more indictment of an economic system gone bust. The country boasts the world’s largest oil reserves but it has to import just about everything else. …President Nicolás Maduro launched “Plan 700” against what he called a “bread war,” ordering officials to do spot checks of bakeries nationwide.

And there’s always more bad policy, as Reuters reports:

Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro announced on Sunday a 50 percent hike in the minimum wage and pensions, the fifth increase over the last year… “In times of economic war and mafia attacks …we must protect employment and workers’ income,” added Maduro, who has now increased the minimum wage by a cumulative 322 percent since February 2016. …critics say his incompetence, and 17 years of failed socialist policies, are behind Venezuela’s economic mess. They say the constant minimum wage hikes symbolize Maduro’s policy failures… Venezuela’s inflation hit 181 percent in 2015, according to official data, though opponents say the true figure was higher. There is no official data for 2016, but…inflation was more than 500 percent in 2016, while the economy shrank 12 percent.

Which means, per the AP, more people want to leave:

Venezuelans for the first time led asylum requests to the United States as the country’s middle class fled the crashing, oil-dependent economy. Data from the U.S. government’s Citizenship and Immigration Services show that 18,155 Venezuelans submitted asylum requests last year, a 150 percent increase over 2015 and six times the level seen in 2014. …The vast majority leaving are middle-class Venezuelans who don’t qualify for refugee status reserved for those seeking to escape political persecution, according to Julio Henriquez, director of the Boston-based nonprofit Refugee Freedom Program, which has been drawing attention to the trend. “The pace at which requests are increasing is alarming,” said Henriquez, whose group obtained the still-unpublished data in a Feb. 8 meeting between U.S. officials and immigration lawyers.

And the government is engaged in more looting, MSN reports:

General Motors said it has been forced to stop operating in Venezuela on Wednesday after one of its plants was illegally seized by local authorities. The seizure, in the country’s industrial hub of Valencia, comes amid a deepening economic and political crisis that has sparked weeks of deadly street protests. …The auto giant did not provide any details about its plant being seized, other than saying it “was unexpectedly taken by authorities, preventing normal operations.” It said other assets, “such as vehicles,” had also been stripped from the site. …Venezuela’s car industry has been in freefall, hit by a lack of raw materials stemming from complex currency controls and stagnant local production, and many plants are barely producing at all. Venezuela’s government has taken over factories in the past. In 2014 the government announced the “temporary” takeover of two plants belonging to U.S. cleaning products maker Clorox Co.

Last but not least, here’s a column from the Week:

Venezuela cannot wake up from its socialist nightmare. …across the country, people are starving. Venezuela, a beautiful, oil-rich country, once one of the wealthiest nations in the Southern Hemisphere, is only sinking further into economic devastation and chaotic, corrupt authoritarianism. …Meanwhile, the economy keeps rotting. Venezuela has topped Bloomberg‘s Economic Misery Index, a benchmark whose title is self-explanatory, for three years running. The economy shrank by 18 percent last year, with unemployment at 25 percent, and inflation slated to be 750 percent this year and 2,000 percent the next…there are outbreaks of scabies, a disease easily prevented with basic hygienic practices; hospitals are running out of even basic drugs. Caracas is the murder capital of the world. Corruption has infected the country wholesale even as it has created a new class of kleptocratic oligarchs linked to the security services. …The whole of Venezuelan society is breaking down at a fundamental level. …It is truly heartbreaking. …And I blame socialism. …And now it’s Venezuelans, especially the poorest and more marginal among them, who are paying the price for this madness.

Let’s close with a video on the tragic situation in Venezuela.

I wonder if Bernie Sanders still thinks this is a system worth supporting?

P.S. I have to confess that this huge collection of 28 stories accumulated because I was dating someone who is a fervid supporter of Maduro’s government (a lovely but misguided lass), and I decided that it wouldn’t be very diplomatic for me to write about the mess in that country. Now that the relationship is over, there’s no downside if I vent my spleen on that cesspool of corrupt statism.

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Earlier this year, I borrowed from Dante’s Inferno and created the Five Circles of Statist Hell. At the time, I suggested that Venezuela was on the cusp of moving from the third circle (“widespread poverty and economic misery”) to the fourth circle (“systematic and grinding poverty and deprivation”).

