A heartfelt rant, from @angelalayon

The new normal
The new normal

We economists are not having an easy time as of late.

Venezuela’s economic absurdities have recently been compounded by the realization that, yes, Venezuela’s Central Bank is now just another arm of the chavista propaganda machine. Every day seems to bring news of the government only making things worse, and there is seemingly no end in sight.

It’s deeply frustrating. Sometimes, writing about Venezuela can be downright depressing.

Which is why I found this delirious rant by my friend, the usually cerebral Ángel Alayón, so appealing. In this one, Ángel writes in something akin to stream-of-consciousness, a welcome sight from the founder of Prodavinci, putting into words something all of us are feeling – how stupid, how evil do you have to be to screw up this much?

There comes a point where even the most even-keeled of intellectuals has to say “enough!”

The money quote, in Spanish (translation follows):

“Nada menos romántico que hablar de inventarios. No hay amor en la contabilidad. Pero se sabe que los héroes de quienes tanto nos gusta hablar no habrían triunfado sin una logística que permitiera el cumplimiento de sus tareas y aventuras. Alejandro El Grande no hubiera podido derrotar a los persas sin un complicado manejo de provisiones para alimentar a sus soldados y animales de guerra lejos de la Macedonia del siglo IV a.C., tiempos y circunstancias en las que alimentar a grandes cantidades de personas era difícil y muy costoso.

En nuestro caso, no hablamos de epopeyas. Hablamos de la vida cotidiana. Hablamos de la compra de pan, de carne, de leche, de harina para alimentar a nuestras familias. Compras que el mundo moderno ha solucionado con facilidad, un mundo que ahora nos produce envidia y nostalgia. ¿Acaso no pueden nuestras farmacias y supermercados estar surtidas como las de Brasil, o cualquier otro país de su preferencia que usted quiera insertar en esta pregunta?”

Which roughly says:

“There is nothing less romantic than talking about inventories. There is no love in accounting. But the heroes we enjoy talking about would not have triumphed without logistics to support their quests and adventures. Alexander the Great would not have defeated the Persians had it not been for a complex web of supply management to feed his soldiers and his animals far away from fourth-century BC Macedonia, when it was incredibly difficult and expensive to feed large numbers of people.

In our case, we are not talking about great epic quests. We are talking about buying bread, meat, milk, flour with which to feed our families. These are purchases that the modern world has solved easily, the same world that we now look at with envy and nostalgia. WHy can’t our drug stores be stocked just like they are in Brazil, or in any other country you might want to insert here?”

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  1. Empty shelves carry a message , a message about a life of shortages , of missing staples , of desperate searches for this or that dissapeared product , of soaring prices , of long queues to buy almost anything you need to buy , Empty shelves are the equivalent of thousand of hours of tv or radio messages which denounce the lie of the govt;s much publicized imaginary achievements , the lie behind Maduros ( and his minions ) many frenzied speeches , Empty shelves carry a resonant and constant message , one which nothing the govt does can silence , a message that reaches everyone. Now its even inspired the judicious and balanced Mr Alayon to this eloquent rant . The paradox is that this hail of messages represented by empty shelves is all govt made , their mistakes , their abuses , their corruptions all contribute to making these messages indelible and memorable. If the oppo could pay for the most effective information campaign in the world it wouldnt be able to afford the messages that these empty shelves give.

    • Great point. But note that empty shelves alone only deliver the message: we have a problem! But they don’t *explain* the source of the problem, and this is where some argue communication hegemony has given the government the upper hand, which at least the resurgence of Maduro at the end of 2013 seems to show. Tie them together: empty shelves, corrupt and greedy speculators. It doesn’t have to be correct, it just has to resonate in a seemingly coherent way.

      • Exactly.
        Very obvious messages like this are not linked to the government’s failure by a huge amount of the population if that government is brain washing people so badly and our opposition hasn’t had the desire to explain things (and now hardly can)

          • its been studied that people, once they make up their minds, will not change their opinions because they ve personalized those opinions, made them into a proud badge of an enhanced self identity so that giving up on them represents a kind of humiliation, thus they will a priori ‘be convinced’ that they are right if presented with the flimsiest of arguments supporting their views while they will automaticaly and flippantly belittle and discount even strong arguments against their opinions because of the unfavourable impact on their self image . Self Proud Opinions will overthrow the lessons of critical reason almost every time !! This is just human nature !!
            I very much doubt that the best experts reasonings or arguments will make much of a dent in the hermetically closed minds of the fanatized Chavista diehard. Something similar may happen with the views and opinions of opponents of the regime .
            Of course people who through study and or reflexion or observation acquire a certain level of critical or intellectual literacy may find if difficult but possible to change or nuance their personal views if presented with good arguments that challenge their views . But people with that kind of critical intellectual literacy are always very much in the minority . This means that there are no dialogues only contentious matches and insults between contending bands . specially in Venezuela were polarization has been strongly and deliberately fostered as a political strategy by Chavez and his regime . the regimes discourse is offensive and belligerent in the extreme and its agenda clearly hegemonic and sectarian. The stronger their hold on the institutions of power the least interest they migh have in coming to any kind of understanding with their rivals except punctually and for reasons of practical expedience . All of the above leads me to believe that the hopes of a turn arround in public opinion resulting from being exposed to some rational interpretations and explanations for the many problems our society faces is probably slim . Dont think that there are enough open minded people who will be amenable to a change of views simply because of some argument or another being put before them .

