Venezuela's Lessons For America
By Jacob G. Hornberger
The dire situation in Venezuela holds valuable lessons for the American people.
The first lesson involves Venezuela’s economic system, which is based on socialism and interventionism. It has produced nothing but chaos, crisis, misery, conflict, discord, and poverty. That’s what socialism does. As an economic system, it is a total failure.
Why is that a valuable lesson for Americans? Because the welfare state economic system that Americans adopted in the 1930s is a variation of socialism. That’s what such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, subsidies, public schooling, the postal service, Amtrak, immigration controls, the Federal Reserve, and progressive income taxation are all about. They are based either on the socialist concept of taking money from those who own it and give to people who don’t own it or the socialist concept of central planning. That’s precisely why all these programs have produced chaos, crisis, misery, conflict, discord, and poverty. The only reason that things are not as bad here as they are in Venezuela is because Venezuelan public officials have embraced socialist principles to a greater degree than U.S. officials have.
Second, the ongoing economic chaos and crises in Venezuela have led to greater and greater government control over people’s economic activities, to such a point that the nation is now living under a democratically elected authoritarian police state. That’s because, as Ludwig von Mises pointed out, each economic intervention inevitably leads to more interventions to fix the crises caused by previous interventions. As the interventions add up, the result tends toward a complete government takeover of economic activity, which inevitably is enforced with brutal police-state measures.
We especially see this phenomenon here in the United States in three areas — healthcare, drug laws, and immigration controls. Once the federal government enacted Medicare and Medicaid, the die was cast for ever more interventions, to fix the crises produced by previous interventions. Same with the drug war. Same with immigration controls. The new interventions produce more chaos and more crises, which are then used to justify new interventions. In healthcare, the move is toward a complete federal takeover of healthcare. In the drug war, the move is toward more brutality, much like that of President Duterte in the Philippines. In immigration, the move is toward more warrantless searches, raids, deportations, and even a wall along the border modeled on the infamous Berlin Wall.
Third, democracy is not the end-all and be-all of a free society. In fact, democracy constitutes a grave potential threat to freedom. Presidents Hugo Chavez and Vincente Maduro of Venezuela have shown us that it is entirely possible to have a dictatorship that is democratically elected.
The same principle applies here in the United States. The president now wields the power to assassinate Americans and to arrest Americans, incarcerate them, and torture them, all without any judicial accountability, due process of law, and trial by jury. Those are powers that traditionally are wielded by totalitarian regimes. Yet, the president of the United States is democratically elected.
A free society necessarily depends on the limitation of power of whoever happens to hold public office. That was what the U.S. Constitution was all about — to limit the power of those holding federal office.
Fourth, Venezuela is founded on the concept of a national-security state. That means an all-powerful big military establishment, a federal police force, and a federal security agency that closely monitors the activities of the citizenry, always searching for threats to “national security.” As we have seen in Venezuela, it is this section of the government that enables the president to enforce his dictatorial decrees over society. Without a national-security establishment, the president would be unable to impose and enforce dictatorial rule.
Ever since the late 1940s, the United States has also been founded on the concept of a national-security state. That’s what the Pentagon, the FBI (which was founded before the 1940s but was later incorporated into the national-security state), and the NSA are all about — always searching for threats to “national security” and taking whatever steps are necessary to protect “national security.” It is this section of the government that carries out the president’s omnipotent and totalitarian-like powers to assassinate or arrest, incarcerate, and torture Americans without due process of law and trial by jury.
Fifth, gun control. According to an article entitled “A Lesson in Democracy in Venezuela” by Russ Vaughn in the American Thinker, one of the first things that Hugo Chavez did after being elected president was enforce a nationwide system of gun control. The result is that today the Venezuelan people have no effective way to resist the tyranny under which they are suffering. Sure, they can demonstrate and protest, if they’re willing to risk arrest or being killed by the Venezuelan national-security establishment, but they have no means to fire back against Maduro’s goons because they gave up their guns in the quest to be “safe” from gun violence in society.
To their credit, the American people have still not given up their guns, notwithstanding the enormous pressure put on by U.S. officials and the left to do so. Widespread gun ownership here in the United States remains a continuing deterrence to what is happening in Venezuela. When people permit themselves to be disarmed, they are finished. As we are seeing in Venezuela, the First Amendment is meaningless without the Second Amendment. When soldiers and police know that people are capable of resisting tyranny with force, they think twice about becoming too tyrannical.
Sixth, anything can happen, including here in the United States. Tyranny can occur anywhere and everywhere. This is especially true in countries whose economic systems are based on socialism and interventionism and on a national-security state. That’s because the chaos and crises produced by socialism and interventionism inevitably lead toward police-state measures, which are then brutally enforced by the national-security establishment on orders of the president.
Some Americans think that such a thing can’t happen in the United States. They say that while the troops, the intelligence agencies, and the federal police in Venezuela follow the orders of their president, U.S. troops, the FBI, and the NSA would never carry out a U.S. president’s orders to do such things. That’s nothing but wishful thinking. Ninety-nine percent of soldiers follow orders of their president and their superior officers. That’s what they are trained to do from the first day in boot camp. If they don’t, they’re shot or immediately replaced by those who will follow orders. FBI agents and NSA agents also follow orders, especially in the midst of a gigantic crisis. In the midst of a crisis, all the president has to do declare that “national security” is at stake. The chances that his generals, the troops, the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA are going to say no are slim and none. They’re going to do as they are told and they are going to tell themselves that by doing what their (democratically elected) commander in chief orders, they are fulfilling their obligation to support and defend the Constitution.
Consider the initial invasion of Iraq. No soldier refused to obey orders to invade and kill people, even though there was no constitutionally required congressional declaration of war. Consider the widespread torture of prisoners carried out by the CIA and the CIA’s intentional destruction of videotaped evidence of the torture. Consider the violent kidnapping of people in other countries and their rendition to tyrannical regimes for the purpose of torture. Consider the extra-judicial assassinations that have long been carried out by the CIA. Consider the illegal telecom surveillance schemes that involved private firms and the NSA. They were all illegal acts loyally carried out by U.S. soldiers, CIA agents, and NSA officials who honestly believed they were protecting “national security” and supporting and defending the Constitution by following orders or acting in accordance with the wishes of their superiors.
There are some who believe that the national-security establishment would and should protect us from a president whose orders and policies pose a threat to national security. They are referring to a military coup. (See, for example, “If Trump Wins, a Coup Isn’t Impossible Here in the U.S.” published in July 19, 2016, issue of the Los Angeles Times.) Some people are undoubtedly hoping that that happens in Venezuela, perhaps even with the secret help of the CIA and the Pentagon.
The problem with that is that the cure is worse than the disease, as the Chilean people discovered after the Pentagon and the CIA instigated a coup in that country that brought into power a tyrannical military dictatorship that rounded up, kidnapped, assassinated, incarcerated, tortured, raped, brutally sexually abused, or killed tens of thousands of innocent people, all with the support of the U.S. national-security establishment. And don’t forget: To this day, there are lots of conservatives both in Chile and the United States who still hail Pinochet’s 17 years of brutal and tyrannical dictatorship.
What is the solution to all this chaos, crisis, mayhem, conflict, discord, death, destruction, and tyranny? No, it’s not getting “better people” in public office, as so many Americans still believe. And no, the solution is not a military coup.
Instead, the solution involves a structural change in the U.S. government itself, one that entails a dismantling of all the socialist and interventionist programs as well as a dismantling of the entire national-security establishment. The solution is a structural change that restores a society based on individual liberty, free trade, free markets, and a constitutionally limited government republic.
This article was originally published at The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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