Since we now know that children in the country are suffering from hunger and malnutrition, I think we can safely confirm that Venezuela has made that crossing, joining the dystopian hell of North Korea (though you can make a good argument that the savage regime based in Pyongyang actually belongs in the fifth circle).

And just in case you need another piece of evidence about Venezuela, consider these excerpts from a surreal BBC report.

Venezuelan authorities have arrested two toy company executives and seized almost four million toys, which they say they will distribute to the poor. Officials accused the company of hoarding toys and hiking prices in the run-up to Christmas. Last week, the government issued an order to retailers to reduce prices on a range of goods by 30%. …Venezuela…said…”Our children are sacred, we will not let them rob you of Christmas,” it said in a tweet, along with photos and video of thousands of boxes of toys. …The agency also posted photos of the two executives being marched from the premises by a squad of heavily armed soldiers.

Here’s some additional background on the economic situation in the country.

This is not the first time Venezuela has ordered price cuts on retailers, or mobilised armed units to enforce it. In late 2013, the country introduced laws allowing the government to fix prices and dictate profit margins. …The same measures have been used to fix the prices of basic products such as flour, meat and bread – but supply is limited in a country where many people go hungry.

Before continuing, I can’t help commenting that BBC journalists apparently can’t put 2 and 2 together. The reason supply is limited and people are suffering is because of the price controls and intervention.

Sigh.

Anyhow, here are some final passages from the article.

The Venezuelan government is becoming increasingly unpopular as the country’s economic crisis grows. …The International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation – the rate at which prices go up – will hit 2,000% next year.

Yup, Venezuela is a regular Shangri La. No wonder Bernie Sanders is so infatuated with the place.

But let’s focus today on the Venezuelan government’s attempt to play Santa Claus by seizing toys and selling them at below-market rates.

I don’t know if this move will be politically popular since that depends on whether ordinary people have some degree of economic sophistication.

But we can say with great confidence that it represents terrible economic policy. That’s because, as Thomas Sowell has wisely noted, it’s very difficult for a government to steal wealth more than one time.

The victims (both the ones who already have been looted and the ones who might be targeted in the future) quickly learn that it’s not a smart idea to accumulate assets that can be stolen by the state. In effect, the productive people of the country learn to behave like the Little Red Hen.

In the short run, though, the Venezuelan government gets to play Santa Claus. At least for 2016.

But it won’t have that option in 2017. And because the nation’s kleptocratic government is running out of victims, it’s just a matter of time before the system collapses, at which point the government either gives up power or launches a brutal crackdown.

Hopefully the former.

Though it would remain to be seen whether the leftist thugs who currently hold power are able to escape the country with all the loot they’ve stolen, or whether they get the Ceausescu treatment.

They deserve the latter.

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I live-tweeted last night’s debate between the Governor Mike Pence and Senator Tim Kaine.

As the debate closed, I summed up my reaction with two tweets, one of which sadly observed that Donald Trump does not share Ronald Reagan’s belief in smaller government and more freedom.

And because I’m fair and balanced, I also reminded people that Hillary Clinton is no Bill Clinton. Indeed, I pointed out that her vote rating in the Senate was almost identical to Bernie Sanders’.

That doesn’t mean Bernie and Hillary are identical.

I’ve remarked many times that he wants America to become Greece at 90 miles per hour while she seems content for the country to become Greece at 55 miles per hour.

But, in practice, they were almost always on the same side when it came time to cast votes on the floor of the Senate.

In any case, my tweet obviously touched a nerve since there were a bunch of (mostly incoherent) responses. And I also got this reaction from a law professor at the University of Baltimore.

I assume he thinks I was being juvenile to say that Senator Sanders is crazy. Since I actually am juvenile in many ways (particularly my sense of humor), I might be tempted to plead guilty.

But let’s actually contemplate how the Vermont Senator should be labeled.

Sanders is a virulent and dogmatic supporter of coercive statism. Even columnists for the Washington Post have criticized him for being too far to the left.

But he’s not a real socialist (which technically means government ownership of the means of production). And even though his policies are based on coercion, I certainly don’t think he is a totalitarian.

