Venezuela has fallen into an economic pit.
Dirty air and water have caused widespread sickness. A drought has led to pervasive water and electricity shortages. The country’s economy has contracted and inflation runs in the triple digits. Food, medicine and common items like toilet paper are increasingly scarce. Violent crime ravages the streets.
To be sure, some of these problems resulted from natural disasters. But Venezuela’s socialist government also deserves much of the blame, according to William J. Murray, chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition.
“The problem in Venezuela originated with Hugo Chavez and the socialism that he brought,” said Murray, whose most recent book is titled “Utopian Road to Hell: Enslaving America and the World with Central Planning.” “Let’s be clear: Venezuela was the most advanced nation in South America as far as its economy.”
Once upon a time, as Murray recalled, Venezuela had a huge middle class, property ownership was high and a large slice of the population held credit cards. But a series of economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s convinced many Venezuelans they had to change their country’s direction.
“They thought their answer was Chavez,” Murray said. “They thought it was socialism. They thought that their credit woes and other problems were going to be cured through socialism, and the result is what you have in Venezuela today, which is always the result of utopian systems or utopian thought, and that is no clean water, undependable electricity, gasoline shortages in one of the greatest oil-producing countries, food shortages – I could go on.”
Bloomberg reported a dense ash-filled smog has led to more than 3,700 cases of respiratory illness around Caracas since March. A lengthy drought has robbed Venezuelans of access to clean water on a daily basis. When water does flow from their taps, it comes out yellow and dirty.
The government sends out water trucks to try to alleviate the suffering, but the trucks are frequently robbed by gangs before they can reach their intended destinations.
Doctors in Caracas have seen a rise in stomach illnesses and skin problems due to the lack of clean water, but they do not have the medicines they need to treat all their patients.
The drought has also depleted water levels at the Guri dam, which produces 40 percent of Venezuela’s electricity. President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s hand-picked successor, came up with a 60-day plan to conserve electricity, proclaiming every Friday in April and May a holiday for public employees. He made last weekend five days long and discussed changing the country’s time zone to further reduce power consumption.
Murray, an occasional WND contributor, said Venezuela’s electricity crisis can be pinned partly on the country’s socialist system. The government has fixed the official price of electricity at 3 cents per kilowatt hour, but only businesses pay that rate. The unofficial rate, he said, is about half a cent per kilowatt hour. By contrast, electricity in the U.S. costs around 10 cents per kilowatt hour.
The problem, according to Murray, is electricity cannot be delivered for half a cent per kilowatt hour, so the artificially low price leads to demand that is greater than supply. But the central planners in charge of Venezuela determined electrical power should be cheap, so they fixed a price below market value.
“That is the problem with utopian thought, because the basis of the thought is supplying the needs of the people and the central planners decide what those needs are,” Murray explained. “Again, not wants — needs. They don’t care what you want.
“They determine the need, and the need might be entirely different from what the people want, but they don’t care because they have come to the conclusion that they know what the people need, and then they set the goals of supplying that need often at prices that it cannot be supplied from.”
Marc Fitch, author of the book “Shmexperts: How Ideology and Power Politics are Disguised as Science,” said “experts” are naturally attracted to socialism because government programs are the only way to impose one’s ideas on all of society. So it is with Venezuela’s leaders.
“Socialism is based on the belief that humanity can be molded by the most intelligent and most educated to achieve the best possible outcome,” Fitch told WND. “Naturally, those in power always believe themselves to be the most educated and intelligent. This is one of the reasons these kinds of political movements that attempt to turn society into a mathematical or economic theory always fail. Those in charge believe themselves to be smarter and more well equipped than the individuals whose lives they deign to influence.”
Fitch argued even the best and brightest can’t foresee all the unintended consequences. He pointed out Hugo Chavez once pushed Venezuela’s clocks back half an hour with the intention of allowing children to walk to school in daylight. However, the time change also made it dark when most people left work, leading to increased daily power usage and more crime.
“That’s a perfect example, and it kind of sums up the constant failure of socialism; it sounds like a nice idea but it ends up making things worse,” Fitch remarked.
Murray thinks Maduro’s plans to conserve electricity are inadequate. Rather than releasing the price of electricity to the free market, the Venezuelan president is trying to ensure reduced usage of lights and air conditioners in public buildings so he can continue to supply electricity at “such a low cost that it might as well be zero,” according to Murray.
“Keep in mind the inflation rate in Venezuela has been 200 percent a year and the cost of electricity hasn’t moved, but the cost in Venezuela to supply that electricity has gone up 200 percent a year,” Murray noted.
Bloomberg reports inflation is expected to soon rise to nearly 500 percent. At the same time, Venezuela’s economy contracted by 5.7 percent in 2015 and is expected to contract by an additional 8 percent this year.
All of these problems have made Maduro unpopular, and his opponents won a major victory in December’s legislative elections. However, Maduro and his Supreme Court appointees have blocked almost every attempt by the new legislature to change Maduro’s policies.
Murray said he considers Maduro a dictator because he is using executive orders to override the will of the Venezuelan people. Murray expects Maduro, like all dictators, will not change course or give up power easily.
“Unfortunately the members of his party and the military that he controls live exceedingly well,” Murray said. “He makes sure of that, and so he has the armed power in order to remain in office, and I’m sure that the next presidential election will be more than rigged.”
Fitch believes, ultimately, Maduro is trapped within his own socialist ideology, which tells him he is the expert on what’s best for Venezuela. But Fitch warned a single expert, or even a group of experts, simply can’t order a society to meet every unforeseeable event.
He pointed to the former Soviet Union as an example. When a famine hit the country, the communist economy couldn’t adjust to the change because it was no longer operating according to the principle of supply and demand. Massive food shortages hit the USSR, just as shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity have slammed Venezuela. And the socialist “experts” have been unable to cope with the crises that have developed.
“This is why massive changes to the way government interacts with society are bad ideas,” Fitch insisted. “Once you go so far there is no going back. Experts try to refashion society quickly according to their ideas, and theories and socialism gives them the power to do so. Unfortunately, when things go wrong they cannot formulate a way out of the downward spiral.”