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Archive for the ‘Venezuela’ Category

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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