Yet he’s not a rational leftist like you find in the Nordic nations (where they at least compensate for large welfare states by being very market-oriented about trade, regulation, etc).

All this explains why, when categorizing different types of leftists, I put him in the “crazies” group along with the Syriza Party of Greece.

And while “crazies” might be a pejorative bit of shorthand, I do think folks like Bernie Sanders are largely detached from reality.

But I don’t want people to be upset with me, so I’m going to reconsider how Sanders should be categorized.

To help with this chore, let’s consider a few additional bits of information, starting with an item from his Senate office that contains this remarkable passage.

These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who’s the banana republic now?

By the way, it’s not clear if this is a column written by Sanders or whether he just endorses the sentiments expressed therein.

Though it doesn’t really matter since – at the very least – he obviously agrees with the message.

So let’s think about what it means that Sanders views Argentina and Venezuela as role models.

Argentina used to be one of the richest nations in the world, ranked in the top 10 at the end of World War II. But then decades of statism, starting with Peron and continuing through Kirchner, wreaked havoc with the nation’s economy and Argentina has plummeted in the rankings.

And I’ve written many times about the basket case of Venezuela, so there’s already ample information to discredit anyone who thinks that nation should be emulated.

But let’s add one more straw to the camel’s back. Here are some excerpts from a very depressing story about the human misery being caused by big government in that country.

Klaireth Díaz is a 1st-grade teacher at Elías Toro School… Last year, she says, attendance was painfully low. Every day, of a class of 30 children at least 10 would be absent. “The reason was always lack of food,” she told Fox News Latino. She said she had a student who skipped class every single Thursday and when she asked his mother about it, she explained that Thursday was the day of the week assigned to her family to buy food at government-regulated prices – which involves standing in line starting sometimes as early as 3 a.m.

Food lines?!? That’s what Bernie Sanders thinks is a success story?

Though I guess if everyone has to wait in lines for food, at least they’re all equally poor (though even that’s not true since the ruling-class leftists in Venezuela have plundered the nation’s treasury).

In other words, maybe this image isn’t a joke or satire after all.

But it gets worse. The food lines apparently don’t provide enough food.

Across the country, teachers have said they have seen children faint or fall asleep because they haven’t had enough to eat. …As the school year progressed last year, Diaz said, she noticed more and more kids had stopped bringing lunch. …According to a poll conducted last month by More Consulting among 2,000 respondents in Caracas, in 48 percent of the times children do not attend school, the cause is related to the food. Either they are feeling too weak for lack of nutrition, or their parents rather use the transport money to buy food, or they are in the food lines with their parents. The poll revealed that 36.5 percent of children eat only twice a day and 10.2 percent just once.

So maybe Bernie Sanders isn’t crazy. If he views Venezuela as a role model, maybe he’s morally blind. Or genuinely evil.

But I’m a nice guy, so I’m sticking with crazy since I would hate to think that even a crank like Sanders willfully embraces the monstrous outcomes found in Venezuela.

P.S. I haven’t written about Ecuador, but if forced to choose among Bernie’s various success stories, I guess that would be my pick since it is 142 out of 159 in the rankings from Economic Freedom of the World, which surely is better than being Argentina (156) or Venezuela (dead last at 159).

To be fair to Sanders, at least he didn’t list Cuba, which is such an economic hell-hole that (if reliable numbers were available) it would presumably rank below even Venezuela.

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Maybe it’s just because I’m a wonk, but it seems that comparing long-run growth rates in various nation sets up a slam-dunk argument for the superiority of free markets and small government.

Whether it’s North Korea vs. South Korea, Cuba vs. Chile, or Ukraine vs. Poland, nations with bigger governments and more intervention inevitably decline compared to market-oriented alternatives.

That’s very compelling evidence, in my humble opinion, but I wonder whether it’s not overly persuasive because it’s too dry and analytical.

Maybe I should focus more on the human cost of statism. And not just by sharing data about low levels of per-capita GDP. Perhaps it would help to explain what that means for the lives of ordinary people.

Venezuela certainly would be a perfect (in a bad way) example.

The Associated Press explains that big government and statism aren’t working very well, particularly for the most vulnerable members of Venezuelan society.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans poured into neighboring 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.

That certainly sounds grim, but that story doesn’t fully capture how bad life has become for ordinary people.

