EspañolVenezuela is perhaps the most striking contemporary example of how policies that systematically increase the power of the state, at the expense of markets, create widespread social chaos and malaise.
For examples, look no further than the crisis engulfing the country since February 12. Rampant inflation caused by the monetization of a huge fiscal deficit, and widespread shortages of basic goods caused by price and foreign exchange controls, are among the most common grievances that thousands of protestors across the country are demanding the government to address.
But the strident roars of protestors overshadow other more subtle, yet serious, symptoms of decay. Many have characterized Venezuela for decades, but have been significantly exacerbated by the workings of the “Bolivarian Revolution.”
It is seldom the case that journalists and social critics show a sound grasp of how distorted economic incentives result in perverse, unforeseeable patterns of social interaction. Regardless, price controls, bureaucratic barriers to entry, and other misguided yet typical policies of centrally planned, socialist regimes, bias people towards the pursuit of non-productive means to wealth. And the results are almost always the exact opposite of what the policies intend to achieve.
That is, as I have argued elsewhere, what explains the plastic surgery epidemic that has plagued the country for the last two decades.
If this bizarre social phenomenon didn’t have such tragic consequences, one would have to laugh at the irony of the whole situation. Traditionally, the anti-capitalists vehemently condemn the frivolity of this sort of conspicuous consumption, claiming it is an inevitable result of the prevalence of the market as means for human interaction. But what we see instead is that it is precisely the absence of a free market that ultimately biases people’s behavior in all sorts of twisted ways.
The onerous obstacles for truly independent, small, and medium-sized entrepreneurial activity — as well as on the capacity for people to freely negotiate in the labor market — imposed by supposedly progressive statist interventions, exacerbates people’s drive towards increasing attractiveness for the opposite sex. Marrying someone close enough to the political inner-circle increasingly becomes one of the few effective mechanisms for social ascension and economic security.
And in traditionally patriarchal societies like Venezuela, the burden of these distortions is disproportionately suffered by women.
Shortly after listening to Maduro’s high-sounding remarks during his speech at the event marking International Women’s Day last Saturday, I stumbled upon the story of 2013 Miss Venezuela First Runner-Up Wi May Nava.
The beauty queen went well beyond a boob job in order to adjust herself to the prejudiced standards that define physical beauty in contemporary Venezuela: she had a piece of mesh sewn to her tongue, so she can’t eat solid foods and can lose weight faster.
As this piece about Nava’s journey at Gawker reminds us, the whole thing sounds like a creepy imitation of the worst cases of neurotic behavior that Hollywood loves to exploit. Take, for instance, Tami Roman from Basketball Wives, who decided to have her jaw wired shut for the same effect.
Talk about the anti-capitalist cultural-cleansing effects of revolution, eh? I wonder what Sean Penn thinks of these cinematographic similarities between Bolivarian Venezuela and The Empire…
Nava’s story illustrates how the beauty pageant is thriving in Venezuela, an institution of the Fourth Republic that refuses to die, precisely because the Fifth Republic has provided an even more fertile ground for it to flourish. Osmel Sousa, the organization’s ghoulish director, couldn’t have said it better: in his view, critics of his organization fail to realize that “we are not trying to create astronauts or something similar here … we work with girls who match the profile for succeeding in show business.”
Right on, Osmel, and that “profile” will be increasingly available for you to mold exactly to your liking. Because maybe none of those girls would have ever become an astronaut, as you say. But the tremendously sad reality is that in contemporary Venezuela, it would also be almost impossible for them to get a job or set up a business that would enable them to achieve minimum economic security, autonomy, and self-realization.
That, in the Venezuela of the Bolivarian Revolution, is becoming an almost impossible fairy-tail dream — as unlikely as becoming the most beautiful girl in the world.