Worse than Wrong: Meaningless

HCR3-2Capping off a horrifically depressing news day, Henrique Capriles gave a “major speech” on economic policy today that barely merited the name. Capriles portrayed himself as presenting a short-term package of emergency economic recommendations, but the speech itself was so disjointed and incoherent it was hard to make heads or tails of what he was proposing.

The closest thing to a specific measure in the speech was a call for a 50% across-the-board salary rise as a way of fighting inflation, which is roughly like calling for across-the-board gasoline spraying as a way to fight a forest fire.

Remarkably, though Capriles repeatedly referred to some kind of formal document containing his recommendations, nobody seems to have seen it. I’ve been looking for it all afternoon, but it’s just MIA.

The speech itself is hard to critique on economic grounds because there was barely any coherent economic reasoning in it. Instead, we got weird little free-association rants like,

74% de inflación en lo que va de año, la más alta del mundo, no hay otro país que tenga esta inflación. La base de todo es la confianza y no hay confianza en el gobierno venezolano, pero hay una gran expectativa. La situación del país no cambia tapando las cifras ni censurando los medios. Es una emergencia la que hay en Venezuela. Hoy hay una hiperinflación sumado a una recesión económica.

That feel cobbled together from random bits of an argument overheard at a taguara. Seriously, it was that bad. We’re talking Marco Torres level bad.

Earlier today, I posted a pretty harsh critique of Freddy Guevara’s speech for VP on handling our foreign debt. I definitely don’t agree with Guevara, I think he has it badly wrong. But I can argue with him. He sets out a reasoned position, one where conclusions follow in some kind of logical order from premises, values and assumptions. You can pick apart those premises, values and assumptions and have a fruitful debate about them.

But I can’t actually do that with Capriles’s speech, because it wasn’t even wrong, it was meaningless.

Look, I get it that as a professional politician you’ll inevitably be called on to give speeches on topics you haven’t really mastered. That’s part of the job. If you’re smart, you read those speeches. If you don’t, well…people are going to draw their own conclusions about your judgment.

73 thoughts on “Worse than Wrong: Meaningless

  1. Is it wrong to assume he is attempting to talk to the venezolano promedio? You know, the one who’s voted time and again for Chavez and will never understand inflation rates or currency devaluation or anything else than a birra and an arepa?


    • Sadly, that is the type of discourse that got Chavismo in power for 16 years. Or even more simplistic.

      If your audience is a Harvard-educated crowd in Norway, ask Leopoldo to speak. But if the voters are under-educated, semi-Chavista pueblo, Capriles knows he’s gotta talk to them in the only language they can begin to comprehend.

      You bet your kids’ College funds and your houses that Capriles was advised by his team to speak in such plain pueblo terms. They are finally learning something.


      • This goes beyond marketing, or what his advisers told him to say, or his suit. Capriles simply has no clue on the current state of our economy, nor any clear interest to educate himself in these things. He is simply … not serious.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Didn’t you favor Economista Jose Guerra? He’s behind the little presentation. Leete El Universal.

          (Not saying they know much. Or that Capriles is too educated either, they are talking Pueblo-Language Deliberately)

          Liked by 1 person

          • In any case it’s a disgraceful insult to the intelect of the voters. El pueblo, this is a guy who has runned for the office two times already, and all he has is a plan that some undergrad can do in 5 minutes. And it’s bad.
            Being in the oppo it’s definitely an endurance test.


  2. The problem I see for any politician wanting to get a vote is that any realistic solution is going to result in more hardship. Its sort of like asking people to give up their house and vote for a 50% tax increase. Hence, bafflegab instead. I’m sure Capriles understands what is going on and what is going to have to happen, and he can certainly articulate ideas well if that is his objective. That is not, apparently, his objective.


  3. Since the blogger who excerpts from Bocaranda, Bocaranda himself, and the journo at abc.es cannot produce the original source material, I’d ask: Where the hell is the audio of this presentation??????


  4. There’s an insane far-left party here in Brazil that goes for the acronym PCO (Partido da Causa Operária), and in all their TV insertions they defend the same thing, that if they increase the minimum wage to the equivalent of US$ 1100 by decree, all poverty will magically vanish away on the next day.

    I’m sorry to see Capriles supporting the same unsustainable populist policies that put Venezuela in this current miserable state… Not cool, Capriles. Expected more from you.


