A Moratorium on the Isms


obama-socialist-posterTell a U.S.American about Venezuela’s spectacular collapse this year and a frightening proportion of them have the same reaction: a scornful, sarcastic “What a surprise, Socialism is a disaster!”

For a sizable proportion, the kicker is automatic: “paging all BernieBros!” or even —and immeasurably more obnoxiously— “give Obama and Hillary another few years and we’ll be in the exact same place!”

I read that and think immediately of Doña Blanca Cabana. Now 86 years old, Doña Blanca has to get up at 4:00 a.m. in her house at El Limón and lug it all the way to the Mercado de Catia to stand in line for a kilo of pasta or flour to eat. Time was when disabled people and senior citizens had a separate, shorter line to buy these things: no more. Doña Blanca was beaten by the police days ago in the melee to get to the front of the line – now her arm is as bruised as her self respect.

In the rush to turn Venezuela into just one more card to play in the fight of the abstract nouns — conservatism! liberalism! socialism! — there’s no room for the black and blue on Doña Blanca’s arm. There’s a wholesale dehumanization of the experience of actual living Venezuelans in this mode of arguing that leaves me faintly nauseated, and deeply enraged.

Because Doña Blanca is real, damnit, in a way none of the “isms” are. They’ve all been drained of coherence by overuse, but none more so than socialism.

Socialism means shooting anyone who wears glasses. Socialism also means banning employers from forcing you to check your work email on the weekend.

Think about that.

A word that can be used to describe both those things has been usage-fucked out of any semblance of coherence. And trying to have a sensible debate about a fundamentally incoherent concept makes about as much sense as using a colander to carry water. It can’t work.

Is “socialism” Venezuela’s problem? Does that question even mean anything?

I do know what Venezuela’s problem is, though. Venezuela’s problem is that it sets all prices administratively, monetizes its debt, doesn’t respect property rights and doesn’t allow the rule of law to function.

In Venezuela, that miserable set of policies has created a garish social and economic collapse. Locally, it’s a set of policies known by the abstract noun socialism. In many other contexts, where that same abstract noun denotes a different set of policies and institutions, there’s no comparable collapse. As far as I can tell Bernie Sanders has no intention to set all prices administratively, monetize debt, abuse property rights and piss all over the rule of law – let alone Hillary Clinton.

(And as it turns out, it’s the GOP candidate who has flirted with debt monetization, and doesn’t seem to grasp even the barest outline of the rule of law. So there’s that.)

The broader point is that picking out the single more criminally incompetent instance of an ideology and letting it stand for the whole isn’t an argument, it’s a non-sequitur: a slippery slope fallacy intended to shut down debate and render illegitimate all positions other than your own.

We Venezuelans are more used to seeing this kind of nonsense applied in the other direction: chavismo has spent years staking out terrain in the far, far left reaches of the ideological spectrum and then labeling anyone half an inch to the right of them a fascist. We recognize the ideological blackmail involved in that move easily enough when it runs the other direction, why is it so hard to realize it’s the same thing when we apply it to the left?

What’s hiding just behind these kinds of maximalist positions is a deep mental laziness, coupled with a deep kind of intolerance. It’s a lot of work thinking through the ten zillion ways markets are both vital and chronically prone to breakdown, it takes effort to work out the complex ways the state can help them work better through well designed regulation or stop them working at all through ill designed meddling.

That’s the work of statecraft, coño, and just randomly declaring that conversation over before it’s had a chance to start does everyone a disservice.

All the cheap point scoring in the world isn’t going to fill up Doña Blanca’s grocery basket, ok? Capitalism won’t solve her problems any more than any other ism would. Decent government run by reasonable people on the basis of the law just might — and there ain’t no ism for that!

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  1. “Venezuela’s problem is that it sets all prices administratively, monetizes its debt, doesn’t respect property rights and doesn’t allow the rule of law to function.”

    That is socialism: the use of force to curtail economic liberties. Trying to save that sinking ship doesn’t make sense, even for someone with a left-of-center position. Socialism should be up there with fascism (aka national-socialism) among ideologies rejected by consensus in modern societies.

    About senator Sanders: Venezuela is actually feeling the Bern. After all, Bernie loves Cuba’s economic and social policies: http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/272485-sanders-defends-past-praise-of-fidel-castro

    Give him enough power in a weak rule-of-law context and he would become a Chavez-like catastrophe.

    On the other hand, capitalism would fill Doña Blanca’s basket with groceries. A free market system where prices communicate the information available and gets us to some sort of equilibrium between supply and demand is the cornerstone of capitalism, after all. And that system, with all its flaws, has proven to be pretty efficient at filling shelves on supermarkets.

    Ps. Getting associated with Venezuela’s socialism probably prevented this chavista in sheep’s clothing from coming to power in Spain: http://politica.elpais.com/politica/2016/06/06/actualidad/1465164036_077770.html
    Just for that, I would say the isms are pretty useful.