Here are some excerpts from a BBC report on the government-created misery in Venezuela.

Travelling through the country this month I saw endless queues of people trying to buy food – any food – at supermarkets and other government-run shops. I was stopped at a roadblock in the middle of the countryside by people who said they had eaten nothing but mangoes for three days. I saw the hopeless expression of a mother, who had been eating so little that she was no longer able to breastfeed her baby.

What a miserable tragedy.

The reporter shares information on his own family and other people he met.

…it was my family who really brought it home to me. My brother told me all his trousers were now too big. My father – never one to grumble – let slip that things were “really tough”. My mother, meanwhile, confessed that sometimes she only eats once a day. They all live in different parts of Venezuela, but none of them is getting enough to eat. It’s a nationwide problem. …a young mother, Liliana, …admitted to going to bed in tears on days when she had been unable to give her two children any dinner. In western Venezuela, in the oil-rich province of Zulia, I visited several small towns where people didn’t know what they would eat the following day.

What a horrifying life.

Imagine if you were a parent in Venezuela and you couldn’t find food for your children? That shouldn’t be happening in the 21st century.

Unsurprisingly, deprivation and economic chaos are now the norm.

A study by three of the country’s main universities indicates…that “extreme poverty” has jumped by 53% since 2014. …The country’s official inflation rate was 180% in December, the last time a figure was made public, but the IMF estimates it will be above 700% by the end of the year.

Considering that Venezuela is in last place for Economic Freedom of the World, none of this should be surprising.

But remember that we want to focus today on the human cost of statism, not just broad measures of economic mismanagement.

And this chart from the BBC on food riots certainly is a persuasive piece of evidence.

Here’s the part that shows the mess was created by bad government policies, with price controls being a major culprit.

…the government years ago fixed the price of many basic goods, such as flour, chicken, or bread. But Venezuelans can only buy the goods at these fixed prices once a week, depending on the final digit of the number on their national identity card. …Because there is a risk of the goods running out, people often arrive at supermarkets in the early hours of the morning, or even earlier. At 6am one morning in Caracas, I met a man who had already been in the queue for three hours. …”I’m hoping to get rice, but sometimes I’ve queued and then been unable to buy anything because the rice runs out before I get in,” he said.

In a sad example of Mitchell’s Law as the failure of one bad policy leads to the imposition of another bad policy.

President Nicolas Maduro[‘s]…latest step has been to create Local Committees of Supplies and Production, better known by the Spanish acronym, CLAP. The CLAPs essentially mean that the government will stop sending imported food to supermarkets and start handing it over to local community councils. …The ultimate aim of the CLAPs is to create self-sustaining communities, where people grow their own food. …a member of a colectivo – a group of hardcore government supporters, often armed, …agreed in the end to show me what the CLAP was aiming to achieve. I was taken to see a barren field – “which we aim to have ready for crops in eight months” – and several chili plants waiting to be planted. It was, to say the least, disheartening.

In other words, Venezuela apparently is creating a sure-to-fail mixture of autarky and collective agriculture.

Even Ayn Rand didn’t think to include something that crazy in her dystopian novel, Atlas Shrugged.

Let’s wrap up with a CNN story about a new “jobs” program from the thugs in Caracas.

In a vaguely-worded decree, Venezuelan officials indicated that public and private sector employees could be forced to work in the country’s fields for at least 60-day periods, which may be extended “if circumstances merit.” …President Nicolas Maduro is using his executive powers to declare a state of economic emergency. …According to the decree from July 22, workers would still be paid their normal salary by the government and they can’t be fired from their actual job. …Venezuela…is grappling with the lack of basic food items like milk, eggs and bread. People wait hours in lines outsides supermarkets to buy groceries and often only see empty shelves. …Venezuela is the world’s worst economy, according to the IMF. It’s expected to shrink 10% this year and inflation is projected to rise over 700%. Beyond food shortages, hospitals are low on supplies, causing many patients to go untreated and some to die.

Wow, I’m not even sure where to start. The fact that people are dying because of horribly sub-standard care? The fact that the government is engaging in a form of quasi-slavery by forcing people to work on farms? Or the fact that bad government policy is the reason for the disaster?

