The more Venezuela’s government tries to run the economy, the worse things get for Venezuelans. How is that the free market’s fault?
By JOHN C. MOZENA
“We all have the right to quality schooling, healthcare, jobs, cultural events, sports and technology,” Maduro said. But this is being “impeded by domestic and international capitalist forces.”
State-sponsored broadcaster TeleSur on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, 12/31/17
What Should Be Said: For all that Maduro (and Hugo Chávez before him) tried to blame capitalists for the ongoing disaster in their nation, it’s Venezuela that tried to eliminate capitalism, not the other way around. Venezuelans are starving not because capitalists are attacking them, but rather because capitalists aren’t being allowed to produce and sell them food at competitive prices.
Venezuela’s government under Chávez and then Maduro progressively nationalized huge chunks of the private economy, from oil production to retail stores to farms, saying “Bolivarian socialism” would do a better job of pricing and providing goods and services to Venezuelans than free markets did. Disaster followed, as the government proved incapable of running the oil industry, agriculture, retail stores and any other sector of the economy. Over the past five years, Venezuela’s economy shrank by almost a quarter as government control tightened.
Tragically, the International Monetary Fund’s economic forecast says that even worse is to come for the nation of 31.6 million people. The IMF’s 2018 predictions for Venezuela include the worst inflation in the world at 2,300 percent and the worst unemployment in the world, at 30 percent.
These numbers don’t begin to describe the terrible human cost of Venezuela’s experiment in replacing free markets with socialist central planning. What was a reasonably prosperous and self-sufficient country on economic par with Western European democracies a few decades ago can no longer even feed its own people. As The Economist reported in 2017, “… over the past year around three-quarters of Venezuelans have lost weight, averaging 8.7kg [19.2 pounds] per person, because of a scarcity of food.”
Hunger has gotten so bad that instead of recruiting young members with promises of cash or luxury goods, Venezuela’s increasingly brazen criminal gangs have simply started offering to feed them.
This situation is not the fault of greedy capitalists no matter how much Maduro (and Chávez before him) blame them for Venezuela’s problems. Rather, it’s because there aren’t enough “greedy capitalists” left in Venezuela, thanks to government policies. Economists have understood the central issue here since 1776, when Adam Smith explained that in a free market, we are fed not because someone else is obliged to give us food but because individual profit-seeking shopkeepers want to sell us food at a competitive and profitable price: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”
In other words, we have food because people want to make a profit selling it to us. They work to keep us happy not because they like us, but because they want our money. If they’re successful, both sides of the transaction walk away happy with what we want — us with food, them with profit.
But in Venezuela, the butchers, brewers and bakers aren’t allowed to work for their own self-interest and it’s the government they must keep happy, not their customers. In fact, they may well be working unhappily under a literal gun, as in 2016, when Maduro put the Venezuelan Army in charge of “monitoring and coordinating” the production and distribution of food across the nation.
Venezuela’s socialist state-owned “Mission Mercal” grocery stores advertise themselves as “powered by Revolution, through the vision of Comandante Chávez. We are the backbone of food security in Venezuela!”
But what was that vision? “We must be aware of consumerism! That’s our tendency. It’s the capitalistic curse that we were poisoned with. We should spend only what is necessary,” Chávez once said, and the bare shelves and long lines at the stores show the results of that revolutionary socialist mindset.
Meanwhile, in the United States, grocery stores “cursed” with capitalism and consumerism serve their customers and promote their aisles and aisles of different food options with customer-focused slogans: “Better Store. Better Living.” “Making lives easier, healthier, happier.” “More value for the way you live.” “The friendliest store in town.” “Great food. Great value.” “Helping make your life easier.” “Freshness you can taste. Values you can trust.” “Every day you get our best.” Their role in the marketplace isn’t revolution or food security, it’s making a profit by keeping as many people as possible fed and happy.
Hugo Chávez famously proclaimed, “Socialism builds, and capitalism destroys” and promised, “Motherland, socialism, or death.” Venezuelans who’ve watched his and Maduro’s socialism destroy their once-proud motherland’s ability even to feed itself know whose vision is to blame.
John C. Mozena is a communicator working to spread liberty and free markets. He has been a vice president at a free-market think tank, spent two decades in a variety of private-sector marketing and communications roles and began his career as a newspaper reporter and editor covering health care policy. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website.
What Should Be Said shows effective ways of communicating freedom principles by using a storytelling approach, taking the moral high ground, and staying hopeful and aspirational. Media, politicians and thought leaders often fail to include the freedom perspective at all by omitting critical facts. Alternatively, when they do make a sincere attempt to sell the freedom philosophy, they often do so with a stale and defensive approach that is missing stories that humanize the dry facts and figures. Here we show examples of how storytelling and emotionally compelling changes in message will make all the difference for those trying to advocate for liberty.