    • Where does Nordic socialism fall into this definition? This type of socialism allows for income redistribution, but also allows companies like Skype and Spotify to flourish. The same could be said about Bernie; he never highlights the control of small business in Cuba, instead sticking to talking points about poverty, health, and empathy.

      I think what you’re referring to is more of a Centralized Economy spectrum, on which fascism falls close to communism and certain strains of socialism.

      But you’re completely right in that Socialism still exists as an association, as a symbol in the minds of the electorate. But symbols don’t have any inherent meaning, only what we ascribe to them. I think that’s what Quico is alluding to…

      • Norway has a population of 5 million and Sweden 9 million. That wouldn’t be sustainable in countries with much high population. The welfare state can sustained with their vast resources and relatively low population.

        • Also realize that those countries (and many Scandinavian regions) have historically avoided many of pitfalls of southern european regions where massive influx of unskilled migrants overwhelm their generosity. Colder climates and impediments to travel has long been a way to secure a population from diversification. But Sweden is finding out how over dependent their guests have become and Norway is implementing stricter rules as well.

          Be aware, also, that avoiding the pitfalls that befell Venezuela (over reliance on oil commodities and lack of diversification within their GDP) has allowed quite a few social programs to flourish and means test them along the way. This is something that could never take place in other true Socialist regions. In effect, they have plenty of “other peoples money” (for now) to support this generosity.

          Only the most misguided would argue that “Well, if it works in Norway, why not do it everywhere?!?!” and then proceed to argue that “they were not Socialist enough to succeed” after the fact.

          In the end, “people get the government they deserve”

          • Excuses, excuses, excuses. What many call socialism, works for Scandinavian countries. Is it because of “socialism” itself? No. Like you said, it’s because of a pragmatic set of policies within a specific set of conditions.

            Ergo, it’s not about the “ism”, it’s about how you put it in practice. Pragmatism may be the only reliable “ism”.

          • “In the end, “people get the government they deserve””

            No one deserved to get oppressed by the Cuban / Chavista dictatorship, the people who voted for the corpse in the 98 were part of millions who were deceived for decades with the fake promise that populism could fix everything in their lives.

          • “Colder climates and impediments to travel has long been a way to secure a population from diversification.”

            Ah, very well put. We can start fixing our country by kicking out the foreigners. The only ones allowed to stay will be the venezuelans de pura cepa.

            There’s a name for that, but I choose to respect Quico’s wish to do away with “isms”. Piazo e’ Chavista!

      • “Nordic socialism”

        I always laugh at Socialism apologists who grip desperately on the idea that Scandinavians are the real socialists.

        No, they are not. Welfare state is not socialism.

          • Nordic countries aren’t socialist as they base their economy on capitalism.
            On the other hand, their society pivots on social principles (not socialist).
            For more, look for the “Nordic model”.

          • Typicala answer of a hard core believer in socialism, it is always a failure because they did not do it right. Scandinavian countries use free market solutions that would be unthinkable in the US. Vouchers for school choice, public schools competing with private schools, where vouchers an be used for private of public schools, to the consumer’s choice. Privatized public transit, etc etc. And they avoid closing competition to local source only.

      • Nordic socialism, is not socialism, only american call it that, they let the market free to do things. It is a welfare state, but will use the market to provide the solutions n may instances.

    • On most days I would agree with the majority of your post, IF it were written in response to a different blog posting. But I think you missed the point of this one.

      “”Socialism means shooting anyone who wears glasses. Socialism also means banning employers from forcing you to check your work email on the weekend.

      A word that can be used to describe both those things has been usage-fucked out of any semblance of coherence. And trying to have a sensible debate about a fundamentally incoherent concept makes about as much sense as using a colander to carry water. It can’t work.””

      “Socialism” may have a semi-agreed upon formal definition for the educated and people that care enough. BUT if the informal definition – you know, the one the other 90% of the voting age population uses that doesnt always coincide with reality, that one – doesn’t loosely correlate to the true word, or in this case, has been “usage-fucked out of any semblance of coherence“, then it matters little what the “formal” definition is. Everyone is working from a vastly different understanding of it.

      The word “socialism” becomes fucking useless for purposes of communication. It means whatever the person speaking it wants it to mean. Two people can’t even have an honest debate about whether socialism is bad or good, because they don’t know agree on what it is they are going to discuss!

      Just like Chavez and Maduro call anyone that disagrees with them “fascist”, but the majority of people around here don’t even know what the real meaning of the word is! It becomes another meaningless buzzword, redefined and thrown into the mix wherever it suits you, dictionaries, economists, and sociologists be damned!

      • I mostly agree with you. But Mr. Toro’s post got derailed from the moment he used a variant of the No-True-Scotsman fallacy about socialism (“Bernie is different!”, “not every socialist is bad!”).

        Debating about the distortion in the voting population perception of Marx’s work due to the overuse of certain words would’ve been a different thing. There is a fair point to be made there.