As I contemplated these questions, it got me thinking about the varying degrees of statism and the harmful impact on ordinary people.

So, with apologies to fans of Dante’s Inferno, I put together the Five Circles of Statist Hell. The first layer is relatively benign, featuring nations such as France that sap an economy’s vitality with lots of feel-good programs. Then you get countries that belong in the second layer, which is characterized by economies that are actually declining rather than merely stagnating.

And the next layer is where Venezuela is today, with systemic misery and poverty. In other words, the nations in this layer already have declined and have lots of suffering.

But it’s always possible to decline even further. If Venezuela doesn’t reverse some of the awful policies that are causing chaos today, it’s just a matter of time before the country joins North Korea is a state of pervasive deprivation and even starvation.

And the only thing worse than that is the final layer of statist hell, which features countries that actually butcher their own citizens.

By the way, let’s not forget the “useful idiots” who have justified and/or praised Venezuela’s brutal government. I’ve previously cited the misguided words of Joseph Stiglitz.

Well, Joe Kennedy also deserves our scorn and disdain. The former politician actually mourned the death of the evil slug who is most responsible for the mess in Venezuela.

Former congressman Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) is mourning the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez today, praising Chavez as someone who made a difference for poor people. …Kennedy also said that “some of the wealthiest people on our planet have more money than they can ever reasonably expect to spend.” Kennedy joins Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) among the few American politicians to praise Chavez after his death Tuesday.

How disgusting and unseemly. Makes the Che sycophants seems like moral giants.

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The economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is the predictable result of statism run amok.

And I will confess a bit of Schadenfreude has suffused my columns on the topic.

But we shouldn’t laugh at the collapse of statism. Real people are suffering. And even if a painful collapse is necessary to create the conditions for a rebirth of freedom in Venezuela, the widespread misery that now exists is still tragic.

So let’s set aside sarcasm and try to draw a very important lesson from the crisis.

Moisés Naim of the Carnegie Endowment and Francisco Toro of the Caracas Chronicles have a column in the Washington Post about Venezuela’s collapse under Chávez and Maduro. They point out that ordinary people are the main victims of the nation’s statism.

Venezuela is the sick man of Latin America, buckling under chronic shortages of everything from food and toilet paper to medicine and freedom. Riots and looting have become commonplace, as hungry people vent their despair while the revolutionary elite lives in luxury.

They also ask the key question of why so many leftists became enamored with corrupt, failed, and anti-democratic leaders, particularly Hugo Chávez, who was “admired as a progressive visionary who gave voice to the poor.”

Not long ago, the regime that Hugo Chávez founded was an object of fascination for progressives worldwide, attracting its share of another-world-is-possible solidarity activists. …the time has come to ask some hard questions about how this regime — so obviously thuggish in hindsight — could have conned so many international observers for so long.

The authors answer that question in two ways.

Chávez pioneered a new playbook for how to bask in global admiration even as he hollowed out democratic institutions on the sly. …he mastered the paradoxical art of destroying democracy one election at a time. Venezuelans have gone to the polls 19 times since 1999, and chavismo has won 17 of those votes. The regime has won by stacking the election authorities with malleable pro-government officials, by enmeshing its supporters in a web of lavishly petro-financed patronage and by intimidating and marginalizing its opponents. It worked for more than a decade — until it didn’t work anymore.

In other words, the Venezuelan left sometimes won by rigging the rules, which is obviously bad.

But Chávez and Maduro sometimes did win genuine majorities. Those outcomes, however, were only made possible by bribing voters. People were seduced into stealing from their neighbors as part of a process that produces ever-larger sclerotic government.

This is the untrammeled majoritarianism that America’s Founders tried to avoid with a Constitution limiting the power of government.

In the absence of societal ethics, it’s not a good idea to let two wolves and a sheep vote on what to have for lunch. It has destroyed Venezuela. It’s destroying Greece. It’s what makes me pessimistic about the future of nations as diverse as Brazil, Italy, and South Africa. And it’s the biggest long-run danger facing the United States.

Simply stated, majoritiarianism produces “goldfish government.”

Let’s close by noting that type of system is very beneficial for powerful insiders.

