Where the Maisanta Bodies Are Buried

Quico says: Venezuela is far from the first country where an autocratic regime has used its economic muscle to systematically punish dissidents where it hurts: in their pocketbooks. It may, however, be the first where the government has left an evidentiary trail meaty enough for economists to pick over and analyze.

The following slide is taken from the latest version of a research paper on the costs of signing petitions against Chávez back in 2002-2003 carried out by a team led by Francisco Rodríguez and including Chang-Tai Hsieh, Edward Miguel, and Daniel Ortega. It shows the change in your chances of being employed if you did not sign the third and final petition against Chávez (top line), if you did sign that petition (bottom line) and for the population as a whole (solid line) between 1997 and 2006.

Notice how the top and bottom lines basically track one another…right until the Maisanta List was published.

The authors estimate that the use of the Maisanta list cost the Venezuelan economy as a whole in the order of 3 points of GDP (which, for the non-economists out there, is massive) before concluding, a bit laconically, that:

There is a sense in which this paper’s findings are not terribly surprising, namely, that there are regimes that punish their political opponents and that these costs can be substantial. What is unusual about the case we study is the availability of the voter database actually used to target the opposition, and that the punishment was carried out on such a large scale that we are able to measure the labor market outcomes of the everyday individuals that suffered from political retaliation. We find that one third of Venezuelan voters that signed any of the three recall petitions suffered from an average 5 percent drop in their earnings and a 1.5 percentage point drop in their employment probability. This wage drop is largely borne by the 20 percent of voters who signed the third and decisive petition round, which is suggestive that the main instrument of political retaliation was the widely circulated Maisanta database that contains the list of signers of the third petition.

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