        What it’s not up for debate is that socialism (or should I say its “formal definition”?) has been a disaster in every country that has tried it.

  2. The problem with venezuela it’s corruption. Period.
    The possibility of getting a lot of money from the state it’s the reason for all the bad politics, it’s not ignorance, it’s not recklessness, it’s just greed; using those politics they can get their big tajadas. This it’s very common among politicians, Chavistas only kept pushing the limits of corruption and now this problem it’s bigger then universe. They need a political stamen and socialism was the one they choose, that’s it.

      • Chicken or the egg (in this case, I vote for the egg).

        Corruption is a large cause for the problems.

        “Corruption is itself a consequence of poor policies, non-existent monitoring and lack of public data.” In other words, the system is fundamentally flawed in it’s design and purposefully rigged to be easy to cheat at.

        So then, what causes the bad system design (both purposeful, and accidental)? Corruption is a problem is all countries, but why are most LatAm countries particularly plagued by it? And why has Venezuela’s financial corruption managed to reach obscene, unheard of heights that leaves other LatAm countries behind in the dust?

        Sure, culture plays a role in all of this. But in the end, every time I work it through, I theorize that the root cause comes down to education. Every. Single. Time. Not how well you test on your algebra education. I’m thinking more in the general sense, the combination of school taught AND culturally taught knowledge and habits.

        Why does a population ALLOW a system to be put in place which facilitates such rampant corruption? Often the answer is not “because the other guy has the guns” (that comes later on), but rather, “because it sounded good on paper and we didn’t know OR CARE that it wasn’t really as it sounded.”

        Why does a population ALLOW a judiciary that doesn’t function right? Yes, you can say that no one likes a weak judiciary branch. But if a larger percentage of the population truly understood the deep systemic consequences that a weak judiciary brings, then there might be more initiative to strengthen and protect it.

        The cultural element of education comes into play too. The part you learn at home growing up, and every day on the street interacting with people. — Culturally, good systems design seems to be at the bottom of most people’s priorities around here. It’s not necessarily because people are stupid, it’s just because it’s not a priority. No one really cares if it’s “the best” way to do something, it’s “a way” to do it, and that’s good enough.

        My broad spectrum take on a very complex problem: If a country or society is going to reform the badly designed policies and systems that allow for corruption, then first, both culturally and in the classroom, they need to be educated on why it matters. It has to be a priority to them, not just a nuisance.

    • The problem with Venezuela is that Competence and Problem Solving Skills are not (and have never been) well regarded and definitely not well paid. It really doesn’t matter who’s in charge or what their ideology is. As a whole, people in charge here will always favor someone with a sunny disposition over someone who can get things done. Therefore, those with skills leave (they are marginally better regarded and definitely better paid elsewhere). All that is left are those who can’t get anything done but do so with a smile. So what’s the solution the elites (again, regardless of their ideology, educational level, field of expertise, etc.. This happens with the so-called “Technocrats” at IESA as well as with any Chavista Chieftain) came up with? intimidate and threaten those who are left (and expect them to smile in return), so they perform barely below average. THAT is what the elite considers someone “who can get things done”, someone who by intimidation will get barely-below-average results using people who have little-to-no skills and even less interest in getting things done as manpower. It’s a problem that feeds itself. Those in charge think everyone below them is crap, and those below them have no reason to excel because the only thing that is rewarded is a sunny disposition. Yes Virginia, it happens everywhere. We simply are a terminal case of that situation left unchecked.

  3. I heard once a very smart youtuber saying that we like to make complex problems simple, because if they’re simple problems, they have simple solutions. And I thikn that’s the problem I see when people say the problem the country (And in some ways the rest of the region) are facing is just because of socialism. If we are not precise and accurate with the sickness, how do we expect to find the cure? And how do we expect not going through this problems again? And I think that’s also my biggest problem with people like Gloria Alvarez, she’s very well educated and very eloquent but her “Just get rid populism” narrative doesn’t convince me because I feel she skips the really deep problem in Latin America.

    Also, thank you for showing the difference between the Venezuelan government and people like Sanders or Clinton. That comparison just has to stop already.

  4. Bravo. It is infuriating both to see people defending chabe’s ‘sociialejmo’, as well as others blaming ‘socialejmo’ for all of the woes that Venezuela is facing, when ‘socialism’ in venezuela is nothing more than a that chabe expropiated -hehe- to apply to his cult-like destruction machinery, in order to gain popularity and international credibility.

  5. Cómo dices Quico, caer en los Isms lleva a nada.

    Pero por favor tampoco caigas en el juego de que existen socialismos buenos y socialismos malos.

    Muchos queremos que nadie decida por el otro que es lo que más le conviene a una persona. Todos queremos un país donde la Ley sea para todos, se cumpla y se haga cumplir. Muchos deseamos un país donde exista igualdad de oportunidades para prosperar.

