By José Niño*
Leftist political commentators continue to be in denial about Venezuela.
On his show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, comedian John Oliver recently covered Venezuela’s current economic crisis.
Like any leftist analysis of Venezuela’s economic disaster, Oliver’s segment completely misses the mark.
To rationalize Venezuela’s catastrophic state, Oliver engaged in a series of mental gymnastics that could easily qualify him for the 2020 Olympics. This entire episode was an empty display of leftist journalism hiding behind the guise of comedy.
And, sadly, it was filled with many of the same excuses socialist apologists use to rationalize the failures of their nasty experiments.
Yet Again, We’re Indulging in the “No True Scotsman” Fallacy
Starting at 2:46, Oliver asserts that there are “Plenty of socialist countries that look nothing like Venezuela.”
What countries is he actually be referring to?
Or is he referring to the supposedly socialist Scandinavian countries? The same countries featuring mixed economies that originally became wealthy through capitalism before the welfare state came along.
Vague in details and actual research, Oliver starts off by avoiding any direct discussion of socialism’s horrid track record.
But that’s to be expected from leftist intellectuals that quickly dismisses any blatant case of socialist failure as “not true socialism”.
The No True Scotsman Fallacy has just entered the building.
The Mismanagement Cop-Out
In the same vein, Oliver downplays the Venezuelan crisis by claiming it’s not a question about socialism but rather a case of “epic mismanagement”.
A convenient excuse to explain away the natural consequences of central planning, Oliver fails to recognize that mismanagement is an inherent feature of socialism.
Venezuela’s notorious shortage crisis is the result of a country with no functioning market to freely determine prices. Oliver at least acknowledges the negative impact of price controls at 9:07, but he embellishes this with the claim that Venezuela’s price controls “were unrealistic”.
Basic economics demonstrates that price controls are unrealistic by default.
Under a free market, consumers and producers use prices as signals to determine how much of a product must be demanded or supplied.
However, when price controls enter the equation, the entire price system is thrown out of whack. Artificially low prices incentivize consumers to demand more of a good than producers are able to supply. When demand exceeds supply, shortages emerge.
Make no mistake it about it, price controls are part and parcel of the socialist system.
Economist Ludwig von Mises acknowledged this in his essay Middle-of-the-Road Policy Leads to Socialism :
“No branch of industry can be omitted from this all-round fixing of prices and wages and from this obligation to produce those quantities which the government wants to see produced. If some branches were to be left free out of regard for the fact that they produce only goods qualified as non-vital or even as luxuries, capital and labor would tend to flow into them and the result would be a drop in the supply of those goods, the prices of which government has fixed precisely because it considers them as indispensable for the satisfaction of the needs of the masses.
But when this state of all-round control of business is attained, there can no longer be any question of a market economy. No longer do the citizens by their buying and abstention from buying determine what should be produced and how. The power to decide these matters has devolved upon the government. This is no longer capitalism; it is all-round planning by the government, it is socialism.”
Still Don’t Believe Venezuela is a Socialist Country?
For those that remain skeptical about Venezuela’s socialist status, they can look no further than the second section of the Communist Manifesto, “Proletarians and Communists,” to understand the government’s true nature. Marx sums up with the socialist program with ten essential tenets:
1. Abolition of Property in Land and Application of all Rents of Land to Public Purpose.
Under Hugo Chávez’s regime, the Venezuelan government has expropriated over 6 million acres of farmland and has extended this crusade to large supermarket chains and factories, putting property rights in jeopardy.
2. A Heavy Progressive or Graduated Income Tax.
Venezuela features a progressive income tax, topping out at 34% for the highest income earners.
3. Abolition of All Rights of Inheritance.
While rights of inheritance are not completely abolished in Venezuela, the government still taxes the largest inheritances at a hefty rate of 55% .
4. Confiscation of the Property of All Emigrants and Rebels.
The Venezuelan government has expropriated the assets of foreign companies such as ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.
5. Centralization of Credit in the Hands of the State, by Means of a National Bank with State Capital and an Exclusive Monopoly.
Founded in 1939, the Venezuelan Central Bank has played a substantial in Venezuela’s collapse by monetizing its debt and increasing the money supply at unprecedented rates. The result? Hyperinflation .
6. Centralization of the Means of Communication and Transport in the Hands of the State.
Venezuela’s National Commission of Telecommunications (CONATEL) regulates and controls all media in the country. It has gained notoriety for its censorship campaigns , which has earned Venezuelan media the classification of “ not free ” according to Freedom House.
7. Extension of Factories and Instruments of Production Owned by the State.
Government-sponsored labor organizations have taken over abandoned factories in the name of the state. Foreign conglomerates weren’t exempt from this as Chávez’s government took over Argentine and Japanese owned factories for state purposes.
8. Equal Liability of All to Labor. Establishment of Industrial Armies, Especially for Agriculture.
In response to food shortages, Nicolás Maduro signed a forced labor law requiring “all workers from the public and private sector with enough physical capabilities and technical know-how” to help the government boost food production.
9. Combination of Agriculture with Manufacturing Industries; Gradual Abolition of the Distinction Between Town and Country by a More Equable Distribution of the Population over the Country.
Originating in Cuba, the Venezuelan government attempted to implement organoponics , a system of urban agriculture using organic gardens, with the aim of achieving agricultural self-sufficiency in urban centers like Caracas.
10. Free Education for All Children in Public Schools.
Compulsory education was established by decree in 1880. Public schools in Venezuela now function as indoctrination centers, where millions of youth read the works of Communist figures like Che Guevera and Fidel Castro in order to “cleanse” themselves of capitalist thought.
In sum, Venezuela meets the majority of the requirements that Marx spelled out for a country to be on the path to socialism.
Sadly, many will continue to ignore this unbearable truth.
How many more failed socialist experiments will it take for the Left to recognize socialism’s penchant for destruction?
John Oliver’s viewers can giggle all they want, but whitewashing socialism’s failures in Venezuela is no laughing matter when countless people are dying due to socialist induced starvation.
This article was published by the Mises Institute.