In Venezuela, Reality Comes Crashing

What does the word “ideology” mean? Ask five different people and you’ll get five different definitions. Ask me and I’ll give you a formula: ideology equals what we’re expected to believe minus what actually is.

What we’re expected to believe depends on where you live. The other day I heard news that the already intolerable humidity in my city, Washington, DC, was expected to get even worse. I joked to my friend that we should kidnap that weatherman until the he agrees to make the weather pleasant again. This is obviously absurd, and we are expected to find such a thing absurd. In socialist Venezuela, however, things are  a little bit different.

Venezuela should have been the Norway of South America. Pundits had been predicting this since 2010, when it was clear that the country would dethrone Saudi Arabia – a much wealthier country with an almost identical population – as having the largest oil reserves in the world.

But in spite of all this, Venezuela is still managing to undergo what Time described as a “complete collapse of society.” The democratically elected socialist government tried to faithfully implement a centrally planned economy and smash capitalism. By some metrics they succeeded. They smashed the markets for toilet paper and made it nearly impossible to come by, they smashed the market for food and forced citizens to wait in hours-long breadlines, and then they even smashed those lines by removing people from them based on the last digits on their government ID cards. Now food scarcity is so bad that people are set to be forced to work on farms.

The chasm between the notional and the actual couldn’t be larger. Not once did the ruling elites of Venezuela consider that their naïve – no, psychotic – utopianism might lead to bad results. President Nicolás Maduro’s adherence to ideology led him to blame the crisis on “economic warfare promoted right-wing sectors” of the country. It’s clear that, in making that statement, he was under the influence of ideology and not facts. He, just like every other socialist, is trying to relitigate 150 years of known economic fact: countries with free markets and powerful “right-wing sectors” don’t have breadlines and don’t have catastrophic shortages.

This kind of straightforward denial of reality is even more ridiculous than kidnapping the local weatherman until he lowers the humidity. But the thing is, that would actually be less insane than Maduro’s strategy of cracking down on productive free market activity whenever something goes wrong. Kidnapping meteorologists, at least, doesn’t negatively affect the weather, but anti-capitalist demagoguery clearly sends countries down the road to ruin.

There’s some refreshing sobriety on the matter from a source you might not expect. Leon Trotsky’s idea of permanent revolution was basically that the energy that brought about the revolution in the first place needs to be sustained indefinitely to perpetuate the social order preferred by revolutionaries, rather than the social order that falls into place naturally. Revolution cannot be a set-it-and-forget-it thing when it’s a revolt against the laws of reality. The foot that is ideology needs to be kept on the gas, but the gas tank will eventually go empty.

Reality flows one way, and, just as is the case with entropy, it is only a matter of time before all dams built to hold it back will crumble. It’s going to hurt – indeed, the pain is already here – but the people of Venezuela will be forced to rediscover free markets when the inexorable tide finishes roiling through.