    Muchos deseamos un país donde la competencia sea la que rija el mercado y no un ente gubernamental o un mercantilista (disfrazado de empresario) que usando sus conexiones establezca el precio que los consumidores tenemos que pagar.

    Y así puedo seguir con unos puntos mas.

    A cual Isms se lo podemos adjudicar, termina siendo secundario, porque etiquetar algo de Isms lleva a nada es irrelevante.
    A a doña que quiere terminar sus días felices, le importa un pepino el Isms como muy bien dices Quico.

    • Quico also writes: “And trying to have a sensible debate about a fundamentally incoherent concept makes about as much sense as using a colander to carry water. It can’t work.”

      I don’t think he advocates here for any kind of socialism, or any “ism” for that matter.

      • Para un escritor de la calidad de Quico, hacer este suave acercamiento, me pareció que traía la referencia a la que hago mención :

        ” As far as I can tell Bernie Sanders has no intention to set all prices administratively, monetize debt, abuse property rights and piss all over the rule of law – let alone Hillary Clinton.

        (And as it turns out, it’s the GOP candidate who has flirted with debt monetization, and doesn’t seem to grasp even the barest outline of the rule of law. So there’s that.)”

        Bernie va atraer un socialismo bueno a USA?

    • hmmm….igual que argumentar que hay buenas y malas democracias? Este tipo de rgumento me hace pensar que entonces deberiamos decir que la democracia no funciona porque la Grecia contemporanea es un desastre,

  6. Brilliantly put, I couldn’t agree more. I just wish the same as chavismo has for so long use the blanket “extrema derecha” for everyone who dares to disagree, those of us on the other side would understand we are no different when pinning everything down to “socialism”. You think we’d have learnt by now.

  7. “Socialism is a disaster!”

    People keep talking about “ideologies”. These Chavista thugs have NONE! Lenin was the last true ‘communist’ who lived his life in a modest way. And perhaps Giordiani in VZla, another foolish madman)

    Chavistas are not “socialists”, they are truly hard-core Capitalists stealing as much money as fast as they can. They love money, and apartments, and big boats and the good life. All of them. From Cabello to Chavez’s daughters. It’s nothing new: you deceive the uneducated pueblo people, selling the idea that the government is working for them..sadly, many buy those lies. And nothing gets done for them, except making them even poorer, which was the plan anyway from the beginning.

    • China and Russia are probably the most corrupt countries in the world, and both have the supermarkets’ shelves full. How do you explain?

      • Per capita, China and Russia steal less than Venezuelans. They obviously manage their economies better, and leave goods & services available for the regular public. Venezuela is probably the most corrupt country on the planet, comparable only to Haiti perhaps. But Haiti has nothing much to steal, Vzla has the oil.

  8. >Decent government run by reasonable people on the basis of the law just might — and there ain’t no ism for that!
    There is actually, its called unrealistic optimism. See, you are just thinking here that if you could just find 50 honest people to run this country everything will become better. Wake up and smell the sulfur, Abraham: we are here because there you couldn’t even find a soul worth saving in this new Sodom to begin thing.
    Everyone is this country is corrupt, and if not, everyone will become corrupted once they get into power.It has happened before and it will happen again.
    And even if by some accident they managed to do what its right, the people will kick them out themselves: Chavez still has 55% support Papa: we are beyond the rebelion of the naufragos territory and just straight into the Heart of Darkness down into Old Testament land: we are going to get burned down so bad God will have to put al least three new rainbows up there as promise he will never do that again.

      • Sure but, between us, what is a bible filled metaphor rant or two in the nonesense chart compared the belief that somehow the next Venezuelan goverment will strife away from populism?
        Cause I don’t think that will not happen anytime soon, if ever. In fact, if someone told me Ms. Blanca survival depends on it, I wouldn’t bet in her favor and honestly, I don’t think you would either so, why the bullshit?

        • I would bet in her favor. There’s no point in working for a country based on the assumption that all projects for development will fail. The point of view is futile cynicism.

          • So the reason for your bet is not based on a belief that the odds are in our favor, but on the fact that it would be very sad if we don’t get a decent goverment to rule over us it?
            That lady is super dead and you should stay away from casinos.

    • I mostly agree with this general sentiment: the ‘reasons’ for Venezuela’s problems run so deep, down to the very individuals, heck, down to individual children, that it is simply foolish to believe a change of government would somehow untie all these knots, that we would suddenly wake up in wonderland with full shelves and, crucially, no crime nor violent hatred…

      Of course not…

      But is absolute cynicism the only viable response to this? Is thinking ‘we are corrupt to the core and only the hand of God raining fire upon us will save us’ the only answer?

      For all your Bible metaphors, that is perhaps the least Christian of all positions.

      Sure, our culture is pretty fucked up. From top to bottom most will seek to get the upper hand, jalando pa su lado del sartén… but to deny that there are ‘good’ individuals is not only flawed, not only unhelpful, rather, it is perpetuating this very notion of inherent corruption. Para qué tartar si nadie cree en nada…

      You are an individual, and thus you are an agent for change. I don’t mean sudden, magical change, as if one action or some collective movement will rocket us into la-la land. No… but as an individual you have the power to influence other individuals.