          • After WWII, Natzi Germany was described to have in a political context a type of “Oedipus Complex”, because when their atrocities became apparent to the world, they metaphorically “poked out their own eyes” and lived in a state of denial, claiming that they did not know about the atrocities. At that time, Germans were highly educated although were subjected to lots of official propaganda. I point this out, because it may be more complicated than simply information hegemony. There may be a component of self-delusion.

          • Wow, a couple of quotes: “Hemos visto como la …corrupción… se ha enquistado en cargos de dirección en los diferentes organismos del estado…para poder asì deshacer con los pies lo que el alto gobierno trata de hacer con las manos…
            Es de conocimiento publico, que lamentablemente son muy pocos los industriales, productores y comerciantes, con apego a las normas y a la moral mas básica…
            Yo le hago un llamado a los industriales de buena voluntad, estamos en una oportunidad de “ORO”, ya que el país necesita mucha producción de todos los rubros, no pretendan ganarse en 10 unidades de producción lo que se debe ganar en 100. No se pongan la soga al cuello ustedes mismos, ya que si Uds. no están dispuestos a producir con un 20% de ganancias, hay muchas empresas extranjeras que están dispuestas a venir para ganarse el 15%.”

          • The guy is blaming both the govt and the private sector for the mishaps in our current economy . His puerile and romantic solution, that you gather in a throng all the gold hearted people working any establishment and have them nobly and wisely decide collectively with raised arms what decisions have to be taken to achieve maximum production and magically solve all supply and pricing problems . The guy is a goof ,a sanctimonous believer in the ‘People’ and their capacity through primitive democratic processes to solve all the challenging problems of a broken down economy . No amount of expert lectures are going to convince him to abandon his tender fantasies !! the revolution has its heart in the right place but its been betrayed by some of its false followers who let the wicked and mean heartless private entrepeneurs exploit the innocent People, who just want to maximize their profits no matter what. Bet that the guy is proud of his goofy romantic vision of things !!

          • Amazing, right?
            Bill Blass, you so spot on when you say “All of the above leads me to believe that the hopes of a turn arround in public opinion resulting from being exposed to some rational interpretations and explanations for the many problems our society faces is probably slim.”
            That, I believe, is the biggest challenge for the opposition.

      • Fair point but most people are not as dumb as all that , they do know that those empty shelves werent there before , that they represent something new , something that doesnt happen in other countries , in countries that are run on traditional market economy basis , (in the US , in Colombia , in Brasil ) . You take a queue ( as many of us constantly take now a days ) and peoples comments dont echo the govts narrative , instead they bitterly complain about the govts mismanagement of things , most repeated phrase ‘pero ahora tenemos patria’ said in irritated and ironic tones . There are people who have been brainwashed not now but from long ago to believe anything the govt says , for whom nothing the govt does or says is ever wrong , to whom the best explanations of the best economists cant convince that the govt lies , they may parrot the narrative but there is deeply rooted habit in Venezuela among common people to blame the govt for everyhing that even among the latter takes over their mental processes and has them blame the govt for their travails. I recently heard a taxi cab driver give me a perfectly reasoned explanation of why we were now afflicted with runaway inflation , one which would have done Kepler proud. A climate of opinion has developed and continues to grows that interprets the empty shelves for what they really means . Gov narrative is good to help their most stalwart followers toe the govt line , but its not convincing much anyone else. A battle is being waged for peoples convictions and the empty shelves work powerfully to discredit the govt and turn many people against it.

  2. I understand your frustration, even if I am not an economist.
    When I saw Eudomar Tovar for the first time, trying to read a chart and to speak, I thought we touched bottom…but of course, the BCV report came, for which the MUD didn’t have a quick, good response as virtually all our leaders were on vacation (doesn’t matter where but we knew where).

    Now, I do have some questions: where were you during all these years? Was it that you didn’t get access to the media?

    Do journous thought they didn’t need you? (and obviously, they do not have the know how, specially not in Venezuela)

    Economists should be some of the teachers of the nation at this time. But I hardly see them, I hardly saw them when they could talk in Globovisión. I hardly read them in El Nacional or El Universal and then mostly “interpreted” by journos who somehow manage to make things murkier than they need to be, journos who don’t even know how to use punctuation in Spanish.