  5. “Here are the highlights of the people who won:

    Caracas: Jesús Abreu of Voluntad Popular and José Guerra, an independent backed by several parties. Guerra in particular was a favorite of ours – a well-respected economist who has gone from being in the Central Bank to canvassing the streets of western Caracas.”


    Capriles propuso plan económico de emergencia con dólares de canje de deuda
    El plan “para llegar a diciembre”, fue elaborado con la asesoría del economista José Guerra.

    Go figure.


  6. Capriles’ politics have always been based on a sort of Chavismo-Lite without the Corruption.

    I am sorry to say that he is not being realistic and, worse, I don’t think he realizes it.


  7. I shall persist withy my nagging question (see thread on Haussman versus Rodriguez, yesrerday): Where are the economists in Venezuela? As I said, half the college geaduates are lawyers and the other half are economists.;-)


    • Jose Guerra:

      Economista Universidad Central de Venezuela 1983.
      Especialización en Economía. Economics Institute, Universidad de Colorado, Boulder 1991.
      Master en Economía. Universidad de Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1993, mención Cum Lauden.

      working with the Opposition now..


  8. I hope Guerra and others will chime in. I read the 10 points of the ‘Plan.” Plan it ain’t! It is a sad song of sorrow, but other than the 50% increase in salary, there is no concrete action proposed. That’s really lame.

    Maybe, just maybe Capriles realizes that whatever pilll we have to slallow is too bitter. So, he is being elusive on purpose as to not alienate voters? I’d much prefer that craven attitude to a the alternative that he is cluelles when it comes to the economy.


      • Pensar que los problemas de Venezuela se arreglan con un default de la deuda y sin levantar el control de cambio es vivir en un mundo de fantasía. Pensar que la banca internacional va a ver con buenos ojos que hagamos un default para pagar un 50% de incremento de sueldos es … chavismo.


        • Ah, pero en que quedamos? Leyendo lo que escribes desde Mayo, y aqui hoy, no se entiendo nada..

          Lee bien la vaina manana, estudia bien el simple plancito de “emergencia popular” de tu admirado Economista Jose Guerra, y despues criticalo en detalle y en su totalidad. Es medio propaganda politica la vaina, anyway.

          Se consistente con lo que escribes, por lo menos. Ya te presente todos los links.

          (Personalmente tampoco me gustan mucho estas “medidas urgentes hasta diciembre, opino que de todas formas no se puede hacer casi nada economicamente o financieramente sino hasta despues de tumbar a la dictadura Chavista. Tienen demasiados intereses y son demasiado ladrones e incompetentes para implementar cualquier vaina que sugieras tu, Jose Guerra, o K. Galbraith).


    • I don’t see how anyone can get elected to anything in Venezuela on: let the market determine the price of gas, the price of corn flour, chicken and cooking oil and the value of the bolivar, and let’s sell off some state enterprises so we can pay down money we owe to gringo multinationals and the Chinese and we can shed a massive, unproductive workforce. So yes, instead,a big pay raise for everyone!


  9. Capriles tries to imitate Chavez. Chavez spoke rubbish, illogical stuff, but at least
    that rubbish was usually syntactically correct and people noticed it. Capriles talks a bit like Maduro
    if Maduro were not in power.


    • “Capriles tries to imitate Chavez”

      ¿Y ahorita te das cuenta, mijo? Si eso le viene desde las primarias que se hicieron hace años ya, para que veas que el populismo puede ser un fiasco, pero consigue votos sin pensar mucho.


  10. First off, huh. Turns out that Capriles can put his own ideas without MUD backup. Where all the “traitor to the Unity” insults that we saw when López did the same, huh? Hypocrites.

    Second, the whole thing is disjointed and is basically a bunch of bandaids. That said, I’m not that sanguine. IF there’s an actual macro plan, those bandaids can help to have a temporary solution while the macro plan is enabled. Without it, is just noise. Part of the reason that I’m not as sanguine is that there’s at least a sense of urgency on them whole thing (at least someone besides VP and Co. gets that this is an urgent situation), but *I* don’t trust Capriles’s urgency.

    I’m not a fan of the bandaids, but foreign investment isn’t going to flow to yet another country with austerity riots.