Chávez successfully cultivated a pro-poor, anti-American posture . Endless professions of concern for the poor… But this, too, was a charade. We now know that the fiery speeches professing unconditional love and support for the poor were a ruse to deflect attention from the wholesale looting of the state. In fact, more than $100 billion in oil profits stashed in a “National Development Fund” were simply never accounted for. …regime-connected politicians run their luxury yachts aground after drunken romps. …You would think that preying on the world’s largest oil reserves would be enough for even the most voracious of kleptocratic elites, but no. The regime is also deeply involved in drug trafficking.

In other words, big government is very profitable for the insiders of Caracas just as big government in the United States is very profitable for the insiders of Washington.

P.S. I will admit that majoritarianism works when voters are knowledgeable and ethical. Switzerland is a very good (but very rare) example.

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At the risk of oversimplifying, libertarians want to minimize the level of government coercion is society. That’s why we favor both economic liberty and personal liberty. Simply stated, you should have the right to control your own life and make your own decisions so long as you’re not harming others or interfering with their rights.

That’s a philosophical or moral argument.

There’s also the utilitarian argument for liberty, and that largely revolves around the fact societies with more freedom tend to be considerably more prosperous than societies with lots of government.

I’ve repeatedly made this argument by comparing the economic performance of market-oriented jurisdictions and statist ones.

Let’s look at some new evidence. Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Institute for Management Development is a highly regarded educational institution that publishes an annual World Competitiveness Yearbook that basically measures whether a nation is a good place to do business.

So it’s not a measure of economic liberty, at least not directly. And the quality of governance matters for the IMD rankings (presumably based on something akin to the European Central Bank’s measure of “public sector efficiency“).

But you’ll notice a clear link between economic liberty and competitiveness.

Here are the top-10 nations. (you can look at the rankings for all nations by clicking here).

As you might suspect, there’s a strong correlation between the nations that are competitive and those that have smaller governments and free markets.

Indeed, three out of the top four jurisdictions (Hong Kong, Singapore, and Switzerland) rank in the top four for economic liberty according to Economic Freedom of the World.

And I’m happy to see that the United States also scores very highly, even if we only rank 17 out of 157 for economic freedom.

Indeed, every country in IMD’s top 10 other than Sweden is ranked in the top quartile of EFW.

You also probably won’t be surprised by the countries getting the worst scores from IMD.

Congratulations to Venezuela for being the world’s least competitive nation. Though that might be an overstatement since IMD only ranks 61 jurisdictions. If all the world’s countries were included, Venezuela presumably would beat out North Korea. And maybe a couple of other squalid outposts of statism, such as Cuba.

It’s also worth noting that Greece gets consistently bad scores. And I’m not surprised that Argentina is near the bottom as well (though it has improved since last year, so hopefully the new government will continue to move in the right direction).

By the way, it’s worth noting that economic freedom is a necessary but not sufficient condition for competitiveness. Jordan, for instance, ranks in the top 10 for economic freedom but gets a low score from IMD, presumably because the advantages of good policy don’t compensate for exogenous factors such as geopolitical risk and access to markets.

The moral of the story, though, is that free markets and small government are the recipe for more prosperity. And those policies are probably even more important for nations that face exogenous challenges.

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Socialism is a very bad concept. It deserves mockery rather than respect.

But that’s true of all statist ideologies.

Last year, as part of a column on the collapse of the Soviet Empire, I put together a statism spectrum showing the degree to which various nations allow economic liberty.

I thought this effort was useful because it shows, for instance, that the United States, France, and Hong Kong are all on the right side, but that there are nonetheless obvious differences in the amount of economic freedom for those three jurisdictions. Likewise, it’s not good to be Mexico, China, or North Korea, but there are degrees of statism and it’s worse to be farther to the left.

Speaking of left, not all advocates of bigger government are the same. So earlier this year I created another spectrum showing that there are various strains of statism, especially among true believers.

The value of this spectrum is that it shows the differences between totalitarians, genuine socialists, and run-of-the-mill hard-core leftists like Bernie Sanders.

And both of these spectrums were implicit in my interview yesterday about Venezuela. I pointed out that Venezuela technically isn’t socialist, but also suggested that doesn’t matter because the country is definitely on the wrong part of the statism spectrum.

And Venezuela definitely is proof that being on the wrong side of the spectrum is a recipe for collapse (or, in the case of North Korea, a recipe for never getting off the ground in the first place).

