The $776 lie

Nicolás Maduro raised the minimum wage by 15% last night, starting December 1st.

Quickly, government news agencies began spewing the lie – there really is no other way to characterize it – that this was the highest minimum wage in Latin America, equivalent to US$ 776. The rub lies in the fact that this conversion is calculated using the official-yet-impossible-to-find exchange rate of BsF 6.3 per dollar – if you were to use the market exchange rate of BsF 102 per dollar, you get a minimum (and I mean really minimum) wage of US$ 48 per month.

For anyone minimally informed (pardon the pun), chavista math is just fiction. But not for certain foreign media outlets – the $776 lie is being voiced somewhat uncritically by, among others, Clarín, Terra, AP, La Tercera, Infobae, and even Reuters. (Note: The AP has posted a corrected version in English)

This might get chavismo some play abroad, but what matters is how it plays at home. And here is where lying becomes bad politics.

Imagine the people standing in line for hours waiting to buy basic goods. Imagine, thanks to the increasingly government-dominated media landscape, them listening to official broadcasts saying that Venezuela has “the highest minimum wage in Latin America.” How do you think they feel? Will this make them feel closer to the government, or more distant?

Lying creates a gap between those who lie and the people who know the truth. Lying works as long as there is a reasonably large segment of the population that is skeptical, or even ignorant, about the truth. But when people know the truth, no amount of lying will help your cause. It might end up sealing your fate.

Lying to those who know the truth does not generate empathy. It destroys it.