Theodore Dalrymple on the unfailing ability of some political pundits to not only be wrong, but to be proven wrong so completely and so quickly (and yet to seem unable to learn from the experience):
In 2000 [former literary editor of The Guardian, Richard Gott] wrote a book about Chavez that I thought startling in its adulatory idiocy. The Bourbons may have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing, but Gott was far worse than any Bourbon. Despite it being obvious that Chavez’s crude and demagogic economic notions were capable of producing a sand shortage in the Sahara, Gott saw in them a rainbow with a pot of social justice at the end of it. As late as 2012, Gott wrote an article in The Guardian with the title “Chavez’s economic lesson for Europe.” Its subtitle was “Hugo Chavez’s rejection of the neoliberal policies dragging Europe down sets a hopeful example.”
Chavez’s policy was simply to use Venezuela’s large oil revenues, in effect its unearned income, to subsidize the standard of living of millions of people, while at the same time antagonizing foreign and even domestic capital. Oddly enough, it did not occur to the learned author of the article that Greece, for example, had no revenues from a resource comparable to oil to distribute, though for a time borrowed money played the role of those oil revenues; nor that an economy utterly dependent on the price of oil was extremely fragile, and that to distribute largesse on the assumption that the price would remain high forever was improvident, to say the least.
The article ends as follows:
Greece has a wonderful chance to change the history of Europe and to throw their caps of Bolívar into the air, as once the Italian carbonari did in Paris all those years ago. Lord Byron, who planned to settle in Bolívar’s Venezuela before sailing off to help liberate Greece, named his yacht Bolívar; he would certainly have been pleased with contemporary developments.
What this omits, apart from the chaos into which Venezuela has only too predictably fallen, is Bolívar’s own miserable end as a fugitive from what he himself had brought about, and his deeply despairing though splendidly lapidary last pronouncement: He who serves the revolution ploughs the sea.
It was never very difficult, even for persons such as I ungifted with foresight, to predict that Chavez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution would end in tears, with shortages of practically everything and corruption on a Brobdingnagian scale. For any person possessed of the most minimal common sense, Gott’s own book about the Venezuelan mountebank provided enough evidence that this would happen. Gott’s economic utopia is a place in which everything for everybody is subsidized, and nothing has a real price. A cynic, said Oscar Wilde, is a person who knows the price of everything; a Gott is a person who thinks there should be no prices, and everything should be distributed according to everyone’s wishes.
But perhaps we should not be too hard on poor old Chavez and his Guardian acolyte, praise-singer, and sycophant. Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution was only European social democracy writ large and loud, a tropical parrot to Europe’s more soberly plumaged crows. After all, what is most of Western politics about other than the size and distribution of subsidies, the state, as the great French economist of the 19th century, Frédéric Bastiat, put it (he is the only economist in the history of the world who makes you laugh on practically every page), the means by which everyone seeks to live at everyone else’s expense?