  11. If jose guerra is really behind many points in the Capriles speech it doenst exactly tally with what he has been saying for the last few years . his fundamental views are far more radical in scope and impact . So why would he help articulate a speech that does not really reflect his views ?, quite obvious and simple , because the average person who gets to hear about the speech ( whichever way it gets heard) are people who lack the capacity to apreciate jose guerras views and want something which involves no sacrifices and yet makets thing as right as he imagines they were a couple of years ago. no politician wants to frighten away his target constituency , its been done many times before and is still the way todays democracies work , you dont think whats really on your mind but instead broadcast a light cosmetized version that people can approve of or at least feel comfortable with . Remember Cap II , remember Fujimori, Read David Brooks comments on Hillarys latest economic speech . If you are doing politics yo ve got to give message that most ordinary people will find comforting and credible in their own limited terms. Thats the way modern politics operate. Why should we make believe that this is not the practice of modern pols come election time .

    This brings up a more fundamental point , that there is an inherent flaw in democracy in that it assummes that ordinary people have the capacity both emotional and intellectual to take it in the chin and understand and judge economic policies which require hard measures in order to achieve believable long temr results .

    We know this assumption about ordinary peoples capacity to judge and understand economic reality is puerile and delusional so that a policy of articulating a candidates economic policy in full detail is really politically unproductive .if not lethat tot he prospects of a candidate. .

    This makes good governance in an electoral democratic system something that requires the use of equivocal and even deceitful messaging , because ordinary people lack the capacity to judge rationally on the economic policies that such good governance requires . This is a reality of democratic politics where the ordinary electorate is not formed in the rational understanding of economic subjects but rather easily sold on fantasies and lies that feed its superstitious and mediochre hold on how economic reality works. !!

    In a democracy of the mediochre ( most in the world) econmic truth and popularity Do Not Mix , the pol mus adapt his messages to the limited capacity of the eectorate to understand and judge what good economic governance entails !! This might explain why Capriles speech is so disappointing to people who pride themselves in the sophistication and precision of their economic knowledge.. Why they find it meaningless or too similar to some sordid economic notions from Chavism.


  12. “If jose guerra is really behind many points in the Capriles speech it doenst exactly tally with what he has been saying for the last few years . his fundamental views are far more radical in scope and impact . So why would he help articulate a speech that does not really reflect his views ?, quite obvious and simple , because the average person who gets to hear about the speech ( whichever way it gets heard) are people who lack the capacity to apreciate jose guerras views and want something which involves no sacrifices and yet makets thing as right as he imagines they were a couple of years ago. no politician wants to frighten away his target constituency ”

    Exactly. And yes, if you read the Universal article I linked, it’s clear Jose Guerra is all over this.

    The writers of this blog also appreciate and were pulling for Guerra, until yesterday it seems.

    Obviously both FT and JCN rushed to judgments, wearing their “Economist Intellectual” fancy hats.

    They do no seem to comprehend what you are saying, which is precisely what I wrote numerous times yesterday right here, as you can see.

    Politics is one things, Economics and the hard truth quite another, especially when your target audience, i.e. the minds&hearts you are trying to win, are severely under-educated, ill-informed, brain-washed, former Chavistas, for the most part. (The rest of the audience is already 100% against Maduro and will vote MUD, regardless).

    To that effect, I applaud this Simplistic, populachero, awkward attempt at an “economic presentation”. Not that I agree with many of the specific economic/financial plans proposed.. It shows that they have some form of strategy, a deliberate decision to speak “claro y raspao” , nice, politically correct crap, bien evidemment.

    OF COURSE it was prepared for our ignorant pueblo; is Political Propaganda for the most part anyway. Of course you cannot tell those people about extremely tough austerity measures that would be required.

    Of course you can’t have Guerra stand up and give a truthful Economics Lecture at his Summa Cum Laude Masters level when the people you want to convince can hardly comprehend the label of the Harina pan package they desperately need.


    • The whole thing is disjointed, and José Guerra should be ashamed of himself. You can’t sell this as some sort of “emergency” plan when one of your main points is to return companies to their rightful owners. Anyone who thinks about this for two seconds will realize that returning companies to their owners – whomever they may be – will take months, and that getting these people to invest in their companies is practically impossible. With what money? Under these economic conditions? And *this* is going to take care of emergencies?

      And don’t even get me started about the whole “let’s keep currency controls in place but let’s all come together and decide the best rate by consensus.” I mean, really?

