Will the fiscally responsible candidate please stand up?

"We're in a hole, compatriotas, so keep digging!"
“We’re in a hole, compatriotas, so keep digging!”

A moment of honesty: one of the reasons I’ve found it hard to blog about this election is the disappointment I feel with the Capriles candidacy. Yesterday I was reminded of why that is.

Yesterday Nicolás Maduro, being the shallow, irresponsible person that he is, promised people he would raise public salaries this year by close to 40%. Never mind the fact that the nation is bankrupt – the show must go on, and since inflation is on the rise, we must counter that with higher salaries for public employees.

Now, if Capriles really believed the campaign was a chance to highlight Maduro’s many flaws, he would have taken this announcement to do just that.

He could have pointed out that Maduro has bankrupted the nation. He could have stressed that Venezuela cannot keep spending and borrowing as if the day of reckoning wasn’t near. That raising salaries would only mean higher inflation down the road. Heck, he could have gone populist and simply said it wasn’t enough.

In other words, he could have kept the focus on Maduro, and on his reckless handling on the economy.

Instead, Capriles immediately countered Maduro with a promise to decree a hike in salaries … the day after the election. This comes on the heel of promising PDVSA employees that they won’t be touched.

Capriles is behaving like a candidate who thinks he can win, and is willing to offer anything and everything in order to do just that. The irony is that, taken at face value, one could argue the Maduro proposal is the least insane of the two! After all, he’s raising salaries gradually and leaving himself some wiggle room if conditions change.

Never mind that the President Elect – in case that were to happen – has no power to decree anything. Capriles recklessly puts aside any pretense of understanding the nation’s fiscal predicament, and simply promises to ramp up the printing press at the Casa de la Moneda, damn the torpedoes.

I’m sorry, but Venezuelans deserve to be treated as grownups. We’ve been through this before. Devaluations to cover a fiscal hole create inflation, which creates pressure to raise salaries. The government gives in, and this increases the deficit even more, prompting further devaluations down the road.

Wash, rinse, and repeat. Much as we may have nostalgia for the ’80s, bringing back the economic policies of the Lusinchi era is not going to get us anywhere. We know how all that turned out. And, judging by this exclusive report from Spanish journal ABC, the people in the Maduro campaign are well aware that the economy is a ticking time bomb.

I wish our candidate understood this.