Thursday, 26 May 2016

Don't Cry for Me, Venezuela

No Toilet Paper or Repentance

The Atlantic has published a lengthy article on what is going down in Venezuela.  The country is on its knees: it is figuratively bleeding from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.  But it's half a world away.  Why should we care?  

In a general sense, we Christians care because this entire world belongs to the Lord, the Messiah Who has bought it all with His redemptive sacrifice and proved it by His resurrection from the dead.  When we Christians speak of Christ the King, we do not speak figuratively.  He literally is King of all kings.

Amongst many things, it pleases our King to illustrate vividly for all who care to look what happens when petty rebels take over a country and seek to rule by sin's wisdom.  Such a country always enters into a self-inflicted judgement.  Venezuela has become a proverb, a warning to all Unbelief and rebellion against the King of the whole earth: "if you walk in rebellion and Unbelief, you will eat its bitter fruit."

The people of Venezuela decided a couple of decades ago to elect a Strong Man, one Hugo Chavez.  Hugo promised much, but all of it involved theft.
 He would follow Castro and Che, and lead his nation into a Marxist paradise.  After all, Venezuela had oil.  The only reason it was not lying in a bed of national gold was because international capitalist exploiters had been systematically pillaging the country.  Hugo was going to expel the international pillagers, and set himself up (in the name of the People) as a brand new local pillaging force.  He did.  He died.  He went to face his Maker.

The people, believing they were victims of a vast conspiracy against them, demanded that Hugo's revolution proceed.  They elected another strong man, Maduro to take his place and finish what Hugo had started.  Hugo sowed to the socialist wind.  Maduro is reaping the whirlwind.
When a Venezuelan entrepreneur we know launched a manufacturing company in western Venezuela two decades ago, he never imagined he’d one day find himself facing jail time over the toilet paper in the factory’s restrooms. But Venezuela has a way of turning yesterday’s unimaginable into today’s normal.

The entrepreneur’s ordeal started about a year ago, when the factory union began to insist on enforcing an obscure clause in its collective-bargaining agreement requiring the factory’s restrooms to be stocked with toilet paper at all times. The problem was that, amid deepening shortages of virtually all basic products (from rice and milk to deodorant and condoms) finding even one roll of toilet paper was nearly impossible in Venezuela—let alone finding enough for hundreds of workers. When the entrepreneur did manage to find some TP, his workers, understandably, took it home: It was just as hard for them to find it as it was for him.

Toilet-paper theft may sound like a farce, but it’s a serious matter for the entrepreneur: Failing to stock the restrooms puts him in violation of his agreement with the union, and that puts his factory at risk of a prolonged strike, which in turn could lead to its being seized by the socialist government under the increasingly unpopular President Nicolas Maduro. So the entrepreneur turned to the black market, where he found an apparent solution: a supplier able to deliver, all at once, enough TP to last a few months. (We’re not naming the entrepreneur lest the government retaliate against him.) The price was steep but he had no other option—his company was at risk.

But the problem wasn’t solved.  No sooner had the TP delivery reached the factory than the secret police swept in. Seizing the toilet paper, they claimed they had busted a major hoarding operation, part of a U.S.-backed “economic war” the Maduro government holds responsible for creating Venezuela’s shortages in the first place. The entrepreneur and three of his top managers faced criminal prosecution and possible jail time.

All of this over toilet paper.

The entrepreneur is one of the real people behind those zany “there’s no toilet paper in Venezuela” stories that play up the crisis for laughs, and clicks. But to Venezuelans like the present writers, and the entrepreneur, there’s nothing funny about the dark turn our country has taken. The experiment with “21st-century socialism” as introduced by the late President Hugo Chavez, a self-described champion of the poor who vowed to distribute the country’s wealth among the masses, and instead steered the nation toward the catastrophe the world is witnessing under his handpicked successor Maduro, has been a cruel failure.
It is a failure which was (and remains) entirely predictable.  When a nation institutionalises systematic covetousness and theft (which socialism by definition represents) the King's divine punishment is to remove goods and services, leaving nothing to covet or steal.

The abject failure of the Soviet Union in this regard stands as a warning beacon to all nations which would follow its example.  The imposition of collective ownership of agriculture left that country without adequate food for 60 years.  Each year's crop failure was blamed on bad weather.  Imagine that, 60 years of bad weather!  And the former Ukraine used to be the breadbasket for all the Russias and eastern Europe.

