The definition of a fanatic is someone who doesn’t let the facts get in the way of their theories. By this standard, hapless, gormless Jeremy Corbyn is truly (if serenely) living in another galaxy.
Heroes are important and Corbyn is crystal clear that Hugo Chavez and his charismatic, populist, socialist Bolivarian movement—long in charge of resource rich Venezuela–is a model he is just itching to emulate. Let us take him at his word and look at the prototype of the socialist paradise Corbyn dreams of.
With any sort of remotely competent leadership, Venezuela ought to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world, as it possesses the planet’s largest known oil reserves. So economic illiterates Chavez and his even more clueless successor as President Nicolas Maduro have form, as wrecking such a paradise has taken real talent. When Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution took power in 1998, Venezuela was one of the richest countries in Latin America; now it is one of the poorest.
What does this mean practically? Presently there are shortages of medicine and food staples, a direct result of government policies. The inflation rate in 2016 has been estimated a stratospheric 800%, with output falling by a precipitous 18.6% last year, after a mere 180% rate of inflation and 5.7 percent contraction in 2015. Simply put, due to economic negligence, the place is falling apart at the seams.
Under its socialist champions and despite the incredible bounty of its oil reserves, Venezuela is desperately, irredeemably poor, and there is no sight whatever of even the smallest effort on the part of the gormless Maduro government to even attempt to right the ship, as to do so would be to abandon the socialist snake oil that they and Corbyn so enjoy peddling.
Venezuela’s problem is structural, and simply isn’t going away. With the global price of energy halving (and with the American shale revolution now functioning as a permanent ceiling on global oil prices), the latest socialist fantasy is fast approaching its sell-by date.
It is the easiest political risk call in the world to note (as almost everyone has) that the Bolivarian revolution is on its last legs. But tragically, it is unlikely the fetid, discredited regime will go without a fight.
Maduro is Chavez without the charisma, meaning he is nothing. With his popularity rating plummeting to near Hollande-like levels of 24% in February 2017, the thuggish President has done about everything he can to change the subject from his obvious and glaring incompetence.
Maduro has blamed the US (somehow its Washington’s fault as it would surely be for Corbyn) for his self-inflicted wounds. He charges the opposition are fascists and in the pocket of Donald Trump, rather than being a disparate, desperate group of Venezuelans trying to stave off economic disaster, and save what’s left of their country. Having lost December 2015 parliamentary elections to his foes, Maduro, rather than change course and tack towards sanity, has set about organising a takeover of the Venezuelan political system.
He cajoled the pro-government Supreme Court to recently announce its assumption of legislative powers, in lieu of the opposition-controlled congress. Having extra-legally quashed the opposition’s effort to recall him (which given Maduro’s great unpopularity was sure to have succeeded), the Venezuelan President is not intent on re-writing the Constitution presumably to see that his political opponents, are never, ever in a position to threaten him again.
Predictably, the opposition are in the streets this spring, leading ever larger demonstrations that have already resulted in the deaths of at least 36 people. Venezuela is a hair’s breath from revolution.
Maduro will talk about anything, anything other than the undeniable economic mess he and his mentor Chavez have driven his country into. But in the end, the laws of political risk analysis—as is true for the laws of physics—cannot be indefinitely ignored. The disastrous socialist Bolivarian revolution that the Labour leader so admires is not long for the earth. Thank God, as the poverty-stricken people of Maduro’s country deserve far better.
It is my strong bet that the people of Britain do not need this political risk lesson as to why a vote for Corbyn is a vote for economic suicide (beyond the Shadow Home Secretary’s disastrous inability to do simple maths).
However, alternate realties and alternate paths not taken are an important comparison metric voters can use to gauge what taking a chance on a radical candidate would look like.
In the case of Corbyn, one has only to look at the death throes of the economically-challenged Maduro regime to get a sense of what his government would deliver. To look, and then to shudder.
Published in City AM London, May 9, 2017.