There is a crisis in Venezuela — an acute shortage of toilet paper. President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government has hit upon a brilliant solution: take over the largest factory in the country making toilet paper to “ensure a sufficient supply.”
Your what hurts?
I believe there is a direct correlation between the economic health and spiritual well-being of a society and the quality and selection of the bathroom tissue it offers. The link is unmistakable, as I wrote a few years ago:
Socialist societies overflow with TP jokes. That’s because when such a basic necessity is part of a command economy, there will never be enough and its quality will be a joke. This brings to mind P.J. O’Rourke’s masterpiece Holidays in Hell where his visit to the Soviet Union in the early 80s was painted as a nightmare of shortages, and standing in line for hours just to purchase a couple of rolls of toilet paper.
This incredible report from a sociologist in Russia describes how the Stalinist state designed one kind of toilet paper:
My view is that the development and usage of toilet paper has a much neglected ‘cultural’, as opposed to crudely ‘economic’, aspect. I remember using something called ‘Izal’ – a sort of hard, crumply, medicated affair, prone to splitting under excessive pressure. It was clearly designed and manufactured by an anally retentive Methodist sworn to clean living, clean air and clean bums. It came in boxes especially designed to keep use of paper to a minimum. Each sheet had to be withdrawn singly and was usually the devil’s own job to extract. Sort of thing one found in the lower middle class household of Stalinist persuasion that I inhabited during my childhood years…. It never did me any harm, honest.
If you read between the lines of this old Russian joke about toilet paper, you can catch the utter helplessness that people feel in a society that is incapable of addressing their most basic comforts:
A woman walking in the street is carrying a bag full of rolls of toilet paper.
A passer-by opens his mouth, “Hey, mother, where did you buy it?”
“Buy? Are you crazy? Where could I buy it nowadays? They are five years old. I am taking them back from the cleaners.”
And, of course, there are dozens of variations on the newspaper Pravda (Truth) being better utilized for duty in the water closet than actually finding out what was going on in the Soviet Union at the time.
Venezuelan troops will “occupy” the factory so that “the … People’s Defense from the Economy will not allow hoarding or failures in the production and distribution of essential commodities.”
By the “People’s Defense,” Arreaza was referring to a government agency created on September 13 by President Nicolas Maduro to “defeat the economic war that has been declared in the country,” according to a report from state-run ATV. This group is charged with looking at inefficiencies across various industries in the nation, including foods and other products, and taking action presumably in the South American nation’s best interests.
Toilet paper is very much a part of the war.
The bathroom essential is one of the basic goods and foodstuffs that have been disappearing from store shelves since earlier this year. In Caracas, for instance, long lines are common whenever new rolls come in.
As the amount of TP and other products, such as rice and cooking oil, have lagged, the blame game has picked up.
Businesses and the political opposition say the shortages stem from ill-conceived government policies such as price controls on basic goods and tight restrictions on foreign currency. These moves make it so many producers can’t even break even, they say.
But the government has said private companies aren’t doing their part, accusing them of hoarding their products in hopes of selling it later at a higher price.
They’ve also suggested the problem is tied to a broader conspiracy.
“There is no deficiency in production,” Commerce Minister Alejandro Fleming said in May according to ATV, “but an excessive demand generating purchases by a nervous population because of a media campaign.”
At that time, Fleming announced the country would import 50 million rolls of toilet paper to meet demand. Other hygiene products, such as toothpaste and soap, may be similarly brought in bulk for the same reason, the minister said.
There is a shortage of TP because the government is paranoid. And ridiculously inefficient. And economically illiterate. That’s a combination guaranteed to make people extremely unhappy, helpless in the face of government stupidity.