Muddling Through to Nowhere

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The Aporrea-roots up in arms
The Aporrea-roots are up in arms

Aporrea made for uncommonly schadenfreudy reading this weekend as the collective penny dropped for middle class chavismo that their own prized shard of the petrostate piñata is now decidedly under threat.

The lazy soundbyte here is that the measures Rafael Ramirez announced last week were “too little too late.” But that understates the scale of the mess: Ramírez’s reforms were both way too much, and nowhere near enough.

They were way too much in that the chavista political coalition comes under serious strain when you even hint at messing with core-redistributive policies. But they were also nowhere near enough, because they’re just not on the kind of the scale of fiscal adjustment needed to really address the structural forces fuelling the crisis.

Let’s remind ourselves, what Ramírez announced amounts to a policy tweak, limiting the accessibility of a cherished populist goodie in order to save perhaps $1.4 billion…out of a figure variously estimated in the $35-$60 billion range (though of course the exact figure is a mystery).

So the latest non-devaluation-devaluation is a drop in the fiscal bucket. Still, the bottom fell out of the Venezuelan bond market, and chavismo is freaking out. The government is alienating core constituencies for the sake of not solving the problem. Even Simón Andrés Zúñiga, understood to be Jorge Giordani’s own nom-de-blogue on Aporrea, went into high rant mode, decrying that

Las medidas implican un fuerte ajuste macroeconómico, que incluye un shock institucional, esto tendrá un efecto importante sobre la fijación de los precios y sobre la actividad económica. En este inicio de año, el desabastecimiento se está generalizando y alcanzando niveles críticos.

Let’s just be clear: that’s Chávez’s chief economic ideologist and planning minister talking! When Giordani’s sock-puppet sounds indistinguishable from your standard oppo talking head, you know you’ve crossed some critical threshold into terminal loopiness.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what Venezuelans are living through now is the furthest extremes of the 1989 counterfactual. I’m only sorry Hugo Chávez himself isn’t around to deal with it.