      Have you ever done social work? Ever, say, taught children in the slums? Ever tried to instil some hope that, despite how fucked everything around us is, individuals can make meaningful lives for themselves? If you have and have never felt as though you actually contributed, que aunque sea pusiste tu granito… then, my friend, I fear you will never find peace.

      Look around you. This isn’t only Venezuela I’m talking about. The world is a VERY fucked up place, full or empty shelves notwithstanding. Of course, es más fácil llorar en un Ferrari… trying to ignore the fundamental issues of man kind whilst sitting in apparent comfort.

      You are a person. It is up to you whether you want to help the neighbour or bow out because you think it’s fruitless.

      True, the big picture might not change because of you. But who the fuck cares? Would you rather live with yourself doing fuck all, getting pissed or stoned, talking with other smart people about how we are doomed, about how there are no saints on this Earth, all in the appearance of comfort? Because, you know… if everything’s fucked I might as well make a bit of money and cash out some sort of pleasure…

      Or would you rather know that at least one person is grateful that you lent her a hand? That you saved one kid from a life of crime with your words? Hell, that at least you tried?

      If you find all of this to be senseless optimism then I am sorry for you, brother, and I pray for your lover and your heart.

      To paraphrase Dostoevsky: great, intelligent men suffer most of all.

      The question is, do you want this suffering to be in vain?

  9. Very well said. I wish people who are so quick to label things would actually read what you wrote, but alas, fools (or buffoons running for president) are quick to speak and slow to listen.

  10. It gets a little tiring to try to convince people that fascism is not a right wing ideology but a left wing one. Please check “The path to serfdom” by Friedrich Von Hayek, someone who had to flee the Nazis and knew the beast. Unfortunately, these days the term “fascist” has become an insult generally thrown at someone who has a conservative frame of mind. Hitler himself stated it in one of his discourses on the march to power: Our enemy is the bourgeois. Hardly right winger don’t you think?

  11. Excellent arguments and is true that the socialism/communism label has been made into a monster word to scare little children. Overuse and abuse of labels makes discussions hollow and meaningless, nothing more than standard flags to draw the battle lines and polarize the issue.

    But this assertion “Capitalism won’t solve her problems” does not make sense, even followed by “… any more than any other ism would.”

    By definition capitalism means free markets with no price controls and that would certainly allow Blanca to fill her basket at reasonable prices.

    It seems you went to the other extreme and are now negating even the most basic meanings of the labels, that is also not a good approach.

    • I would really like to find a country that really supports true Capitalism and minimizes social programs with means testing. Transparency and limited government used to be the hallmark of “good government”. What people forget is that the more you ask others to do for you, the more they can do TO you without you having a choice.

      Requiring people to contribute to their OWN future (through savings, co-pays, …etc.) is simply the most honest and transparent form of “tough love” one could expect. Making everything “free” and then buying votes only shows that a populace is unprepared for what is to come.

      • Everything in life (in nature, in the universe) is a balancing act.
        Some things are better free, in fact some things HAVE to be free. The question is where you draw the line and how do you draw that line.

        The folly of too much government is that it cannot accommodate every need, every person, and it should not try to. But it should provide the base necessities without curtailing private enterprise.

    • and is true that the socialism/communism label has been made into a monster word to scare little children.
      It would seem to me that Chavismo’s self-identification with Socialism would suffice to turn it into a monster word. Ditto the history of other self-proclaimed Socialists or Communists.

      • Which is why I do not understand why other European countries that are clearly capitalist call themselves socialist. Why associate themselves with a brand that is so damaged?

  12. THIS was a necessary discussion and I was wondering when someone in CC was going to bring this up, thanks Quico (me perdonas la confianza).

    Allow me to bring this to the attention of the people commenting:


    Scroll down to the member of the Socialist International from Venezuela…hmmm, what do we have:

    – Democratic Action (AD, yes, Ramos-Allup party)
    – Movement for Socialism (MAS, founded by Pompeyo Márquez, staunch enemy of Chavism)
    – A New Era (Manuel Rosales, Political Prisoner)
    – Voluntad Popular (Leopoldo López party)

    These “socialists” are some of the people with the highest profile against the PSUV (that oddly is not part of the organization, note though that Lula’s party from Brazil is)

    In the event of a change in government, there is a likely possibility that someone from these parties will end being President (the only Venezuelan parties with a firm ground in the traditional right are COPEI and María Corina Machado).

    It wasn’t the ideology, it was the people behind the Chavism who failed. Being it a Ultra Right government with the same amount of immoral corruption the failure would have been all the same

    • “These “socialists” are some of the people with the highest profile against the PSUV (that oddly is not part of the organization, note though that Lula’s party from Brazil is)”

      Which is why Venezuela is fucked and will be fucked for the next two or three generations.

