Strange that so much depends on the character and beliefs – or lack of same – of one person, as we’ve seen (sadly) in the case of Bush. Can’t we run this country by committee? Maybe it’s human nature to want a single, unequivocal leader, someone to praise, blame, love, hate, admire or scorn. But must human nature always muck things up? Apparently.]]>
Long time readers of Cockburn will note that this piece is consistent with his long standing tendency to fawn over figures on the far right. I remember when he was fawning over leaders of the militias back in the 1990s. And in the same article he manages to fawn over Ron Paul as well, so this article was a two-for. And Cockburn despite his own decades long history as a progressive journalist, is quite capable of writing or talking in such a manner as to remind us (as if we didn’t already know) that Evelyn and Aubrey Waugh were cousins of his.
Nevertheless, Cockburn is correct concerning Huckabee’s record as governor. As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee often did take relatively progressive stances on certain economic issues and sometimes on criminal justice issues too, and also on illegal immigration. However, as a presidential candidate he is running as the candidate for the far right and certainly of the Christian right. He is not running as a progressive (hence his current position as an implacable opponent of illegal immigrants). However, I suspect that Cockburn does not really care about any of this, since in his view, whatever stirs the pot will inevitably do some good, even if it is someone from the far right who is doing the stirring.]]>
On the other hand much of the Republican Party’s electoral base is extremely hostile to illegal (and often legal) immigrants, and indeed, tends to be nativist. Poor Mitt Romney got himself caught up in this contradiction.]]>
With regard to people willing to go on the radio to criticize Chavez – of course Bush people will do so. That is not who I am talking about. I am referring to Venezuelans who voted against the constitutional changes that Chavez sought that would have given him unprecedented power. The word that I am getting is that ordinary people are afraid to speak out. If that is not the case, I want to hear about it. Not from Bushies. Not from Chavistas. From ordinary Venezuelans who voted ‘No’.]]>
“A small point, but I didn’t say that Chavez was doing too much income redistribution. I said he’s raised minimum wage which has resulted in corresponding inflation, which is what happens when people have more money, but the supply of goods and services does not increase. The net result is that the actual purchasing power of the people you are trying to help erodes.”
Well even the CIA website admits that there has been a consumption boom going on in Venezuela. Somebody must buying up those goods. In fact much of this consumption boom has been fueled by the increased purchasing power of the poorer segments of Venezuelan society. That to my mind would indicate that some degree of income redistribution has taken place in Venezuela. That is still true even taking rising inflation into account.
At this point I would suggest reading something like “The Venezuelan Economy in the Chávez Years”(www.cepr.net/documents/publications/venezuela_2007_07.pdf ). As the authors point out, rising inflation is one of the major challenges facing the Chavez regime, but they seem pretty confident that his government has the necessary policy tools for dealing with it.
It also might be useful if you addressed some of the points in the short piece that I posted from Michael Lebowitz, which is that a capital strike such as we are seeing in Venezuela can actually present egalitarian reformers with an opportunity to experiment with alternative forms of economic organization. Lebowitz developed this point at somewhat greater length in his article, “Ideology and Economic Development,” which appeared in Monthly Review (May 2004), see:
His points in that article are, I think, directly relevant to the problems facing the Chavez regime.
As for the problems that you have been having in finding people who would be willing to go on your radio show to criticize Chavez, I say give it time. While Chavez has long been in the gun sights of the Bush Administration, he has not been at the top of their list. They are still tied up with Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are still busy cooking up a good (or rather not so good) excuse for attacking Iran. Have patience! Chavez may still get his turn, although there are still people ahead of him in line. However, if and when the day comes that the Bushies decide that the Chavez regime must be eliminated, I assure you that on that day, you will have no problem finding people willing to come on your show to attack every aspect of Chavez and his regime. In fact you will have to beat them off with a stick to keep from getting overwhelmed. When the propaganda machine of the US government gears up, they pull out all the stops. Have you forgotten the incessant propaganda campaigns that preceded both Iraq wars? When Chavez’s turn comes, he will be proclaimed by no less than the president of the United States, to be Latin America’s very own Hitler. He will be found to be worse and more dangerous than Castro. You haven’t seen anything yet. Have patience!]]>
A small point, but I didn’t say that Chavez was doing too much income redistribution. I said he’s raised minimum wage which has resulted in corresponding inflation, which is what happens when people have more money, but the supply of goods and services does not increase. The net result is that the actual purchasing power of the people you are trying to help erodes.
So why has the supply of goods and services not increased? I know that many companies have significantly reduced their presence in Venezuela due to the fear of government nationalizations of their assets.
In other words, Chavez has not been effective in increasing the standard of living of the people he says he intends to help.
So there are two issues: 1) Chavez’ intentions, and 2) whether he is effective.
Jim seems to believe that Chavez’ intentions are truly for the good of the people. I am more skeptical, but time will tell.
In the meantime, I welcome anyone who opposes Chavez who lives in Venezuela to speak about it on the radio. If anyone volunteers, I will of course look for someone who supports Chavez to present that point of view as well.
