Throughout the last decade, even as I’ve worked feverishly and hoped ardently for an early end to the Chavez disaster, a dark thought has haunted me: what if we get rid of the guy too soon? With a government intent in putting off painful decisions as long as possible, it was easy to fret that any replacement would be left holding the bag for the massive backlog of social and economic problems chavismo has created.
2010 is shaping up as the year when the chickens come home to the gallinero vertical to roost. Rising prices. A stagnant economy. Dropping living standards. Five months (at least) of power rationing. And all this in a context where the government monopolizes so much political power that any effort to pass the buck sounds beyond ridiculous to all but the hardest core of the Kool Aid brigade.
It’s sad that it’s had to come to this. But then, from a collective learning standpoint, it may be salutory. No number of jeremiads against the inefficiency of Centrally Planned economies can match the pedagogical potency of flicking a light switch and having nothing happen. No exegisis on the laws of political economy can match the explanatory power of seeing your pay packet buy less and less each month. This type of learning is intimate, personal: taking place right at the intersection between the individual and the state.
The process is traumatic. It has to be. That’s its whole point. The society it will produce: workless, disoriented, prostrate and exhausted, is very much the kind of society that in other times and in other places has gone on to pick itself up from its bootstraps, dust itself off, and engage the real, serious work of development.
I know, I know: Schadenfreude, it ain’t just a shrink in Vienna anymore. It’s not a pretty sentiment. But consider the alternatives: can you imagine President Rosales announcing an electricity rationing plan with Chávez as leader of the opposition? That, my friends, would have been a total disaster.
This, on the other hand, serves a purpose. It hurts, but it serves a purpose.