    • A = “PSUV is Bad”;
      B = “PSUV hates [your-preferred-left-wing-party]”;
      C = “[your-preferred-left-wing-party] is Good”;

      if A and B then C

      Nice logic bro!

      • I don’t know whether they are good or no, good luck making COPEI a competitive alternative for the next elections. I’m up to inject Venezuela a healthy dose of Fiscal Conservatism, but where is the standard bearer of such ideology (with a clear shot to the presidency)? At least these “leftish” parties are open to free-market common sense and have a shot. As far as they don’t allow clientelism/populism to creep into the government Venezuela could rise from the ashes and hopefully get back on their feet in one generation. Not supporting (conditionally) anyone is worse.

  13. Tremendous Article! I can’t for the life of me understand why Bernie decided to label himself a socialist. He’s about as radical as the Swedes who, let’s face it, aren’t exactly known for their radicalism.

    • He used to be more leftist. Apparently he contribued to a Trotyskyite magazine in the 70s.

      But yes, his hardcore supporters don’t seem to understand how negative that term is thought of in the US (lingering effect of the Cold War).

      • In the end you have to concede, there is no point in trying to rescue socialism as a brand/label. Too much baggage. It is like going to a Jewish household and trying to convince them of the merits of Nazi cuisine. It immediately shuts off all discussion.

        When part of the PCV split to form the MAS they replaced the C word with the S word thinking it an improvement.
        Time to use a new word with a narrower and much clearer definition.
        Then we can freely discuss.

        Whomever wants to associate himself with Socialism is doomed to be bad regarded by many.
        Even Chávez knew to stay clear of the S word until he was firmly in power around 2007.
        Before then, he pretended using Blair’s third way as a mask.
        He, of course, did it to mislead people, his only true talent.

  14. I’m really not seeing the difference between blaming Doña Blanca’s problems on “socialism” on “setting all prices administratively, monetizing debt disregarding property rights and disrespecting the rule of law”. The latter might be more specific, but both seem right.

    • The problem is that socialism is a label with a thousand meanings. To me in the measure that it opposes capitalism it is bad. In other words socialism as economic policy is a huge failure. But socialism as a platform for social support is probably a necessity.

  15. I also blame those that support “socialism”. I mean the brand is so poisoned that it makes no sense to try to salvage it by keeping it alive. They need to use a different label.

  16. As far as I can tell Bernie Sanders praised Cuba but yeah just because he does not state he’s gonna admimistratively set prices that means he wouldn’t if he can and we all know politicians never lie. I can recall Hugo Chavez explicitly saying he wasn’t gonna do a lot shit he ended up doing but hey USA is not Venezuela, right?

  17. Thank you, Francisco, for another great and thoughtful reflection on the “schlagworte” (“hitting words”), Left and Right, a technique of using language to bludgeon, rather than sharpen, critical thinking about processes. No surprise that you’d get flack from people averse to thinking through the complex reality of Venezuela and prefer ideological refuges from critical thought.

    • I love loan words. A vast majority of me loves my wife’s homeland… but a small part of me embraces the German word schadenfreude.

  18. We should all welcome Franciscos level headed appraisal of peoples tendency to blame bad governance (and its disastrous consequences) SOLELY on a regimes pursuit of certain ideological conceits ……because the causes can be many and sometimes some ideological brands admit many contrasting and changing versions and variations . I often refer to the capitalism of Brazil vs that of Continental China or Germany …….or to the Catholic Ideals of Savonarola and Tomas de Torquemada on the one side and that of St Francis or Mother Theresa of Calcutta on the other…

    Closer to home think of the situation in Nicaragua , Bolivia ( which economic handling has been praised by the IMF) and Ecuador in comparison to that of Venezuela , The Discourse of their Supreme Leaders follow the same script and yet no way do their people suffer the hardships that Venezuela is going through.

    If we aim t be be complete bad governance includes many factors that are not necessarily ideologically inspired , for example imcompetence , corruption, human rights abuse , fraudulent and manipulative handling of media ,sectarian and megalomaniacal behaviour and last but not least the impact of ideological delusions .

    Even if a regime is free from ideological delusions it can still incurr in all the other forms of behaviour which result in bad governance……..so blaming everything on some protean vaporous ideological stance called socialism is ……childish…… !!

  19. VERY good point

    This reminds me of the introduction to that book by M. Naim (that you wrote about recently) on the (neo-)liberal shock/Paketa he participated in under CAP.

    In the introduction, J. Sacks describes Venezuela of THAT ERA (1980’s) as more akin to an Eastern European / Soviet Eastern-Block ‘socialist’ state than a capitalist state. And, that was the previous, pre-Chaviz republic!

    Indeed, people should give the ‘isms’ a rest. If Venezuela had working institutions and reasonably working democracy (and rule of law) the problems would be dramatically lesser than those of today, whether the leadership was “socialist”, social-democratic, liberal or conservative.

