Venezuelans are a statist bunch. Even the nominal right-wing has traditionally been of the statist, Christian Democrat kind, turning skepticism of the state into a fringe pursuit. But today’s smooth, self-organized, 100% state-free referendum exposed millions and millions of Venezuelans to an unfamiliar thought: what if there are some things society can do better than the state can?

Listen, I’m very far from a doctrinaire libertarian myself — though I do sometimes write like one. But I think of libertarian attitudes as a kind of antibody, a trait that, if spread wide enough across society, can at least create some pushback against some of the more destructive tendencies of runaway statism. For sure I find myself thinking that part of the reason Venezuela’s gone so far off the authoritarian edge is that skepticism of the state isn’t really a feature of our public sphere.

Which is why I’m glad that, after today, millions of Venezuelans will find themselves thinking unfamiliar thoughts and asking unfamiliar questions like: if we can do this one thing better than the government can, what other things can we do better as well?

And then, the ultimate irony: Venezuela’s highest-profile libertarian…boycotted it!

24 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent point and food for thought…If we, as an organized society can do things better (as clearly demonstrated in this event), why do we need a bloated state and public sector?

  2. At least in principle, in a Democracy, there shouldn’t be this false and opposing dichotomy of People vs State. “We” are the State but for practical purposes have to designate representatives to work in our collective interest, not against us.
    This is pretty much the only way to organize millions of people into a modern functioning civil society.
    Way back in the annals of history, way before the rise of the Cities and the States, small groups of people still organized themselves through some representatives or leaders, weather voluntary or by force, those unorganized groups just perished.
    What we Venezuelans experienced today is the result of the State losing all its legitimacy and The People rising up to express their true will.
    So We are the State and there is absolutely nothing wrong about Statism or Libertarianism.
    But as everything in life, is all about applying the right approach to different circumstances.
    Ideally, we want as much Liberty as possible but also understanding the State as a necessary compromise.
    Generally is best to avoid all the extremes. The key is to strike that perfect balance to bring about collective peace and prosperity.

    • An obvious next step would be to allow the people of venezuela to arm themselves to the teeth to defend their familes, since the state seems to be doing a lousy job protecting them.

      “What do we do with the knowledge that we don’t need the state to accomplish our objectives?”

      We grow up.

  3. Hi Francisco, this is the million million million bolivar question. I hope so. You see it everyday, completely unorganized, but you see it. Today was a brilliant case in point of what can be done outside the parameters of a corrupt and inefficient State apparatus.

    Nevertheless, can the Venezuelans actually do it??? I have coached sports before in Venezuela. Not easy. As far as organizing things in Venezuela, everybody is waiting for somebody else to do it for them. Why else is there trash all over the streets??? Everybody is waiting for somebody else to do it for them. Duhhhhh. Therefore I understand your skepticism about libertarianism in Venezuela.

    I pray that 16J will be the catalyst for nonstatist thinking. Not libertarian, not anarchist for all the intellectual baggage both philosophies carry. But non-statist thinking at minimum.

    I dont think so. I am a skeptic…

    The politician’s wet dream is to be the leader of a revolution. They will rally the masses and look to be in front of the crowd and say what the crowd wants to hear. That is the way of a politician. They will always rule the world because people are pathetic and always look for a leader because they do not know how to lead themselves. Sorry to say, but most people are pathetic/mediocre and will fall prey to snake oil salesmen over and over and over again. This has been true since the dawn of civilization…

    If anything comes good out of this all: it is that we realize once a State becomes worthless- chimbisimo!!!!- we can throw the trash out if we act as one.

    16J was beautiful. Lets see what comes next…more of the same??? Or will Venezuelans actually be awake this time??