Somehow I think it will be much easier to find a supporter than a member of the opposition.]]>
Now most of the other things that Sam reports concerning what is going in the Venezuelan economy seem accurate and match reports from those who are sympathetic towards his regime as well as those who oppose him. The question that is raised what our attitude towards this should be, and more importantly what policies should Chavez’s government should follow in response to these problems. I think some insight can be gained from a recent post on a discusion list by retired economics professor Michael A. Lebowitz who in recent years been living and teaching in Venezuela. His post strikes me as being particularly apropos to this discussion since it summarizes the dilemmas that almost every serious egalitarian reformer (not just Chavez) runs into sooner or later
Apropos the problem of shortages in Venezuela, here is a section from Ch. 2 (Ideology and Economic Development) of my BUILD IT NOW:
All other things equal, a government cannot encroach upon capital without negative-sum results. This has always been the wisdom of conservative economists. Yet, it is essential to understand that the conclusions of the neoclassical economists are embedded in their assumptions and particularly relevant here is the assumption that all other things are equal. …
Thus, we need to be aware of the limits of the conservative economist’s logic. However, that does not at all mean that these arguments can be ignored! Because what the conservative economist does quite well is indicate what capital will do in response to particular measures. It is an economics of capital. And, nothing is more naive than to assume that you can undertake certain measures of economic policy without a response from capital; nothing is more certain to backfire than introducing measures that serve people’s
needs without anticipating capital’s response.
Those who do not respect the conservative economist’s logic, which is the logic of capital, and incorporate it into their strategy are doomed to constant surprises and disappointments. Understanding the responses of capital means that a capital strike can be an opportunity rather than a crisis. If you reject dependence upon capital, the logic of capital can be revealed clearly as contrary to the needs and interests of people. When capital goes on strike, there are two choices, give in or move in.
Michael A. Lebowitz
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Director, Programme in ‘Transformative Practice and Human Development’
Centro Internacional Miranda, P.H.
Residencias Anauco Suites, Parque Central, final Av. Bolivar
fax: 0212 5768274/0212 5777231
1) with oil prices going up, you would expect the money supply to increase substantially
2) minimum wage was increased which presumably has a ripple effect throughout the economy – people have more money in their pockets.
2) they spend this extra money which may have an inflationary effect – if there is more to buy in response to this extra spending, prices may remain stable, but if the supply of goods and services is stable, prices go up in response to the increased demand.
3) in fact, prices are not only going up substantially, there are reports of widespread shortages of key consumer goods, including food: http://www.guardian.co.uk/venezuela/story/0,,2210473,00.html
4) companies which had located their Latin America headquarters in Caracas, due to the educated population, geographic location (half-way between US and Sao Paulo/Rio/Buenos Aires) has pulled out to protect their assets – this has moved jobs and significant economic activity to other Latin American countries, most notably Costa Rica, Panama and Argentina
5) Educated Venezuelans have left because they fear their future is too much at risk to remain in the country.
6) I asked people who will criticize Chavez in private to do so publically on the radio so that people can hear that side of the debate without it being considered American right-wing rhetoric based on power-politics. I have yet been unable to find someone to do so because their fear there would e political, economic and physical consequences.
All too often Latin American countries have ended up with ‘strongman’ leaders in response to right-wing dictatorships run and/or controlled by elites who did nothing to build up a middle class and a path out of poverty. However, just because a leader is saying he is ‘a man of the people’ doesn’t mean that he actually has their best interests at heart. It is entirely possible that Chavez is using their votes as the mechanism to gain power and has chosen this path because it is so easy – so little has been done for the poorest sectors of the Venezuelan population that you can buy their loyalty for almost nothing.
For the wealthy elites of other Latin American countries, it is important to take note – if you do not develop your countries, you significantly increase the likelihood of a Chavez-style government. For Americans, it is important that we employ the use of peer pressure on these wealthy elites, many of whom live in or travel to the US. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/16/realestate/16nati.html?_r=1&oref=slogin]]>
“What is so sad and unnecessary about this situation is that Chevez gains his power from the poorest of the poor who are getting so little from him – a few get housing, a few more get a little food – but the overall economy is worse than before (there are rampant food shortages, unemployment is worse). In other words, Chavez is sharing more of a shrinking pie. Had the prior governments and the wealthy in Venezuela addressed the needs of the poorest, done something to develop a middle class and therefore a path to a decent life for the vast majority of the population, they would still be able to live in their country and the world would not be confronted with this loud-mouth bully who is more concerned with sticking his finger in the eye of the western world than he is developing his own country.”
On the other hand the CIA World Factbook website (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ve.html#Econ) tells us that:
“Economy – overview:
Definition Field Listing
Venezuela remains highly dependent on oil revenues, which account for roughly 90% of export earnings, more than 50% of the federal budget revenues, and around 30% of GDP. Tax collection – Venezuela’s primary source of non-oil revenue – is expected to surpass $23 billion in 2006, exceeding the yearend collection goal by more than 20%. A nationwide strike between December 2002 and February 2003 had far-reaching economic consequences – real GDP declined by around 9% in 2002 and 8% in 2003 – but economic output since then has recovered strongly. Fueled by higher oil prices, record government spending helped to boost GDP growth in 2004 and 2005 to approximately 18% and 11%, respectively. Economic growth in 2006 reached about 9%. This spending, combined with recent minimum wage hikes and improved access to domestic credit, has fueled a consumption boom – car sales in 2006 increased by around 70% – but has come at the cost of higher inflation. Despite government attempts to withdraw liquidity from the economy, Venezuela’s money supply set a record in June 2006, approximately 70% higher than the previous year. Imports have also jumped significantly.”
So who am I to believe? The source that Sam refers to claims “the overall economy is worse than before (there are rampant food shortages, unemployment is worse).”
While the CIA website tells us that there is a consumption boom going on in Venezuela.