Venezuela’s Future — and Ours

I have long argued that about half of our political disagreements are simply cases of failing to agree about the meaning of a word. By “capitalism” libertarians mean the free enterprise of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, while our friends on the left mean by “capitalism” the shenanigans of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala (it’s always the United Fruit Company!), the crimes of Enron, the purported misdeeds of Halliburton, etc.

.. the conversation rarely advances much beyond that, in part because of the emotional resonances of certain words, e.g. “neocon,” “corporation,” “exploitation,” etc.

.. Venezuela is what we mean by socialism.

.. those welfare states are attached to largely free economies. Sweden arguably has a more liberal trade regime than does the United States, and most of the Nordic countries had lower corporate tax rates than did the United States until the 2018 tax reform.
..  effectiveness of government and public institutions (which is one place where the Swiss, Canadians, and Germans really outperform the United States)
.. the debate about whether the top U.S. personal-income-tax rate is going to be 39 percent or 33 percent is not about taking a step toward socialism or a step away from socialism.
.. say that the problem with those countries is not socialism but a lack of democracy, political violence and instability, etc. But repression on the Venezuelan model is not extraneous to socialism — it is baked into the socialist cake.
.. While the Soviets and the Maoists had intricate five-year plans, Venezuela had essentially one big plan: Use the profits from state-run oil companies to fund a massive welfare state, and use the leverage thus gained to fortify support for Hugo Chàvez and his political party until they achieved power sufficient to move Venezuela’s assets and its people around like pawns on a chessboard.
.. Economies cannot in fact be controlled and managed in the way that socialists imagine
.. The central planners in Venezuela were arrogant and hubristic, as they always are. (As, indeed, the entire concept of central planning is.)
  • When oil revenues proved insufficient to sustain their program, they printed money;
  • when the foreign-exchange markets responded by devaluing Venezuela’s currency, they enacted controls on foreign exchange;
  • when prices rocketed out of control (Venezuela’s inflation rate is difficult to calculate, but it is estimated to have been around 18,000 percent a month in April), they enacted price controls;
  • when producers declined to produce at those artificially low prices, they seized their assets.


  • .. Venezuelans are not fools — they noticed that this wasn’t working as advertised.
  • When the critics began to say so, their newspapers and broadcast facilities were shut down;
  • when they protested individually, they were jailed or assassinated;
  • when they protested en masse, they were massacred.

When central planning fails — and it always fails — the result is almost never the relaxation of political regimentation but the redoubling of efforts to impose the plan by increasingly brutal application of force.

.. it is a fact that children are starving to death in what was, not so long ago, South America’s wealthiest country.



An Epidemic of Dishonesty on the Right

The Soros-was-a-Nazi story is a staple of talk radio and the less responsible conservative corners of the Internet. The facts are rather different: Soros was a three-year-old Jew living in Budapest when Adolf Hitler came to power. He was still a child when the war ended. During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, he was ordered to report to the local Jewish registry, where he was given the job of delivering deportation notices to Jewish families, something his father prevented him from doing. The Soros family was well-to-do, and his father was able to purchase fraudulent documents identifying the Soroses as Christian. Toward the end of the war, Soros was under the care of a government official who helped protect Soros — and his own Jewish wife — even as he went about his official task of inventorying the estates of dispossessed Hungarian Jews. From this comes the spate of libels about Soros — that he was a member of the SS, that the origin of his vast fortune was property stolen from victims of the Holocaust, etc.

Soros is a genuinely nasty guy, and his influence extends into some of the worst crevices of the Left. But he is not a Nazi.

..  When people get used to hearing prominent conservatives lying about their opponents, it makes it easier for honest and fair-minded people to dismiss conservative arguments and conservative claims out of hand.

..  Scott Baio suggested on Twitter that the woman presented as Charlottesville murder victim Heather Heyer was the same woman presented as Sandy Hook mother Vicki Soto. He posted pictures of them side by side, with the oh-so-innocent remark “Thoughts?” The implication — that the events in Sandy Hook and Charlottesville were some sort of hoax pulled off by a powerful and far-reaching conspiracy of wily political operators who could not be bothered to hire an extra actress to fortify their schemes — is poisonous, lunatic conspiracy-theory stuff.

.. the fact, inconvenient for conservatives, that the president of these United States, who is in the habit of denouncing “fake news” from the bully pulpit, spent years trafficking in a daft conspiracy theory about Barack Obama: that he is a Kenyan and possibly (as Baio has suggested) a Muslim, possibly a closet radical Muslim (call him “The Meccan Candidate”) sympathetic to the aims of al-Qaeda et al.

  • .. If Mrs. Clinton had had a good and true explanation for her email shenanigans, no one would have believed her.
  • If Trump has a genuine “win” to talk about, all thinking adults will treat his claims with skepticism.
  • Even his allies and members of his staff know better than to take him at his word.

.. we should be ashamed of ourselves if we come to accept this kind of dishonesty in the service of political expediency. If conservative ideas cannot prevail in the marketplace of ideas without lies, they do not deserve to prevail at all.

The Downward Spiral

But Republicans ought not spend too much time savoring that irony. In their tax bill, they have repeated virtually all of the major procedural sins of the Affordable Care Act: the lack of regular order, the reliance on ridiculous budgeting shenanigans, the “we have to pass the bill in order to find out what’s in it” approach to lining up votes behind legislation nobody had read, which was still being amended well into the evening — “under cover of darkness,” as they like to say in Washington — sometimes with notes scribbled in the margins. And, of course, the tax bill was passed on a party-line vote, or near to it

.. The Affordable Care Act began coming undone the second it was signed; this tax plan, created in much the same way, may very well suffer the same fate. Whatever the corporate tax rate is when Trump signs the tax bill, it is unlikely that it will stay there for very long if Democrats come back into the majority in Congress. And who believes that Republican congressional majorities are destined to be eternal?