Congratulations to Bolivarian Socialism - Venezuela brings back agricultural slavery

This is the country which has recently run out of beer, Big Macs, that toilet paper we keep making jokes about and is on the verge of running out of banknotes as they now cost more to print than they are worth.

That the Bolivarian socialists haven’t been running Venezuela very well is something apparent to even the most blinkered. This is the country which has recently run out of beer, Big Macs, that toilet paper we keep making jokes about and is on the verge of running out of banknotes as they now cost more to print than they are worth. As to why this is all happening, no, it’s not the socialism part of the plans. A Credit Union is a socialist organisation and we’ve yet to come across the existence of one of them causing the nation’s toilet paper to run out. No, the mistake has been to abandon the market and prices as the information and allocation systems for the economy. Long, hard and bitter experience has shown us that those two things are simply essential to have an economy that operates in anything like an acceptable manner. There simply is no other method of planning or management capable, other than those markets, of dealing with the complexity of an economy.

And yet just when I think that the place is getting to rock bottom Maduro and compadres manage to dig themselves ever deeper. They have now brought back agricultural slavery:

President Nicolás Maduro signed a decree at the end of last week that gives powers to the labor ministry to order “all workers from the public and private sector with enough physical capabilities and technical know-how” to join a government drive aimed at increasing food production.

They can be required to work in the agricultural sector for a 60-day period that can be extended for another 60 days “if the circumstances require it.”

It’s entirely true that this isn’t chattel slavery but it is very much akin to serfdom. The peasant must work a certain number of days of the year on the Lord’s land. Although with serfdom there was actually a quid pro quo – the Lord defended the serf in return, that’s how the institution arose. Venezuelan’s biggest defence need is to be defended from the idiocy of the Venezuelan government so forcing them to go labour for it is adding insult to injury.

Do note that this isn’t just some news site bigging up the effects, Amnesty International is on the case:

A new decree establishing that any employee in Venezuela can be effectively made to work in the country’s fields as a way to fight the current food crisis is unlawful and effectively amounts to forced labour, said Amnesty International.

“Trying to tackle Venezuela’s severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

The thing is this is worse than just bringing back state serfdom. It’s also a ludicrously stupid idea. Back a century or so you probably could get some useful agricultural work out of most able bodied adults. Perhaps not wholly effective and efficient work but everyone would have had at least a passing knowledge of how you dig up potatoes, or plant carrots or something. After all, most gardens back then did contain at least a modicum of a vegetable patch.

Today, in a modern economy? 90% of the people wouldn’t know which end of a carrot was up when stuck out in a field somewhere. And farming these days just isn’t a matter of human labour. It’s good seeds, machinery and good pesticides. Forcing the population out into the fields simply does not increase agricultural productivity. There is also that very disturbing overtone of the Pol Pot regime when everyone really was forced out into the fields permanently.

There is a final point – Venezuela’s agriculture doesn’t suffer from a lack of labour to perform it. It suffers from selling prices being lower than the costs of growing the stuff. That is, agriculture is suffering from a lack of reason to do it, not a lack of the people to do it if there were a reason.

If Maduro simply freed the price system I guarantee you that the food shortages will disappear. For they’re being caused by those price controls, nothing else.

Forbes |Tim Worstall

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