Totalitarian domination, however, aims at abolishing freedom, even at eliminating human spontaneity in general, and by no means at a restriction of freedom no matter how tyrannical.” — Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism.
EspañolWhen “social justice” guides political action, the inevitable result is totalitarianism. Venezuela is a prime example of this warning uttered by Austrian economist and political scientist Friedrich von Hayek.
In the past, concepts similar to social justice, such as the general interest, the common good, and the social role of private property have served as excuses for state intervention, redistribution of wealth, and confiscation of the means of production.
As the states expands its scope of action, individuals have fewer rights and liberties. During the last 16 years, Venezuelans have witnessed the government’s intense and arbitrary interference in our daily lives. In recent times, the Chavistas scaled it up, something many deemed impossible.
Let’s just remember President Nicolás Maduro’s latest measures:
(1) The government changed the method to determine prices and ordered the publication of the Maximum Retail Price for all goods sold in the country. This law was in effect since 2003, but at that time it only covered a limited number of products.
In 2011, late President Hugo Chávez enacted the Law of Fair Costs and Prices, expanding price controls to all products and leaving the enforcement in the hands of regulatory authorities. The 2011 law revealed the government’s real intention: to control each and every aspect of the economy, from the largest company to the humblest convenience store.
(2) The government created the National Command for Fair Prices, with Vice President Jorge Arreaza at the helm, sending the army to enforce price controls. The National Bolivarian Guard and the National Bolivarian Militia are also part of it.
(3) President Maduro toughened penalties for price gouging and warned sellers and producers that “forewarned is forearmed.” He also said: “We are entering a new offensive. We won’t rest until we win this battle for the people. We are also increasing jail sentences, because the law must be relentless.”
In response, one should note that the 2011 law already imposed onerous sanctions and, even so, shortages have continuously increased, as has inflation.
(4) Maduro introduced new measures against those who don’t operate within Venezuela’s legal yet absurd exchange-rate system, announcing his intention to crack down on “those who fix prices in black-market or parallel dollars, or those who seek to use that dollar illegitimately.”
There is no doubt that with these economic measures the government is stepping up its heavy-handed intervention in citizens’ lives, while it justifies its repressive actions with empty phrases like “for the people,” “social justice,” and the “general interest.”
I’m not afraid to state that, in Venezuela, we live under a totalitarian regime. To back up this claim, let’s do a little exercise and review what a regular day is like here:
I wake up early in the morning. Unlike the rest of my fellow Venezuelans, I’m lucky to live in the capital Caracas, so it’s likely that I won’t suffer a power outage.
I brush my teeth using one of the many tubes of toothpaste I have bought in order to be ready in case of a shortage. On previous occasions, I have had to do without this product and even without a toothbrush. I take a shower with a shampoo that is twice the price of the regulated one, which I don’t buy because of its poor quality. Plus, it’s not sold everywhere, and I don’t have time to stand in huge queues.
I then have breakfast, which has been the same for years — as long as I can obtain the products I need and can afford the prices under the current three-digit inflation, which takes a considerable portion out of my wage.
Clearly, the first 30 minutes of my day are rife with unwholesome government intervention.
Throughout my day, the government will appear time and again with its sad, painful, and unnecessary interference. The truly disheartening part is to consider that I still have — at least in appearance — the “right to choose” when compared with people living in other parts of the country.
Hayek’s warnings have been proved accurate. “Social justice” in politics begets totalitarianism.