ROBERT Heinlein once wrote: Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances, which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as “bad luck.”
I thought about this statement this weekend, reading two news stories. The first was about the tide of Venezuelans taking to boats to escape Venezuela’s economic collapse. As The New York Times reported, “Venezuela was once one of Latin America’s richest countries, flush with oil wealth that attracted immigrants from places as varied as Europe and the Middle East.” “But after President Hugo Chávez vowed to break the country’s economic elite and redistribute wealth to the poor, the rich and middle class fled to more welcoming countries in droves, creating what demographers describe as Venezuela’s first diaspora.”
Now, in their absence, things have gotten worse, and it’s poorer Venezuelans — the very ones that Chavez’s revolution was allegedly intended to help — who are starving. Many are even taking to boats, echoing, as the Times notes, “an image so symbolic of the perilous journeys to escape Cuba or Haiti — but not oil-rich Venezuela.” Well, Venezuela was once rich. But mismanagement and kleptocracy can make any country poor and Venezuela — as is typical with countries whose leaders promise to soak the rich for the benefit of the poor — has had plenty of both. And now, though Hugo Chavez’s family has grown fabulously wealthy, the poor have nothing. As one refugee quoted in the Times article says, “I’m leaving with nothing. But I have to do this. Otherwise, we will just die here hungry.”
Under capitalism, the rich grow powerful. Under socialism, the powerful grow rich — and everyone else grows poor. Which brings me to the other story, the death of Cuban dictator-for-life Fidel Castro. Although many among Western political and entertainment elites still think of Fidel Castro fondly, such people are, at best, what Lenin called “useful idiots.” In fact, as Yale professor Carlos Eire notes in The Washington Post, Castro was not a benevolent patron of the poor, but a “brutal Big Brother” who crushed dissent, tortured, imprisoned and executed his critics, and stole everything he cared to steal from his island’s inhabitants. He lived the lifestyle of an emperor, while his people were subjected to poverty.
Oh, he said things about equality and justice, but those were lies. In his country, as in socialist dictatorships everywhere, there were two sets of rules: Those for the connected elite, and those for the subjects. They talk about equality, but what they set up turns out to be an awful lot like a monarchy. Both Venezuela and Cuba have suffered under leaders who enriched themselves and their families. Chavez’s daughter is the richest person in Venezuela, with a net worth in the billions, while in true “socialist equality” fashion, Cuba is now run by Castro’s brother, Raul.
Yet their poverty and oppression are treated as if they’re just “bad luck.” But it’s only bad luck in the Heinlein sense. As Heinlein also said, a good cook can take wholesome ingredients and produce something much more valuable. A bad cook, on the other hand, can take those same ingredients — valuable in themselves — and produce an inedible mess. Socialist kleptocrats are like Heinlein’s bad cook, with the added trait of stealing any edible leftovers for themselves and their kin. Perhaps the world will learn a valuable lesson from the fates of Cuba and Venezuela, and avoid such “bad luck” in the future. The writer is Professor of law at University of Tennessee
— Courtesy: USA Today