Socialism's Joys: Energy Venezuela

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/24/2008 12:13:00 PM
In these days of globe-spanning economic turmoil, socialist ideologies are making something of a comeback. The excesses of laissez-faire are leading those hurt by it to now seek protection. Karl Polanyi called it the "double movement," defined as the continuing tension and conflict between the efforts to establish, maintain, and spread the self-regulating market and the efforts to protect people and society from the consequences of the working of the self-regulating market. Although I am not a Polanyi fan, you may say that today's newspaper headlines are endless variations on this theme: citizens have been hurt by the credit crunch, causing country x to implement policies y and z.

Being of the non-ideological sort, I can see how things can swing to the opposite extreme after a period of laissez-faire. An undoubted hero of the anti-globalization movement is none other than Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Still, how can it be that a country blessed with abundant energy reserves finds itself in the midst of recurrent power outages? Venezuela provides a cautionary tale for those hankering for a worldwide Bolivarian Revolution. Proletarians are hurting:
Despite having some of the world's largest energy reserves, Venezuela is increasingly struggling to maintain basic electrical service, a growing challenge for leftist President Hugo Chavez. The OPEC nation has suffered three nationwide blackouts this year, and chronic power shortages have sparked protests from the western Andean highlands to San Felix, a city of mostly poor industrial workers in the sweltering south.

Shoddy electrical service is now one of Venezuelans' top concerns, according to a recent poll, and may be a factor in elections next month for governors and mayors in which Chavez allies are expected to lose key posts, in part on complaints of poor services. The problem suggests that Chavez, with his ambitious international alliances and promises to end capitalism, risks alienating supporters by failing to focus on basic issues like electricity, trash collection and law enforcement.

"With so much energy in Venezuela, how can we be without power?" asked Fernando Aponte, 49, whose slum neighborhood of Las Delicias in San Felix spent 15 days without electricity -- leading him to block a nearby avenue with burning tires in protest. Just next door, Carmen Fernandez, 82, who is blind and has a pacemaker, says she has trouble sleeping through sultry nights without even a fan to cool her.

Experts say Venezuela for years has skimped billions of dollars in electrical investments, leaving generation 20 percent below the level necessary for a stable power grid and increasing the risk of national outages. Officially Venezuela has a capacity of 22,500 megawatts for a population of 28 million people, but a sizeable proportion is not working, analysts say.
Neither a Randian nor a Chavista be, I say. Countries lurching from one ideological extreme to the other would be an unwelcome phenomenon. Cycling through Friedmanites and Bolivarians doesn't seem to to solve much, does it?