On Hugo Chávez


Chávez’s attempts to manipulate the electoral system to stay in power are egregious, but the hysteria he generates amongst the free-marketeers is a little overwrought. He’s not Hitler or Stalin. He’s not even Bush. How many wars did he start? How many people has he killed or tortured? He’s just messing with some people’s preferred economic system.

As far as nationalising oil companies goes, I think the long history of foreign corporate activities in Latin America, which has involved a lot of taking and not a lot of giving, is to blame for that, and is one reason the Venezuelans voted for Chavez in the first place, despite their historically well-grounded fears that such a decision could result in external interference in their political affairs.

Think of it as the market at work: if you rip off your supplier for too long, your supply will be withdrawn.

(Note that I’m talking about big-picture history of the region, not the behaviour of this particular company.)

But even leaving aside the issue of actual bad behaviour, try this analogy: say you rent a house, you even paint it and so on, but the owner sells and the new one doesn’t like the deal you had and evicts you. Bad luck for you, but that’s the market too.

Oil companies don’t own the oil in the ground, they negotiate with somebody for the rights to extract it. In the real world that somebody is government.

That may not always be ideal, but nor is a situation where companies can just come in and take resources with no benefit for the natural owners, which is what has happened repeatedly to weaker countries in Latin America and elsewhere, with appalling consequences for their people.

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