The GUM was an "up market" department store in Moscow.  It was set up as piece of propaganda to demonstrate to the West that Soviet communism was "working".  It most certainly did.  Shelf after empty shelf, apart from a few imported luxury goods, was the order of the day.  Along with the queues.

But Hugo and Venezuela decided that they would not repeat these mistakes.  This time they would do it right.  And so they have.  Once again the King of kings has entered into judgement upon Unbelief and is bringing Venezuela to its knees.  Ozymandius is falling before the people's eyes.

The authors of the Atlantic article, (Moises Naim & Francisco Toro) believe that what is happening in Venezuela has never been seen before.
What our country is going through is monstrously unique: It’s nothing less than the collapse of a large, wealthy, seemingly modern, seemingly democratic nation just a few hours’ flight from the United States.
This is simply not true.  It has been seen plenty of times before.  Yet the suffering and consequences of socialism (which the people voted for, lusting after the state imposed handouts and faux prosperity) are real enough.
In the last two years Venezuela has experienced the kind of implosion that hardly ever occurs in a middle-income country like it outside of war. Mortality rates are skyrocketing; one public service after another is collapsing; triple-digit inflation has left more than 70 percent of the population in poverty; an unmanageable crime wave keeps people locked indoors at night; shoppers have to stand in line for hours to buy food; babies die in large numbers for lack of simple, inexpensive medicines and equipment in hospitals, as do the elderly and those suffering from chronic illnesses.

But why? It’s not that the country lacked money. Sitting atop the world’s largest reserves of oil at the tail end of a frenzied oil boom, the government led first by Chavez and, since 2013, by Maduro, received over a trillion dollars in oil revenues over the last 17 years. It faced virtually no institutional constraints on how to spend that unprecedented bonanza. It’s true that oil prices have since fallen—a risk many people foresaw, and one that the government made no provision for—but that can hardly explain what’s happened: Venezuela’s garish implosion began well before the price of oil plummeted. Back in 2014, when oil was still trading north of $100 per barrel, Venezuelans were already facing acute shortages of basic things like bread or toiletries. . . .

The real culprit is chavismo, the ruling philosophy named for Chavez and carried forward by Maduro, and its truly breathtaking propensity for mismanagement (the government plowed state money arbitrarily into foolish investments); institutional destruction (as Chavez and then Maduro became more authoritarian and crippled the country’s democratic institutions); nonsense policy-making (like price and currency controls); and plain thievery (as corruption has proliferated among unaccountable officials and their friends and families).
It is a superficial misdirection for the authors to suggest that the "real culprit" is chavismo.  Might as well blame the Soviet Union's travails upon lenismo or stalismo.  The real culprit was the people deciding that they were as god and could repeal the Eighth Commandment (thou shalt not steal) and the Tenth Commandment (thou shalt not covet what belongs to your neighbour).  And so they did, and now the whole nation is under the King's wrath.
A case in point is the price controls, which have expanded to apply to more and more goods: food and vital medicines, yes, but also car batteries, essential medical services, deodorant, diapers, and, of course, toilet paper. The ostensible goal was to check inflation and keep goods affordable for the poor, but anyone with a basic grasp of economics could have foreseen the consequences: When prices are set below production costs, sellers can’t afford to keep the shelves stocked. Official prices are low, but it’s a mirage: The products have disappeared.
Many nations have trodden this path since the the collective ownership of wealth became fashionable.   Think of all those empty shelves in Moscow.  Prices were set so low that nothing was produced.  The Soviet Union had no inflation for sixty years.  It also had very little production, except military hardware.  And in East Germany the Trabant was a stunner; in Czechoslovakia the Skoda was the epitome of automotive excellence.  Meanwhile the people scrabbled for scraps of stale bread.

Venezuela is a lesson for all willing to open their eyes and see.  It is a warning of what happens when a people decide systemically to breach the King's Law.  But if this is true, it also brings a glimmer of hope.  If Venezuela (or any nation) were to repent of such folly and return to the King of kings He has promised to protect and nurture them as a hen protects and nurtures her chickens.

Unlike man, the King never, ever lies.

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