    • At the time Venezuela also had been through several years of price controls and exchange controls, it also had many state owned enterprises. There was also some level of scarcity, nothing like now though.

    • Absolutely! I am aghast that Venezuelans miss this point entirely. The 4th Republic was a paternalistic state, starting with free education for all. It kills me that those who enjoyed the benefits of that state do not realize all the freebies they got.

  20. I think perhaps “socialism” has to be looked at from another angle: Socialism not as a program of specific economic practiceas but as the whipped-up hatred for for all private wealth as illegitimate, including all success in business. That “Socialism” both drives bad policies and provides political support for those policies. Thus the problem is not socialist policy but socialist passion.

  21. Actually, Socialism means a bureaucrat decides what the value of your work is. And, by default how much you owe the bureaucracy by virtue of your work.
    But otherwise, carry on, Mr. Toro.

  22. There is an obvious common thread between Sanders taxing 90% after X amount of earnings and setting prices. This driving force is called socialism. Some are criminaly incompetent at it, some are pretty nifty, but some overarching objections can and must be made against it.

  23. Beautiful . This text should be incorporated into the national anthem … Although that 11 out of 10, end up not understand its meaning

  24. So, opposing socialism is a “deep kind of intolerance”, a loaded phrase suggesting bigotry. Count me among the offended because i share an inolerance to socialism. Socialism violates the basic rule for democracy, the notion of dispersed and competing points of power. Socialism requires a strong state capable of redistributing income and larding out benefits in a manner to reassure continued control of the state. The state either eliminates business interests by expropriation or neuters it by regulation. That regulation in turn requires business consolidation. My impression of western europe is that there has been a hollowing out of medium sized businesses. Business is either a self owned enterprise, a shop, or a giant conglomerate. Lost in this mix is the ability to create new business due to high taxes and expensive regulation. Look at the high rate of unemployment among people under 30 in europe. And western europe is the best face of socialism, chugging along with unsustainable debt. The view elsewhere, Russia, China and eastern europe is far uglier for this doctrine, a failed social experiment involving billions of people in different cultures. So if opposing socialism is bigotry, so be it. I then am guilty of bigotry in exercising my politic rights to oppose this dismal doctrine called socialism.

  25. “Capitalism won’t solve her problems any more than any other ism would.”

    Actually, Capitalism works every time it is used. At its most simple, it is only two people agreeing on the value of one thing.

  26. The main issue is not Capitalism vs Socialism. Most countries are a mix of both ideologies. The most “socialist” European countries are deeply Capitalistic, except they offer free health care, and such. How? They steal a lot less than Venezuelans. They tax the heck out of everyone, so services are available, and they work.

    The main issue is lack of Justice, rules, real police, real punishment for crimes. If you steal or rob or kill someone in Norway, you will surely be persecuted and sent to jail. Even in the USA. Yes there’s corruption everywhere. But not as flagrant as in Vzla. If you get caught by the FBI or CIA or any congressman stealing, in some Guiso, you will be punished.

    That’s why the only way to fix Vzla is stop contain the astronomical corruption and crime. Free the economy. And send lots of people to real jails, if the steal, rob or kill. Especially top politicians, that we all know are thieves and corrupt crooks. Millionaires. The Derwicks? The Bolichicos? The PDVSA and Corpoelec thieves? You persecute them and send them to JAIL, like they try to do even in Brazil. Confiscate their stolen houses, cars, millions, apartments and freeze their bank accounts. Eventually people learn that if they misbehave, there are severe consequences.

    Otherwise, nothing works. Socialism, Capitalism, whatever.. Send crooks to jail, educate the people, and everything starts to work under any system.

  27. In this book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bottom_Billion economist Paul Collier argues that poor countries have a dysfunctional social model, which comes down to a lack of trust between people. When people don´t trust each other that´s bad for the economy, because cooperation fails often. When society is organized in clans or tribes which care only for themselves the country as a whole can´t flourish, because nobody cares about the country as a whole. This is definitely true of african and arab countries, but I thing it is also true (to a lesser extend) for South America.

    This is why a change of power doesn´t bring a change in society, it´s just new people who are looting the state. They may be chavistas or right wing neoliberals, as long as there isn´t a change in the way people think and act and see the world, there will be no change for the better.

  28. “Expropriese!,” fixing prices, currency controls and communes, attempts at eliminating market capitalism are all 21st Century Socialism. What the hell else are you going to call it?

  29. If you are going to endorse a presidential candidate and take a crap on the other, do it right.

    Btw, Hillary Clinton is a criminal and should be in prison.

  30. ” As far as I can tell Bernie Sanders has no intention to set all prices administratively, monetize debt, abuse property rights and piss all over the rule of law – let alone Hillary Clinton.

    (And as it turns out, it’s the GOP candidate who has flirted with debt monetization, and doesn’t seem to grasp even the barest outline of the rule of law. So there’s that.) ”

    Kids, this is called Liberal bias.

