Last weekend's Wall Street Journal featured yet another article about Venezuela. Titled simply, "Venezuela is starving," the article starts with a subhead about how Venezuela was "once Latin America's richest country." It goes on to describe how Venezuela has degenerated into a hellhole of widespread starvation: Venezuelans are forced to forage through garbage looking for anything edible. Farmers, already decimated by shortages and government price controls, have their meager crops stolen right out of the ground. Eleven percent of the children in some of the poorest areas are at risk of death from severe acute malnutrition. Nearly 20 percent of children under five across the country are chronically malnourished. The situation for adults is not much better.
The food shortage is one of many crises facing the country. Last May, The New York Times wrote about the disastrous collapse of Venezuela's health care system: the complete lack of medicines, shortages of basic items like surgical gloves and soap, broken X-ray and dialysis machines, patients without beds lying in pools of their own blood, and people dying because the electricity needed for respirators is cut off.
The socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro is, of course, in denial. Maduro defiantly refused international medical aid last year, saying, "I doubt that anywhere in the world, except in Cuba, there exists a better health system than this one." One physician interviewed by the Journal said, "Here, for the government, there are no malnourished children. The reality is this is an epidemic."
After a century of proof of collectivism's failure — and the destruction and misery that it leaves in its wake — it is hard to know whether to weep or curse at headlines like this. It is always heartbreaking to see people suffer. It is unfathomable that they continue to suffer because another generation has been taken in by the same empty promises trotted out by the next iteration of lying leftist politicians.
Hugo Chavez, Maduro's predecessor, originally bought Venezuelans' loyalty with spending on social programs paid for by the country's oil revenues. But he also lured them into his socialist "Bolivarian Revolution" with a stereotypical siren song, demonizing business and accusing private industry of greed. Chavez' proposed solution was nationalization. He started with the oil industry, followed by agriculture, finance, manufacturing, finance, steel, telecommunications, transportation and tourism.
The country is now reaping the results. A pig farmer, Alberto Troiani, explained that price controls imposed by the government made it impossible for him to pay his bills. He is not alone; 82 percent of Venezuela's pig farms have shut down in just five years. "The government thinks its survival is in communism," Troiani said, "Not in us, not with production. And that's where they're wrong."
Oscar Wilde once described second marriages as "the triumph of hope over experience." The same could be said (with bloodier consequences) of statism and collectivism. And leftists are still hoping. When the failures of collectivism are pointed out, its defenders insist that it "just hasn't been implemented properly."
Au contraire. Collectivism is perhaps the one area where progressives have achieved perfect equality and diversity; it has been murderous and economically disastrous in Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa.
How many times must this be tried? How many people have to suffer, starve and die under systems which are touted by ideologues and ivory tower academics? Scholars estimate that anywhere from 90 million to 150 million people died under collectivist regimes in the 20th century alone. This does not take into account the human suffering from impoverishment, illness, hunger and other privations.
Progressives in the United States often insist that what we have seen happen elsewhere could not happen in the United States. Most don't want communism, they say (though some do, and their numbers are growing); they just want the government to take over certain segments of the American economy, starting with health care, which they argue is a "right," not merely a "good."
Nonsense. It isn't necessary to look around the globe to see the failures of government control over what is better done by the private sector — including and especially healthcare. Two government-provided health care programs — Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service — are notoriously, abysmally bad. Government can neither pay nor effectively provide for 23 million individuals in those two programs, and yet we are to believe that it will magically develop compassion and competence when dealing with over 320 million people.
The United States is one of the freest and most prosperous countries on the planet. For all our problems, we are proof of the successes possible with free market capitalism. By contrast, Venezuela — and a long list of other countries — should stand as an important lesson: Collectivism doesn't work. It destroys lives. Claims to the contrary are lies. And when people believe those lies, millions die.
To find out more about Laura Hollis and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.