An article in the Foreign Affairs by the former chief economist of the Venezualan National Assembly shows how the populist socialism of Hugo ChÃ¡vez has hurt the very poor it was intended to help. A sample:
Although opinions differ on whether ChÃ¡vez’s rule should be characterized as authoritarian or democratic, just about everyone appears to agree that, in contrast to his predecessors, ChÃ¡vez has made the welfare of the Venezuelan poor his top priority. His government, the thinking goes, has provided subsidized food to low-income families, redistributed land and wealth, and poured money from Venezuela’s booming oil industry into health and education programs. It should not be surprising, then, that in a country where politics was long dominated by rich elites, he has earned the lasting support of the Venezuelan poor.
That story line may be compelling to many who are rightly outraged by Latin America’s deep social and economic inequalities. Unfortunately, it is wrong. Neither official statistics nor independent estimates show any evidence that ChÃ¡vez has reoriented state priorities to benefit the poor. Most health and human development indicators have shown no significant improvement beyond that which is normal in the midst of an oil boom. Indeed, some have deteriorated worryingly, and official estimates indicate that income inequality has increased. The “ChÃ¡vez is good for the poor” hypothesis is inconsistent with the facts.
ChÃ¡vez’s political success does not stem from the achievements of his social programs or from his effectiveness at redistributing wealth. Rather, through a combination of luck and manipulation of the political system, ChÃ¡vez has faced elections at times of strong economic growth, currently driven by an oil boom bigger than any since the 1970s. Like voters everywhere, Venezuelans tend to vote their pocketbooks, and until recently, this has meant voting for ChÃ¡vez. But now, his mismanagement of the economy and failure to live up to his pro-poor rhetoric have finally started to catch up with him. With inflation accelerating, basic foodstuffs increasingly scarce, and pervasive chronic failures in the provision of basic public services, Venezuelans are starting to glimpse the consequences of ChÃ¡vez’s economic policies — and they do not like what they see.