  31. Francisco has made an excellent point. For every word in the language everyone of us carries around in our heads a particular meaning for that word. Now if the word is for something concrete, such as “table”, the chances are that my mental gestalt of the meaning of that word will be a very close match to yours. However, the more complex and abstract the concepts behind the word are, the more my mental construct will be likely to differ from yours. As an example, your concept of the meaning of “justice” might differ radically from mine. The chances of misunderstanding increases further if we are from different cultures.

    The various “isms” are labels for highly abstract concepts. It should be obvious, even from the comments above, that many of us carry around completely different concepts of the meaning of “Socialism” and “Capitalism”. Furthermore, as a result of the on going struggle between the various ideological camps, the various parties have done everything in their power to muddy the waters even more regarding whatever “true meaning” these words have. Despite whatever definition the dictionaries say, so many multiple and conflicting connotations (negative and positive) have been attached to them that they are no longer useful tools for debate and discussion.

    If we are going to have a rational debate on the subject, we may be better off to start by inventing a whole new vocabulary that doesn’t have all the emotional baggage attached.

    • There’s no need to bend over backwards. Socialism has failed more than it has succeeded. Why do people insist on holding on to something like this?

      You know you are trying too hard when you have to change the definitions of the subject. Just stop man, let socialism die.

      Socialism is to Capitalism as Flat-earth Theory is to Physics.

      • While I agree about the failure of socialism in the Marxist sense, you analogy doesn’t work. Formal capitalist theory (Adam Smith) came before formal socialist theory (Karl Marx).

  32. People on both sides of the political aisle engage in demagoguery. Some American liberals call Trump and George W Bush fascists and some American conservatives call Obama a socialist. The situation with Bernie Sanders is different however, because his enemies didn’t give him the label. He gave it to himself. He did so in a country where no one considers themselves a socialist, not even extremely liberal Americans. If the label (which at times has stood for something incoherent and at other times has stood for something monstrous) causes him problems, then it’s his own fault.

    I distrust anyone who would try to reintroduce that label and make it respectable, as i see no possible good motive for doing so. The label has earned it’s stigma many times over. Perhaps Sanders disagrees as he’s allegedly praised Castro in the past, marched with the Sandinistas, and has recently refused to give his opinion on Chavez and Maduro when asked about them point blank by a reporter. According to this article (https://www.yahoo.com/news/bernie-sanders-radical-past-how-the-vermont-230255076.html), he used to advocate for the public takeover of private businesses and industries (sometimes without compensation), and even used to advocate for the public seizure of one family’s personal wealth. His private “socialist” views might not be as benign as Francisco Toro seems to think. He might be one of the few politicians who who actually deserves to be demagogued.

  33. I would respectfully disagree with at least some of what you are saying, Quico. I have asked Venezuelan friends how the nightmare got started, and they have told me it began with words, with hateful rhetoric dividing people by economic classes (as if these were immutable), by race and color, by national origin, plus by rank nationalism, always pointing a finger to yanqui imperialism plotting away. How did it start? With little things: Chavez on the radio told people if they had no food, it was all right to steal. It encouraged a lot of stealing – and graffitiing and littering, as property rights were downgraded. One apartment was singled out for expropriation in the name of the public good and class warfare and then expropriated – then many were. Same with ranches – evil landowners had ‘too much’ and were ‘hoarding’ so productive farms were taken over – even though Venezuela is a largely empty country with a huge urbanized population and plenty of land to distribute – they only wanted certain land, land that someone else had labored at. And then a lot were taken. The horrors piled up. Terrorists were the only ones who would buy land, others could not sell theirs otherwise – and terrorists took over vast swathes of the landscape. Citizenship was downgraded – Chavez extended citizenship to millions to ensure their votes in his recall referendum, rendering the idea of being Venezuelan meaningless, purely subject to Chavez’s political needs at the time. That opened the door to Cuban ‘solidarity’ and pretty soon Castroite Cuban party operatives were running large swathes of government, including even agriculture – the farmers I talked to in Cojedes said Cubans determined what kinds of cows would be raised. People began to get killed and lawmen did nothing – rule of law went away – and many rightly pointed out that it was a lazy dictator’s means of ensuring social control. All of these things are rooted in socialism and its envy of one’s neighbor ethos as well as its centralization impulses, and its politicization of every aspect of life, at the expense of the invisible architecture of rule of law and rights of man. Denmark may not have those things but it does have great social capital built over centuries and a capacity to backpedal when the government gets too strong and loses the consent of the voters. The institutions are not destroyed. We can’t say the same for the countries of the New World – and the pattern we see over and over again – in Allende’s Chile, in Castro’s Cuba, is one of socialism destroying an entire system and making recovery extremely difficult.

  34. Nice try.

    But no, sorry.

    Venezuelans in the USA will be a political force and will definitely point to Socialism, Venezuela, Sanders and the Democrats as examples not to follow.


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