Since we’re discussing statism, let’s close with some really good news. Matt Yglesias of Vox likes big government. A lot. But he’s also capable of dispassionately analyzing what works and doesn’t work for his side. And he writes that “socialism” is a bad word for those who want to expand the size and scope of government.

Bernie Sanders refers to his ideology — which I would characterize as social democracy or even just welfare state liberalism — as democratic socialism, a politically loaded term that seems to imply policy commitments Sanders hasn’t made to things like government ownership of major industries. …the socialist branding seems to have offered Sanders some upside…earning him enthusiastic support from a number of politically engaged people who seem to really be socialists… Against this, though, one has to weigh the reality that socialism is really unpopular in the United States.

How unpopular? Yglesias shares some new polling data from Gallup.

This is great news. Not only is socialism unpopular, but it ranks below the federal government (which traditionally gets low marks from the American people). And the supposed Sanders revolution hasn’t even translated into a relative improvement. This poisonous ideology is actually slightly more unpopular than it was in 2010 and 2012.

Here’s what Yglesias wrote about these numbers.

Any form of left-of-center politics in the United States, frankly, is going to have a problem with the fact that “the federal government” is viewed so much less favorably than cuddly targets like “small business,” “entrepreneurs,” and “free enterprise.” Even big business does better than the federal government. And both big business and capitalism do far better than socialism.

As I said, this is excellent news.

A few closing thoughts.

  • First, Yglesias and I don’t agree on very much (he’s referred to me as insane and irrational), but we both think that a socialist is someone who believes in government ownership of the means of production, not simply someone who believes in bigger government.
  • Second, the Gallup data reinforces what I wrote back in April about “free enterprise” being a much more appealing term than “capitalism.”

The bottom line is that economic liberty works while left-wing ideologies (all based on coercion) don’t work, so let’s use whatever words are most capable of disseminating this valuable message.

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I feel sorry for the Venezuelan people, but I’m perversely glad that the country is collapsing.

That’s because it’s nice to have proof that Margaret Thatcher was right when she famously warned that the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

To be sure, we already had proof from Greece, France, the Soviet Union, Brazil, and many other places. But it’s still nice to have another piece of evidence that big government eventually produces very dire results.

I also confess that I’m enjoyed Venezuela’s economic decay because I get a warm feeling of Schadenfreude when watching leftists try to explain what’s happening in that formerly rich nation.

Even the New York Times feels the need to report on the mayhem in Venezuela.

The courts? Closed most days. The bureau to start a business? Same thing. The public defender’s office? That’s been converted into a food bank for government employees. Step by step, Venezuela has been shutting down. …Venezuela keeps drifting further into uncharted territory. …that is only the start of the country’s woes. Electricity and water are being rationed, and huge areas of the country have spent months with little of either. …the Mexican company that bottles Coke in the country, has even said it was halting production of sugary soft drinks because it was running out of sugar.

And why is the economy in free fall? Is it possible that the left-wing policies the NYT wants for the United States are failing when tried elsewhere?

Not according to the story. It’s the fault of external forces. Or maybe even rich people.

The growing economic crisis — fueled by low prices for oil, the country’s main export; a drought that has crippled Venezuela’s ability to generate hydroelectric power; and a long decline in manufacturing and agricultural production. …Venezuela’s government says the problems are the result of an “economic war” being waged by elites who are hoarding supplies.

Finally, in the 27th paragraph, there’s a mention that maybe, just maybe, some of the blame belongs to government.

…most economists agree that Venezuela is suffering from years of economic mismanagement, including…price controls that led many businesses to stop making products.

Hmmm…, I guess we can safely assume that “most economists” does not include Joseph Stiglitz.

Another story in the New York Times specifically examines how this mess was created. Finally, an opportunity to learn how leftist policies are a recipe for economic failure, right?

Hardly. The report starts by pointing out the obvious. Yes, the economy is a disaster.

Supermarket shelves in Venezuela are chronically bare, and power shortages are so severe that government offices are now open only two days a week. The health care system has collapsed, the crime rate is one of the world’s worst, and inflation is rapidly eroding what remains of the currency’s value.

It then addresses the question of how this happened.