    Were economists allowed to talk in Globovisión when they could? Can’t they publish anything on Venezuelan newspapers themselves because of the law of “periodismo”? I wonder: could economists in Venezuela explain things or are they just like most journalists?

    I recently read an article Juan Christobal tweeted about regarding inflation in Venezuela. It had a nice chart showing what position Venezuela occupied in the inflation ranking in the world since 1980. That was very interesting, very revealing but my thoughts were: how come the normal El Universal-El Nacional reader and every single oppo politician in Venezuela wouldn’t be
    aware of these things in the year 2014? And most, we have to say, didn’t really know.

    One of the things that has fascinated me in the last 14 years is the lack of charts in Venezuelan newspapers: there is virtually nothing but the one pie chart or so about election results, if anything. Charts on economics? Nothing. And charts can be used within a nice article to put things more into perspective: our country across time across the region.

    I learnt how to use charts at the latest when I was in the Primero de Bachillerato (7th year of schooling now). I was at a public school back then and I don’t think the topic was difficult for anyone, unlike other subjects. Charts were rather instinctive once you explain what your “horizontal thingie” and your “vertical thingie” were about.

    As a reference: some of the star anchors in the German public TV channels are economists (either as full career or, as Marietta Slomka, as one of their majors). In other countries around here you see them as frequent guests on the daily news, not every quarter but at least once a week and often more.

    Are economists in Venezuela only to be found in private companies churning numbers or driving taxis? I think had they been more present in the Venezuelan conscience, we wouldn’t have read that weird, Idi-Amin-like statement about economic war in the BCV report now. Or perhaps we would? Argh…

  3. The rant is a bit of a mishmash, a vent of frustration that calls for a little elaboration. Take the following: “These are purchases that the modern world has solved easily”. Indeed, it *seems* easy, but it’s not!! Logistics, supply chain management and all that is far from simple, all embedded in technologically advanced societies! If it is possible at all it is thanks to the (key words here) “modern world”: fast and efficient computational algorithms, communication systems, transportation, etc, etc, etc. And all playing itself out in a decentralized marketplace. If chavistas would understand how complex the marketplace really is, and how it is impossible to control it (but, sadly, how easy it is to distort it!).

    Finally: let’s not be naive and ignore the complexity of the challenges facing any government. Underlying many of the problems the chavista petrostate has created for itself lies one, the dependence on that monstrous resource, oil, which cannot be easily circumvented. Empty shelves are just the most evident symptom of attempts to exploit and circumvent the opportunity and difficulty created by that resource.

    • The logistics of putting milk etc, on shelves nationwide was solved decades ago; simpler systems then but functional, as were those in place in Venezuela until a few years ago, before their foundations were removed. Everyone seems to think that the authorities are so daft that they fail to fulfil basic needs of the population: only Maglio below here underscores the option of the prevailing circumstances’ actually being the taqrget aimed at, namely, an economy where most people are constrained to spend an inordinate amount of time, treasure and energy, all limited resources, in keeping body and soul together, thereby reducing the probablility of public unrest (“If you don’t behave, we’ll remove even the meagre crumbs left to you!”) to a neglible level.

      • Right on Neddie but essential comments seem to be ignored by the general population because they pretty much end the debate and clarify things to a point where a clear stand has to be taken.

    • “Inefficiencies” in the modern world are “opportunities” for entrepreneurs in a free market. In a centralized economy that is managed by bureaucrats where “inefficiencies” become in effect a form of “job-security!”.

  4. Fidel long ago mastered the way to leverage a Shortage Economy into a technique for regime survival, forcing people to spend so much time and energy just trying to secure the basics they’ve no time to try to overthrow you.

  5. The premise on which democracy is founded is the belief that people will be able to know their best interests long term , that they will be able to tell the difference between a competent govt and a totally incompetent one ,between a corrupt one and a non corrupt one , in terms that go beyond the short term benefits they may recieve from it . That an incompetent and corrupt govt will be voted out of office . What history and experience is telling us however is that sometimes a regime will be able to movilize a clientelar populist system of spoils and cheap syrupy an pseudo epic but effective narrative and convince a large portion of the population (lacking in discernment , education and mired in resentments and ignorance) to support it even if it is flagrantly incompetent and corrupt.. That democracy to function needs a certain type of citizen , that not just any kind of citizenry will do . that many ordinary people can become as emotionally corrupt as their manipulative ‘power mad’ leaders . Of course such thoughts are taboo , we must believe with all our hearts that the mayority of people are right , that they are wise , and noble and capable of making the best judgments and decisions . This chasm between what people are supposed to believe and what historical and empirical reality reveal to us about the capacity of ordinary people to identify and punish bad govts is at the heart of many intellectually literate persons discomfort . they are called by their upbringing to believe a lie . That democracy cant ultimately become corrupt and produce popularly supported tyrannies.


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