In questioning one of them, I was trying to understand where this notion of Chavez stealing money from Venezuela was coming from.
I didn't take long to find out:
The Criminal Justice International Associates (CJIA), which defines itself as a risk assessment and global analysis firm in Miami, claims that Chavez left about $2 billion dollars to his family. They allege he gave $5 billion to the Castro brothers each year in oil profits, from companies he stole. They also concluded that since 1999, he and his friends in the Bolivian gangs have stolen $100 million in oil profits.The conservative echo chamber is a twitter with the news. Problem is, as with most conservative "facts," it appears to be the fabrication of a single man, one Jerry Brewer (he who is CJIA, pretty much all by himself), who didn't even say that Chavez stole the money. He said he believes that Chavez probably stole as much money as he believes the Castro brothers have "stolen" from Cuba, which guesses would be around $2 billion dollars.
I suppose it's just fairly predictable that conservatives can't conceive of socialism except as theft from the "real people" who really deserve all the world's wealth because they have the right morality, phenotypes and gods. I suppose there's also no use wagering against the likelihood that conservatives will reduce world figures into Bad and Good. Manicheans just think that way.
But, you know what I find really insidious about the treatment given to Chavez's legacy?
Which sets up this conclusion:
As a politician, Hugo Chavez was a force of nature, as strangely masterful as he was polarizing. But as an economic steward, the socialist firebrand was something sadder and far more ordinary: "an awful manager," as author Rory Carroll succinctly put it in the New York Times today, who squandered a world of opportunity after he took over Venezuela's presidency in 1999.
But judging Chavez's record on poverty in isolation would be a mistake. Brazil, Peru, and Colombia also made significant progress on measures such as poverty and child death under more traditionally capitalist economies. Latin America, on the whole, was growing. It would have been hard for it not too: It's a resource rich continent that's reached relative political stability at a time when the world is desperate for oil, food, timber, and minerals. It was a bit like being dealt a pair of queens in Texas Hold 'em -- a very good hand, which Chavez didn't play particularly well..Conservatives may conjure up stupid phantasmagorias, sure. They do it all the time. That's what you get when you trap people in god-driven moralities and bourgeois sentiment, spending a quarter of their lives immersed in bootstrapper mythology and the seemingly concrete belief that one's victories are a reward for one's own, individual effort.
... Chavez isn't leaving Venezuela's as a full on economic basket case (we're not talking about Zimbabwe circa 2001, here). But rather than helping the poor by setting his country on a path towards long-term prosperity, he attempted to resurrect a long-discredited version of state driven economics that's led to the deterioration of the country's most important industry and wreaked havoc with its consumer market. It's hard to imagine who in the long run will benefit from that legacy.
But, what explains the market technocrat, eh? What explains the merit liberal, who cannot conceive of the use of a resource for anything but growth?
Something far, far worse, I imagine. A triumphalism which makes the conservative variety look like an evening with Mr. Rogers.