Bernie blows his big chance to explain socialism in Venezuela
Bernie Sanders, 77, who's been defending socialist Venezuela for years, and who'd now like to be our president, has some explaining to do.
Bernie blew it.
MSNBC's Chris Hayes: What is the Bernie Sanders case for why Venezuela is the way it is? What went wrong there in what was an avowedly socialist project?
Bernie Sanders: Ahhh, well. I mean, that's a long story that we can't, I don't think we have the time to get into.
Bernie Sanders, continuing: But this is what I will say: And that is, that I think there must be free and fair elections, in Venezuela, the last elections were not free, second of all, we have got to do everything that we can to provide humanitarian aid along with other countries, so the people do not starve to death, and thirdly, we need to make certain that the United States does not do what it has done, time and time again in our history, and that is, get involved in overthrowing governments in Latin America. We did that in Chile, we did that in Brazil, Guatemala, other countries, we should not be doing that now. The future of Venezuela must rest with the Venezuelan people, not the Trump administration.
This didn't seem to impress even the far-left softball Hayes all that much.
Here's the problem. Venezuela's crisis is very much a crisis of socialism. When you expand the state as much as Venezuela did, as rapidly as Venezuela did in the past decade, the private sector dies. That's not even with all of the expropriations of private property; just the expansion of the state is enough to do it, as Tyler Cowen argues in this seminal essay here.
If we look at government spending as a percentage of GDP, Venezuela seems far from socialism. In recent years government spending in Venezuela has been measured at about 40 percent of GDP, with the caveat that these statistics are not fully reliable. For the U.S., the corresponding figure is about 37 percent.
Yet emerging economies typically cannot afford the same government programs as wealthier countries, and they cannot run them with the same efficacy. Poorer countries that try to expand their governments to size of wealthier countries, such as Brazil and Venezuela, typically encounter sub-par economic performance. These are indeed stories of big government run amok, as some of conservatives are suggesting.
Blowing out the private sector through price controls and currency controls, all in the name of "fairness," is a pretty good way to leave just oil as the only money game in town as an unintended (or, given that these are socialists at war with the "greedy" private sector, intended) consequence of socialism writ large.
Socialist central planning from the state, in that government-knows-best way of Bernie Sanders and all his socialist allies, is another way to Venezuelify a nation through socialism. In 2003, Venezuela's strongman Hugo Chávez, following his Cowen-described creation of conditions for the destruction of the private sector through the expansion of government, nevertheless still had the state oil industry as his money source to ensure his permanent power, which he justified as "la revolución." Instead of guarding the oil like Gollum's ring, which would have required free-market business practices, he fired all the oil experts and replaced them with politically connected cronies chosen for their socialism and then spent the oil company's earnings on welfare instead of operational investment, as a normal company would do.
That's a really good way to run out of other people's money.
Is Bernie Sanders saying he'd never dream of doing any such things in the name of "fairness" or "ending greed" or "the people"?
Of course not. That's why he can't answer the question.
What's more, Sanders's last statements are a mishmash of true and false premises, which make the rest of his response inchoate.
He starts out almost sounding good by saying he wants free and fair elections in Venezuela, just as Venezuela's acting president, Juan Guaidó, fighting to boot the socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro, has called for. Fine and dandy, but Sanders forgets to mention that socialism — a monopoly of cronies, red-shirted socialist thugs forcing government workers and the slum-dwellers to vote a certain way, or else no job or ration card, and a rigged electronic voting system from an electoral board run by socialist cronies that could check who voted for whom was precisely why those elections were so unfair. Socialism takes socialists, and sure enough, it was socialists who made Venezuela's election unfair.
Then he says he wants Venezuelans to be fed, the very thing socialism always promises in its propaganda dating from the Bolsheviks. "Peace, land, bread," right, Bernie? He wants them fed, but there's a problem: the socialist dictator of the place doesn't want them fed, which is why he's blocking aid convoys of massive shipments from the U.S., Brazil, Chile, Canada, and many other countries' shipments on his southern and eastern frontiers, ordering Venezuelan troops to enforce its non-entry. Sanders conveniently leaves out the sorry socialist detail that brings up the uncomfortable fact that socialism has always used food — and starvation — as a weapon to ensure socialist power. No acknowledgment of that one from Bernie. He also leaves out the uncomfortable fact that President Guaidó has asked for it from nations abroad. Sanders seems to want them fed but refuses to admit why they're not being fed.
Then we get to the worst of his drivel, which, by the way, is boilerplate repetition from one of his last strings of tweets three weeks earlier — the guy doesn't come up with many new ideas. Sanders argues that the real danger in Venezuela is U.S. intervention, not starving people. If someone has to starve so the U.S. doesn't intervene, he's obviously all in, because Trump's brandished weapon, aid, can't be allowed in if a socialist government says "no." His argument that the U.S. must not be overthrowing governments, which he seems to think is the problem here, not socialism itself, is incredibly insulting to the millions and millions of Venezuelans marching and protesting to take back their democracy. President Trump so far has only offered food as President Guaidó asked, and here Bernie is, yelling about U.S. intervention, same as Maduro.
Sanders's inability to explain himself on socialism, as well as his effort to thwart Trump and discredit the U.S. as the "real" problem in that hellhole, is nothing but a bid to deflect the question on socialism. It's dishonest, and it suggests that Bernie has a problem, promoting socialism for the U.S. at a time when socialism's result is there for all to see in the nightmare of Venezuela. One can only wonder why he's running at such a time. Some have speculated that he's running because he wants to draw in more money for goodies for himself. His inability to issue any robust defense of his socialism, his past support for Venezuela's socialist regime, or the will of the Venezuelan people pretty much supports that theory. He's in it for the dough.
What a repulsive picture.