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January 25, 2019 | How Venezuela Reached the Edge of Chaos

Is an American author of books and articles on economic and financial subjects. He is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, and author of the daily financial column, Diary of a Rogue Economist.

BALTIMORE – We are living in an Era of Busted Dreams.

The Bolivarian Revolution is just one of them.

When we left you yesterday, it looked like the government of Venezuela was in a fight for its life.

The Venezuelan economy is falling apart, with 1,300,000% inflation and a mass exodus of the population. And a political rival of President Nicolás Maduro has proclaimed himself the legitimate president and gotten almost immediate recognition from the U.S.

This provoked a countermove by Maduro, who gave U.S. diplomats 72 hours to get out of town. It also led to a show of force and solidarity by the country’s military – who stood shoulder to shoulder proclaiming their everlasting loyalty to Maduro.

They will stand by him until the end… or until they change their minds, whichever comes first.

The top brass has gotten rich from Maduro’s government; they get first dibs on oil revenues… and, some say, the illegal drug money, too.

Bloodsuckers, dictators, and the Deep State do not give up easily. They owe their power, money, and status to the incompetents currently running the country. They’re not about to stand aside and let another bunch of incompetents take it away.

But we’ll come back to that in a moment… and try to connect a few sordid dots…


Travel Plans

First, a quick update on our travel schedule. Our delightful sojourn in the USA amongst kith and kin is coming to a rapid end. On Sunday, we take off for Florida and Nicaragua.

The latter has its own busted dream, with the Ortega government holding on to power against widespread opposition. What the country doesn’t have is runaway inflation.

Curiously, it was an effort to protect the currency and the economy that touched off the current cycle of discontent. The Nicaraguan feds raised taxes!

Or, to be more precise, they upped contributions to the Social Security system in order to protect it from insolvency.

Which goes to show something. We’re just not sure what.

But we’ll give you a report from Nicaragua when we get there. The country has the most beautiful coast, and some of the friendliest people, in the world.

We’ve invested millions… and nearly a quarter of a century… developing a coastal enclave there, helping to make it a comfortable, modern, and agreeable place to live. It would be a shame to see it blow up.

But we don’t pretend to control events. We just watch… wait… and try to understand. Which is why we’re watching the action in Venezuela with keen interest. It’s not every day that we see a fake money system get what it deserves!



Edge of Chaos

Here was a rich country… the fourth-richest in the world in 1950. Now, it is on the edge of chaos, civil war, and starvation. How did that happen?

Are the Venezuelans stupid? Are they shiftless? Why did they allow a crackpot politician to ruin the country?

As for Mr. Chávez himself, now deceased, he was lively, intelligent, and charming, with a few quirky ideas… such as his belief that the moon landing never happened… and that 9/11 was an inside job (a view shared by many, both north and south of the Rio Grande).

But he was neither crazy nor dim.

As for the rest of the Venezuelans, the few we’ve known personally were among the smartest, best-educated, and most industrious people we’ve ever met. Now, they are living in Spain or Miami… forced to flee Caracas to avoid either the politics of it or the poverty.

So what gives? And what can we learn from it?

Rushing ahead: Watch out for fake money. First, it distorts prices, misleads investors, and lowers output.

Second, sharing it out among themselves and their cronies, the insiders use it to transfer wealth from those who earn it to those who steal it.

Third, fake money funds the expansion of government itself – bending more and more real resources towards unproductive government activities.

Finally, when the crisis comes, property remains… corporations may or may not survive… and real money is still valuable. But fake money becomes worthless.

Go for the Gap

Almost all Latin American countries have similar demographics; typically, they have a wide gap between rich and poor. The chasm is not merely financial. It is racial and social.

The upper classes are usually more “European” than the masses. This is a source of tension, of course. And mischief.

“Populist” leaders, such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega… and even Argentina’s Juan Perón… go for the gap.

They speak to the poor and middle classes and use them to get control of their governments. Then, they reward the little guys with free housing, free food, free education, free medical care, or subsidized fuel. The big guys get contracts, bribes, and payoffs.

First, the populist leader comes into office promising to rob the rich. But after a few years, he and his friends are the rich. And the rest of the wealthy have either cozied up to them or fled the country.

Then, they turn to credit. But who would lend to a Latin American, socialist government? Most countries are protected, most of the time, by their own poverty. They just can’t afford too many giveaways.

But Venezuela had something the rest of them didn’t: collateral.

Venezuela floats on a sea of oil. It was the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter in 2000. The price was only $30 a barrel, but oil made up 85% of the country’s exports. And over the next seven years, the country was to enjoy a bonanza, as the price of oil rose nearly five times.

Then, in one especially knuckleheaded move, Chávez put a leftist professor in charge of the oil industry. And then, in 2015, the price of oil collapsed.

Now, the dream is busted. Chávez is gone. Maduro may be gone soon, too. It may not be the end of the Bolivarian Revolution. But the end can’t be too long in coming.




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January 25th, 2019

Posted In: Bill Bonner's Diary

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