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Venezuela's best export is a lesson about socialism

| Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, 8:57 p.m.

Get sophisticated and smart and care about people and, sure enough, you are soon a socialism fan, aren't you? I mean, after all, socialists serve the poor, big government gets big things done, and capitalism — shudder, shudder — just makes the rich richer through endless exploitation. Right?

Well, no, not exactly. The history of socialism is one of trampling the poor. We've seen it repeatedly, over and over, and now we are seeing it in Venezuela.

The late President Hugo Chavez's unjust acts included price controls putting businesses out of business, government appropriation of private property, unaffordable subsidies and takeover threats that kept foreign investors from investing. There were yet other forms of despotism — the strangling of free speech and winning debates with political opponents through the non-rhetorical device of locking them up in prisons.

In 2013, Chavez died and was succeeded by a near-worshipper, Nicolas Maduro, whose failure to reverse tragic policies has led to such catastrophes as near starvation, mob violence, inflation estimated by some as being at 808 percent, loads of uncaught murderers, prison deaths in the hundreds and reported shortages of everything from medications to toilet paper.

What celebrity celebrators of Chavez shenanigans needed was a session with the brilliant, now-deceased libertarian economist Milton Friedman. As recounted in a Wall Street Journal feature, Phil Donahue, another celebrity who once moderated a TV show, got just that. Donahue asked him if he ever doubted capitalism's “maldistribution of wealth” and the greed of the powerful. Friedman answered that there's greed in every kind of society, that individuals, not government bureaus, are responsible for the “great achievements of civilizations” and that only free enterprise lifts the masses from “grinding poverty.”

The proof to back him up? It's all around us. Because of free markets and the technology that emerges from them, researchers such as science writer Matt Ridley say we're seeing a world in which people in poor countries are now on average living two decades longer than they did a half-century ago. Nutrition is far better. Deaths of children are far fewer. Incomes are higher. Basic products are cheaper, education more widespread, health care more widely available.

It's not just some celebrities who need to take heed, of course, but also leftist politicians in our midst, such as the self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders. He is not seeking Venezuelan-style socialism, but he is fighting for increased central planning, additional interventions in the marketplace, greater spending, new regulations and expanded trade restrictions that all together give us markets that are ever less free, ever more controlled.

Every now and then the celebrities, the politicians, the so-called intellectuals who support all of this and enthusiasts in the public ought to do something simple. They ought to look around and note what has worked and what hasn't.

Jay Ambrose, former editor of the Rocky Mountain News, is a columnist for Tribune News Service.

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