  4. I hope people stop rushing to draw conclusions all the time.
    It is good Venezuelans saw we do not need the military to organise elections. No military show up in voting centres in the EU, most Spanish American countries or in Anglo or French speaking America.
    We still need to realise the full meening of being citizens.
    I think it is possible but for that we need not leaders but a whole bunch of individuals who silently want to work on that with their comunities, becoming vectors of constructive thinking, sustainable development, support to the community and that precious thing ancient Greeks developed and which is so little known in Spanish speaking nations: open debate.

    • Typical Kepler:

      He can’t stand people jumping to conclusions that don’t agree with his…HE’S the genius…ALWAYS right.

      What an arrogant shmuck you are.

    • French Speaking America?

      What the hell is French Speaking America?

      New Orleans?

      Seriously, please explain your wisdom.

      The world awaits.

  5. Is not that “civil society can do things better that the State”. Is that, apart from the fact that some things are for the society to do, the whole State is for the society.

    The big problem of Venezuela has been the fact that it is a country inverted. As the State does not depend on the people, the ones that capture the State can very well do whatever they please, and dont have any reason to be efficient, or considerate, or achieve any objective but their own perpetuation. Bloat by patronage network, waste of resources in display of power or in buying the trappings of modernity without really understanding them, appointment of toadies that are there just to ensure political control of the institutions….

    This was a show that you can do much better than a bunch of parasites that think you have to depend on them and not the other way around. That the role of an election board is to run elections, but given that it is just a political job given to incompetent but willing to do anything apparatchiks, a self appointed, self organized citizenry that actually wants to do an election will do much better.

    The point is realizing that is, i fact, what the CNE should be – a citizen run institution laser-focused on the desire to implement the tools of democracy. Venezuela will need a real CNE for the future – but one that has to be like this. A more efficient and working institution because at the end is filled with people with the will and the desire to give themselves elections, not with a bunch of parasites picked by the “rulers” to colonize and corrupt the institiution, whose every move has to be first vetted and examined by the “party”.

    Same for everything, the PNB, the GNB, the Armed Forces, PDVSA, every single state run institution. HIgh time Venezuela returns, and this time implements correctly, a State that is filled with citizens, respond to citizens, and is manned by competent, responsible citizens that value their role in independent institutions that are by, for, and with the people much more that alliegance to the “masters” that want all the machinery to be theirs.

    There is no reason not to have institutions that work. This has proven, again, that Venezuela has people with the will, courage, intelligence and citizen values to man them. And that many of the assumptions of the past are just empty in the face of that. Like the one considering the armed forces the only really organized thing in the country, or the one about how people are to be movilized by the State instead of the other way around.

    • I agree with your diagnosis here. A large problem leading to this inversion is that the government in Venezuela can rely on an oil bonanza and that tends to render it less accountable than say, a government that relies more heavily on individual taxes. How to address that distortion is a question that does not have an easy or simple solution. It does not mean however that Venezuelans are doomed to be dominated by the state, as yesterday impressively demonstrated.

      • This is the key–government accountability will only be demanded when the average citizen has skin in the game by his (painfully) having to pay taxes, as does not now exist in Venezuela where most tax collections are hidden sales/VAT/excise types, only the few very upper income earners pay income taxes, and the 50%+ of workers in he informal economy pay no taxes visible to them.

  6. And there is one thing that really required, not Plan República full bell and whistless, but the armed forces.

    Preventing things like what happened in Catia.

    Of course, the fact that we know they would be useless because what happened in Catia was, at the bare minimum, done with the tacit complicity of the guys that hold the strings over the armed forces…. is precisely why the consultation was necessary.

  7. Lest it get lost in the moment, the MUD managed to organize and implement the first real-time multi-national national election I’ve heard of. 80 countries. Real-time. All this with what some call a fractured organization with everything from commies to libertarians and probably even anarchists and monarchists, in the face of regime opposition and control of media, and goodness knows what else. The only hitch I see is that the turnout was underestimated, so there were lines, and in Chile apparently, with only one polling place, some 5,000 out of 25,000 didn’t get to vote (the story I read was unclear, and I read it three times).