      The whole thing is ludicrous, and Venezuela deserves better than some half-baked plan that gets us nowhere. It’s insulting to people’s real suffering. Your statements about how this was done for “el populacho” is demeaning and borderline racist. The country demands real leadership and real solutions. Capriles provides none of that.

      Luckily, the overwhelming majority of economists that I’ve seen soundly reject this stupidity. Even economists who have *worked* with Henrique in the past are embarassed.

      Back to biting my tongue.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “It’s insulting to people’s real suffering.”

        I spent all day yesterday circling around it, without quite getting to it. But this is it. This is the thing that really rankles.

        It’s a slap in the face to all those HIV+ patients who can’t get anti-retrovirals. It’s an offense to moms who can’t find diapers for their kids, to transplant recipients who can’t get the drugs they need to keep their bodies from rejecting their new organs. This is the thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The wife of one of my brother’s-in-law passed away Monday afternoon after out patient surgery in Caracas. The clinic didn’t have anti-coagulant drugs and sent her home where she died of a blood clot. Via la robolution.


          • Capriles, Guerra and the MUD are talked about utiles escolares, salary increase, etc. They should have talked more about the crucial Health Care crisis, specifically,( didn’t they?, dunno.. )

            They CLEARLY have the Pueblo in mind and their suffering. That includes crime and Healthcare, of course. You can always Cherry-Pick any political speech, and find a missing item on the agenda.

            Out of the money they would get from Collecting Oil debts, or Refinancing, don’t you think a good chunk of it would not be used for Medicine and Hospitals, by the MUD and Capriles and such a down-to-earth guy like Jose Guerra, who are always, unlike you or me, constantly visiting people in the Cerros?!

            So now the speech was “insulting to the suffering pueblo”..

            From such Pueblo guys as Capriles and Guerra. Which the Mud (and probably even Leopoldo) wanted to speak in Pueblo terms about their ailments. Amazing logic.. Try again.

            First, FT and some of you criticize the “Extreme-Right-Wing” Voluntad Popular people.

            Now you criticize the “Left-Wing” populist MUD, and Capriles, for not talking about Medicines and Hospitals in one little single presentation.

            Way to work for Change and against Chavismo in Vzla!


          • If anyone is tired to talk about Healthcare, Hospitals and Medicine problem, it’s Capriles.

            If there’s an Respected Economist left in Venezuela who is closely in tough with people’s suffering, at all, levels, especially barrios and provicias, it’s Jose Guerra. The guys LIVE up in the Cerros they are constantly visiting Real people at the real hospitals and their real homes all over Vzla.

            Of course they have ideas and plans about Healthcare improvements and medicine!!

            And you guys criticize anything they come up with, from your safe, abundant homes overseas..

            Tons of proposals about HCare, google it up!


            (not that I necessarily agree with any of their ideas of Economic views, I much prefer Leopoldo with Guerra and his Harvard Economics people, than Capriles with Guerra)


      • “Anyone who thinks about this for two seconds will realize..”

        You still don’t get it. No, Most average Venezuelans have zero clue about the correlation or lapses between returning private properties and actual production. They don’t see much beyond the prices of the stuff they need, and what they have in their pockets to buy it, i.e. the salary increase necessary bullshit. THAT’s their emergency now, even more than crime, in their myopic view. You are talking the ex-Chavista crowd here. Not exactly Chileans or Swiss people, not even Greeks or Colombians.

        “Currency controls” cannot be tackled immediately. The situation right now, with elections in December is way too volatile and potentially explosive. Poco a poco. You can’t realistically ask NarcoCabello to even dream about that, can you? Eso viene despues. Completa liberacion.

        “It’s insulting to people’s real suffering.” What would seem insulting to them now is to tell them the truth after all the suffering, that things need to get worse, with tough measures, Gas prices, taxes, no “precios justos”, no freebies, before they get better.

        That would be nothing short of political suicide.

        “Your statements about how this was done for “el populacho” is demeaning and borderline racist.” Typical last resort accusation. I wrote presentacion populachera” if you read correctly. Hurling the word “racist” so loosely and improperly is a classic defense mechanism from demagogue pseudo-intellectuals. If you don’t accept the fact that a vast part of what the Target Audience and our pueblo is largely under-educated, immensely ignorant, especially about any somewhat complicated Economic or Int’l Finance matters, well go back to your college bubble in the USA or Europe. Keep the under-handed insults to yourself.

