The Oil Numbers and the A Priori Trap

You should read this.

Honestly, you should.


Because, in Venezuela, few numbers are either as important or as opaque as PDVSA’s total production and exports. It’s a technical topic, not for the faint of heart, and one shrouded in so many layers of obfuscation, propaganda and plain old lying that even people who get paid a full-time salary to keep track of the evidence tend to shrug their shoulders and qualify their conclusions heavily.

In opposition circles, there’s a certain tendency – and I wave a white flag from the start here cuz I know I’ve done it – to assume that PDVSA is definitely, by definition, exporting far, far less oil than they say, and the number is always dropping. Fast.

It’s a kind of a priori trap: a tendency to assume that whatever Ramírez says must necessarily be wildly overstated, prior to and independent of any evidence on the matter. The fact that PDVSA’s export figures are independently audited simply falls out of the picture.

Setty does not, alas, have the definitive answer to this inscrutable puzzle. What he does bring to the table, though, is a keen sense of the a priori trap, and a determination not to fall into it. It’s the kind of skeptical stance that allows you to see that, against all odds, OPEC’s widely-considered-brutal-to-Venezuela production figures have actually been trending up, while it’s PDVSA’s self-reported exports that are trending down. Crazy stuff.

So yes, read it.

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