    This level of coordination and support is very noteworthy, imo, given the traditional hora Caraquena and siesta hour(s) – and everything some here spout off about from time to time about how lazy and underdeveloped Venezuelans are. I said a long time ago that in Venezuela you have some of the best architecture in the world, some of the best-kept lawns and gardens, some of the best masonry, best iron work, furniture, a lot of other stuff … and of course longest-lived potholes in the entire world. Can’t beat the potholes anywhere. Saw a sign in one once, “Hoy este heuco cumple un ano!”

    Also some of the best beef, sancochos, pollos en brasas, fried fish, mozzarella sticks (sorry, couldn’t resist), pizza con achoas, haircuts, suits, weddings, You also have the best aguamalas and pica-pica, snakes, sharks, spiders, maldiiiiiiitos zancudos, and dictators, but hey … nobody’s perfect, eh?

  8. In a microcosm of what Francisco is saying, in Nueva Esparta it has now been many years since we had traffic cops. We used to have them. They were always stopping us and fining us for some infraction or other, imaginary or otherwise. For those not familiar with the concept these “fines” were paid directly to the cop. It was always frustrating to be shook down for a fine for not wearing my seat belt in plain site of another driver making a left hand turn from the right hand lane directly in front of the same cop.

    However, about five years ago, the municipalities simply stopped paying for traffic cops. There are still cops that you can call if you are in an accident and need an official report. But, other than that, there is no enforcement of traffic laws. This should produce chaos… right? Actually, it turns out that traffic still flows pretty well. In the daytime, traffic lights are respected. After around ten at night, there is an unspoken convention that traffic lights are treated as blinking yellow caution lights. Sure, we have our share of selfish idiots. But, there are not enough of them to cause traffic to collapse. It works just fine (or at least well enough), without the force or the State force it to work. Is it perfect? No, but it is better than what we had before.

  9. Great post Quico. Hands down the state is useless for most of what it does and it keeps encroaching until.. well. The problem in Venezuela is not that this government created so many bad laws it’s how easy it is to make laws; every time there is a problem, it’s in our culture to try to legislate our way out of everything.

    It’s a cultural problem, not a political one. If you don’t believe me, answer the following question (asking the question is answering it).

    How many bad laws have the AN repealed?

    (if you repeal a law, it doesn’t need to go to the Sala Constitucional or any other court)

  10. As bad at it is, the Chavistoide pseudo-government is made of similar people as those who organized yesterday’s event. The difference between their disastrous, ineffective, fraudulent elections and efficient, transparent, honest ones is corruption, bribes, special interests.

    It’s not that a government can’t carry excellent elections events, even the Chavistas could, it an’t rocket science, as we gladly saw yesterday. They could. But they are all corrupt. They all want a piece of the pie, so they create bureaucracy, confusion, fraud.

    So yes, in that sense, in Venezuela today ‘el pueblo’ can do some things better that the narco-regime. Yesterday went great because there was no corruption, no special interests, no bribes. Just thousands of well-intentioned volunteers, with no personal gain in sight, clean, average Venezuelans.

    Sadly, if these had been real regional, political elections, or Presidential elections, many of the same people who ran yesterday’s magnificent event would have started to show divisions, accept a bribe here or a “favor” there, and that’s when the bureaucracy, the inefficiency and the frauds start. Greed.

    Yesterday had none of that, that’s why it worked. It was only a plebiscito, with no direct political or economical consequences. Now real hard-core “politics”… that’s a different animal.

  11. The volunteers in Weston, FL were awesome when we were finally able to park the car. (Two hours to go one mile!)

    When we got into the back of this incredible line (it didn’t deter us for a moment), someone went up to my wife to point towards the much shorter 55 and older line that they had designated.

    Except my wife is 53.

    OUCH!

    But no, it was just fine for us to stay where we were. But I asked, “I can’t vote, I’m a gringo and 60.

    “Can I lend her two years?”

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