Back in 1978, Great Britain went through a horrendous period. Public employees went on strike, and public services were severely disrupted. The period, known as “the winter of discontent,” all but destroyed Labour’s reputation, and helped propel Margaret Thatcher to the Prime Minister’s office, a development that changed British history.
I was thinking about this while I read in an email that Private Jerry Rondón, a Chacao policeman, was shot dead while off duty. Yet the ordeal for his family didn’t end there. Jerry couldn’t be simply buried, according to his boss, Chacao mayor Ramón Muchacho.
First, there were 39 bodies in the morgue and only one forensic pathologist was available, so there was a long delay in getting the body.
Next, there were no plots in government-owned El Junquito cemetery, so they had to buy one in the black market at a huge markup.
And finally … the undertakers were on strike, so there was nobody to bury him.
The provision of public goods – justice, safety, clean streets, law, order, and yes, undertakers – is the responsability of the government. But there is not a single thing that the Venezuelan government does that is not a complete and utter disaster.
It only takes reading Quico’s personal impressions of a Kampala neighborhood to understand that poverty is one thing, and public inefficiency is quite another. Venezuelans aren’t as poor as Ugandans, but the provision of public goods by the state is a sham, making their quality of life arguably much worse.
These have been fourteen years of discontent. And yet … if we all know that government has stopped working, isn’t it time we entertain the thought that the problem is government itself? That the problem … is a state that has become too atrophied to provide the most basic needs for people? That all the government does is take things away from people? Isn’t the solution sort of obvious?
Putting ideology aside, there is simply no way a bloated public sector, with close to 3 million employees, can do anything right. The Venezuelan state is simply a machine that distributes rents – to public employees, to the military, to enchufados, to public contractors, to the public at large. But actually doing things … that’s asking too much of it. Delivering on its promises to citizens, you say? Mucho camisón pa’ Petra.
The Venezuelan state is morbidly obese. It can barely lift a finger..
And yet, if you look at our political landscape, nobody is framing the problem this way. All we see in the political spectrum is leftist, and radical leftist. Progressive, and chavista. Center left, and way-out-left. Nobody is talking about the government as the enemy. In fact, in one of the more cringe-inducing aspects of our recent political campaigns, the opposition has gone out of its way to reassure public servants that their jobs were safe!
Call me crazy, but the only way Venezuela is going to get out of this hole is by shaking up the entire structure of the Venezuelan government, and that means what it does, what it doesn’t do, how it does things, and yes, how many people it pays to do (or not do) things. In spite of these obvious realities, nobody in the opposition is honest enough to talk about the problems as they are.
Whether you agree with this notion or not, it seems curious that a political spectrum such as Venezuela’s, that allows for every lunatic to have their day in the sun, contains desperately few people saying the most common-sensical things. Where are the politicians saying that government is not going to solve problems? That government – particularly a petro-state with rapidly falling revenues – is the problem? Why hasn’t government itself become the target of our criticism? Why is nobody out there willing to speak some truth, damn the torpedoes?
Consider me baffled.