And as you can see, we’re supposed to believe it’s the result of falling oil prices and drought, even though many other oil-producing jurisdictions are avoiding economic chaos and droughts in other nations normally don’t lead to societal collapse.

The price of oil, Venezuela’s only significant export, has plummeted, which means revenue could fall by 40 percent this year. The government’s huge borrowing, partly a legacy of the years when oil prices were far higher, has helped bring the crisis to a head because Venezuela now has far less money to repay its foreign debt, forcing Mr. Maduro to slash imports in order to avoid default. On top of that are the consequences of a drought, which has shriveled the country’s hydropower generation, a critical source of electricity.

Farther down the article, in the seventh paragraph (of a much shorter story), there’s a grudging admission that at least some economists blame statist policies.

…many economists say his policies of state ownership, unfettered spending, subsidies and domestic price controls are at least partly responsible for the crisis today.

Gee, how generous of the NYT to acknowledge that some people have this strange belief that big government doesn’t work.

The column also notes that price controls are causing shortages, which is a nice admission even if there’s no clear conclusion in the article that the policy is bad.

Subsidized food and fuel sold by state-run stores are priced far lower than they are really worth. This has created enormous lines of shoppers for goods that quickly sell out.

While it’s amusing the dissect the verbal gymnastics of the New York Times, it’s even more fun to observe the dour reaction of Comrade Bernie Sanders when asked about the issue.

The folks at Newsbusters have the video, and here’s the relevant transcript if your stomach’s not strong enough to actually watch the Vermont Senator on screen.

Huh, the guy’s been waxing poetic about the glories of socialism and big government his entire life, so much so that he reportedly was kicked out of a Marxist commune for being too much of a blowhard, but now he’s suddenly so “focused” on his campaign that he can’t comment on the biggest story about socialism since the fall of the Berlin Wall?!?

Yeah, right.

Too bad the reporter didn’t ask the logical follow-up question: “So what makes you think the policies that have failed in Venezuela will work in the United States?”

Heck, I would like some journalist to present Sanders with my two-part challenge for leftists and see if he can name a single successful statist jurisdiction.

Though I’m guessing Comrade Bernie would inaccurately claim Sweden or Denmark, even those two nations got rich first and then adopted big government.

P.S. Interestingly, the Washington Post does not appear to be as reflexively left wing at the NYT.

At least if these blurbs from an editorial last year are any indication.

…one of the worst crises of governance Latin America has seen in modern times. The country’s collapsing economy, soaring crime… Mr. Maduro…inherited the mess created by the late Hugo Chávez and then greatly worsened it… Venezuelans are furious about endemic shortages, triple-digit inflation and a poverty rate that exceeds that of 1999, when the Chavista movement first came to power. …That Mr. Maduro…threatens violence probably is a reflection…of the regime’s deep-seated criminality. Two of the president’s nephews are being held in New York on drug-trafficking charges, and U.S. authorities are reportedly investigating numerous other senior figures, including the current president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, who is considered the regime’s second most powerful official.

To be sure, the Post editorial doesn’t explicitly tie the wretched conditions in Venezuela to left-wing policy, but at least there’s no ambiguity about the fact that Maduro is a bad guy.

Now if we can get the Post to cease being reflexively supportive of statism in the United States, that will be real progress.

P.P.S. Since it’s Memorial Day in the United States, let’s close with a feel-good story about an immigrant achieving the American Dream.

As 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache stood at attention during the commencement ceremony at West Point, N.Y., on Saturday, he was overcome with emotion. Tears rolled down both cheeks, but his gloved left hand held firm on his white, gold and black “cover,” the dress headgear that Army cadets wear. The photograph of Idrache, by Army Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant, was published Tuesday on the Facebook page of West Point’s U.S. Military Academy, and it almost immediately went viral. …Idrache’s background: He worked his way through one of the nation’s most prestigious military schools after immigrating to the United States from Haiti, earning his citizenship and serving for two years as an enlisted soldier…Idrache wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream and may God bless America, the greatest country on earth.”

P.P.P.S. And I can’t resist adding a bit of humor about Sen. Sanders and Venezuela.

Yes, socialism breeds misery, but it also generates some clever humor. More examples here, here, here, and here.

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