        “The country demands real leadership and real solutions”. Capriles provides none of that.

        Now you really sound like most putrid politicians.

        Again. Read what BB wrote, if you don’t agree with the exact same thing I wrote here way too many times already. It’s Political Babble more than actual measures. You can’t commit political suicide by revealing all the extremely ugly Economy truths.

        They don’t even do that on Civilized countries under normal situations, let alone Thirld World countries on the brink of Social revolt, constant violence, and right before elections. Wake up.


    • And if a 50% raise does prove to be a rallying point, the regime will cut you off at the knees by delivering one just before the election.


  13. “Luckily, the overwhelming majority of economists that I’ve seen soundly reject this stupidity. Even economists who have *worked* with Henrique in the past are embarassed.”


    You must have talked to a tight circle.


    Not that I defend the Temporary Political Stabilization little speech, but many Recognized Economists way more in touch with Venezuelan realities than you, and even way more educated than most of you, including J. Guerra, clearly disagree with you.


  14. After the 13 american Colonies won their independence they were ruled by Articles of Confederation which basically left little room for the creation of an effective central govt. which existed almost as a symbol but lacking any real power or resources . when it needed money it had to beg the colonies to provide it and more often than not they simply ignored the request . The USA existed as an entelechy not as a real State . Some wise men of vision including Washington , Adams , Hamilton , Madison thought that a Unifid Country needed a central govt or political system that worked but their views were very unpopular and strongly opposed by both the colonial politicians and the general public , still they decided on a disingenious strategy to act to get a Constitutional Assembly convened to create a State that no body really wanted , they barely got the Assembly convened , and with much intrigue and manouvering were able to get the Constitution finally approved ( with great reluctance from most of the regional powers that be) . Without their efforts the USA we know today would not have been born . Ive just read two books on this episode of American history , making me realize that too often the average person lacks the vision or capacity to understand what as a country needs to be done , that its always an elite minority that develops the vision and acts (sometimes covertly ) to make it real .!!

    History makes much of the valiant eloquent heroes who instantly persuade ´the people´to follow them and accomplish great things , people who read history however soon discover that the true tale of how most things are accomplished is filled with a lot of below the table machinations and moves by people who half the time arent all that heroic but just better at producing some worth while results using all means at their disposal. That shoudl not offend us !! Romanticcism made ‘moralized’ politics an epic endevour !! but too often the means used to get things accomplished are less melodramatic than cunning and calculating .!!

    Two things stand out from the dissatisfaction with Capriles speech , one that they think that it could have been done better , even taking account of the constraints that social reality imposes on any venezuelan political agent attempting to state what economic measures should be undertaken to improve our sorry situation . and second that whatever speech was made , it would not be able to influence one bit the behaviour of those who have total control of power .

    My modest suggestion is that if the messaging was wanting ( and I suspect it probably was) what would it critics have said that would have made it better !! If FT and JCN , two very smart and knowldgeable intellectuals had been in Capriles shoes , how would they have composed that speech ?? for example what 5 ponts would they have made that Capriles didnt ??, Im just curious .


  15. El argumento de la confianza y la expectativa tiene toda la coherencia del mundo, en términos económicos, por cierto. ¿Que es lo que no entiendes?


    • Supongo que lo que no se entiende es la lígica detrás de subir los sueldos mínimos (y por lo tanto todos los demás también) en un 50% para “combatir la inflación”, cuando precisamente el sueldo de los trabajadores es uno de los costos más influyentes en el precio de un producto o servicio; o la terquedad de mantener la aberración esa del control de cambio (Que seguro lo justificará con las mismas excusas estúpidas del chavismo de que van a dejar el país seco de dólares y toda esa paja loca); o de mantener las mismas regulaciones completamente absurdas en los precios de productos de consumo masivo que le hacen perder miles de millones a un coñazo de gente mientras alimentan los mercados negros que son más lucrativos que el narcotráfico.

      En resumen, lo que no se entiende es que todo lo que se ha propuesto es seguir con el mismo modelito del populismo estúpido e inútil que en gran parte ha convertido a Venezuela en un país lleno de gente incapaz e imbécil que pretende que le regalen toda vaina sin trabajar.


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