Foreign Policy tracks the uninterrupted collapse of Venezuela, which has been all but overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine. Venezuela is proof that even if no one hears a tree fall in the forest, the tree still hits the ground. But its proof of another less lofty adage: that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Socialists can keep failing forever without ever realizing that something is wrong.
For example Julia Buxton of the Guardian sees Maduro’s problems as the result of insufficient agility. But nothing is said about the model itself; except to suggest that Maduro’s opposition will make itself unpopular by refusing to ‘help’ or ‘cooperate’ with the Venezuelan strongman.
They were exacerbated by constant ministerial turnover and the government’s failure to engage with these issues as social and institutional problems, rather than facets of capitalism that would fade under Chávez’s model of 21st century socialism.
High inflation and shortages are the result of an overbearing state that is intended to frame the socialist economy. In the early 2000s price and exchange controls had logic in the context of private-sector lockouts, massive capital flight and the need to ensure access to high-price goods and services for the poor – Chávez’s core supporters. But the rationale for their retention has long expired.
As with Obamacare, the greatest sin of an ideologies’ victims is their unwillingness to patiently endure its supposed fixes. “Venezuela faces serious economic and security challenges. These need no exaggeration, and Maduro recognises that they can only be addressed through a national dialogue. An initial peace conference convened at the end of February was boycotted by the radicals and Capriles, but attended by lower-profile opposition figures. They, rather than Capriles, may prove to be the beneficiaries of the popular frustration with Maduro, who for now finds his position strengthened.
Whether it is Obama putting forward Debo Adegbile or Detroit insisting on its pensions or socialists doubling down on Socialism the problem is always framed in terms of: “yes it sucks so why not lend a hand and make it work?” The possibility it may fail is excluded a priori.
But in reality things fail all the time. And though everyone sees it coming there’s not a damn they do about it. The history of humanity is the history of unrepentance. Clayton Christensen argues that “great firms fail” — really excellent, innovative, world-beating teams — they often simply drift toward the sound of roaring water audible for miles yet despite decades of warning still go over the edge without a barrel.
This happens to countries and empires too. They can see the black line of the waterfall’s edge in the distance, but no one can steer away.
Christensen uses the example of hard drive companies to make his point about company death. These brilliant firms are overwhelmed by change. “Coping with the relentless onslaught of technology change was akin to trying to climb a mudslide raging down a hill. You have to scramble with everything you’ve got to stay on top of it, and if you ever once stop to catch your breath, you get buried.”
The Obama administration doesn’t even try to cope. It just sweeps stuff under the carpet. What we are watching is the process of seeing it buried under a mudslide.
Above all failing companies are “captive to their customers” — that is to say they are held in thrall to their constituencies. Christensen’s cites the hard-drive industry as an example of how you are left stuck in the middle of the river waiting to go over Niagra Falls.
Why were the leading drive makers unable to launch 8-inch drives until it was too late? Clearly, they were technologically capable of producing these drives. Their failure resulted from delay in making the strategic commitment to enter the emerging market in which the 8-inch drives initially could be sold. Interviews with marketing and engineering executives close to these companies suggest that the established 14-inch drive manufacturers were held captive by customers. Mainframe computer manufacturers did not need an 8-inch drive. In fact, they explicitly did not want it: they wanted drives with increased capacity at a lower cost per megabyte. The 14-inch drive manufacturers were listening and responding to their established customers. And their customers–in a way that was not apparent to either the disk drive manufacturers or their computer-making customers–were pulling them along a trajectory of 22 percent capacity growth in a 14-inch platform that would ultimately prove fatal.
It’s hard for Obama to change, even if he had a personal epiphany, a vision from God vouchsafing to him that everything he’d said up to that point was a crock. His social groups, political constituency, sources of funding, etc. wouldn’t let him. They’d fix him in place as effectively as a bear trap. Obama must keep nominating people like Debo Adegbile. They’re his constituency. Some of us may have seen this happen to people who work in nonprofits, political groups or even churches. Suddenly they don’t believe any more. But they keep pretending. They keep pretending because they have nowhere else to go.
The great advantage to capitalism and its political correlative, democracy, is not that it prevents failure but on the contrary allows it. In capitalism it’s OK to die, just as in some of the world’s great religions it’s OK to die. You let go because it’s the only real chance you will have to wake up dead. The cycle of death and birth, collapse and renewal are part of the model; unlike socialism, in which the state itself is god and thus, must live forever.
Clint Eastwood said in the movie Unforgiven that “we all have it coming, kid”. What he forgot to add is that something new is coming in recompense too. The only thing to be afraid of is the crazy idea that we can make time and some vision of glory stop at some perfect moment. To remake the world into an unchanging snapshot of some fatal dream.
Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
“Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole Round Table is dissolv’d
Which was an image of the mighty world,
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds.”
And slowly answer’d Arthur from the barge:
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
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