You can try and blame oil prices and mythical “blockades,” but there is only one culprit for the destruction of the richest and most successful economy in Latin America: Socialism.
Socialism Destroyed Venezuela’s Economy, Oil Prices Are Just the Cherry On Top
Left-wing commentators are struggling to come to grips with Venezuela’s economic collapse. In early August, Stanford University professor Terry Lynn Karl joined the chorus claiming that falling oil prices are the problem.
It’s true that the price of oil fell from around $100 per barrel in 2014 to around $50 in 2017. But socialist policies exacerbated the oil crisis and created the poverty we see in Venezuela today.
Resources Don’t Dictate Prosperity
Free market societies are less affected by falling commodity prices, in part because their wealth does not rely on raw materials.
Hong Kong and Singapore are two of the wealthiest economies in the world, with a 2016 gross domestic product per capita of $57,676 and $84,821, respectively. What turned these resource-barren spits of land into thriving metropolises, with bustling commerce and a prosperous middle class? Economic freedom.
It takes an average of just two days to start a company in Hong Kong – three in Singapore. Singapore has one business per 350 people, which means competitive enterprises constantly vie for consumers’ money with innovations and excellent service. Both economies encourage investment and trade, which allows consumers and businesses to benefit from the wealth and ideas of other nations.
According to the Fraser Institute’s “Economic Freedom of the World: 2016 Annual Report,” Hong Kong and Singapore are the two most free economies on earth. As the Fraser economists note, “countries with institutions and policies more consistent with economic freedom have higher investment rates, more rapid economic growth, higher income levels, and a more rapid reduction in poverty rates.” Free markets encourage trade, entrepreneurship, and investment, which create wealth.
By contrast, the poorest economies in the world are characterized by oppressive government intervention. In 2014, the 40 least economically free nations had an average per capita GDP of $5,471 (in 2011 dollars). Compare that to $41,228 for the freest 40 nations.
Abundant natural resources cannot make up for a lack of freedom. Iran has over 150 billion barrels of oil reserves but is one of the 10 least economically free nations in the world. Price controls and industry subsidies crippled their economy for decades, and the government strictly limits access to financing for business. Iran’s GDP per capita in 2014, before oil prices fell, was just $6,007.
How Venezuela’s Oil Industry Fell Apart
In Venezuela’s case, a government takeover of the oil industry reduced supply, sowing the seeds of future impoverishment. The oil industry was nationalized in 1976, but, wary of the mismanagement and corruption of other nationalized oil companies like Pemex, Venezuela let Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) operate as a mostly private company with decision-making freedom and competent business managers.
When Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, he curtailed this freedom. Chavez closed Venezuela’s oil fields to foreign investment and stopped reinvesting oil proceeds in the company. He fired 18,000 workers at PDVSA, replacing professional oil employees with inept but politically loyal workers. Bids started taking months longer to complete as staff kept changing their technical specifications. Fatal accidents and fires became more common, because Chavez’ yes-men didn’t understand how to safely run an oil refinery. PDVSA middle managers required Rolex bribes to schedule meetings.
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