Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Do Nothing!

An interesting article in Chicago Flame online: ‘the independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois at Chicago’ (17 October 2005):

“Blaming earthquakes on capitalism, and the political troubles in Venezuela” by Christopher Skeet carries this paragraph:

“Chavez's latest tirade was to blame the recent earthquake in Pakistan on the "world global capitalist model." I'm not kidding, go look it up! He actually blames capitalism for earthquakes! The 20,000 deaths around Islamabad last week were not the result of plate tectonics, migrating lithosphere, or any known laws of geology. They were all murdered by Adam Smith.”

Of course, this is irony, not a serious suggestion, though what ideological opponents of western capitalism dream up knows no bounds.

It was common in Stalin’s Russia, and among its supporters elsewhere, to accuse their dissidents and opponents, when they did not have anything substantial of which to accuse them, of the catch-all charge of being ‘objectively in support of” (whatever horror they inserted cared to insert). The “world global capitalist model” seems to be a little over done: ‘world global’? Is there a non-world ‘global’ or a non-global ‘world’?

But just for the record (I know, but it is site policy not to pull punches), anything to do with capitalism cannot be blamed on Adam Smith, even silly fantasies about earthquakes. He never wrote about, never knew anything about it, and didn’t even know the word capitalism (first invented in 1854; Smith died in 1790).

On a more serious note, in my days in defence economics (before the end of the Cold War) I wrote a short paper arguing that the West should stop getting worried about this or that African country that went communist (usually by military coup, civil war – dressed up as ‘revolution’ – and armed uprising, funded and supplied by the Soviet bloc). This was never because I thought it would be beneficial or harmless, especially for those left within its borders.

I took the view that such regimes could not last indefinitely, nor in most cases for long. Imposing communist state management on their economies would sooner ruin them than anything the West could do by intervening, especially militarily. They would crumble of their own volition, and they did. They were not genuine national movements and usually represented a fraction of the tribal composition within their borders. The Soviet Union would waste its resources supplying them. When the Marxist rebels took over Luanda, within weeks they received US$2 million of military supplies; Egypt took hundreds of millions, much of it unusable before long.

Take the longer view, I suggested. Impoverishing their people using communist planning would create more anti-communists more quickly than giving the failing government a life-line in blaming transparent interventions by the West.

In the case of Venezuela, the subject of the article, I concur completely with its concluding advice: ‘do nothing’! Don’t blockade. Don’t invade (apparently Chavez is already claiming the US intends to do so, though he offers no evidence). Don’t give him more importance than he really deserves.

Given that the self interest of the Venezuelan people will slowly grind the communists down, I think that Adam Smith would approve of the ‘do nothing’ policy. I also think it might have been a better policy for the US in Cuba too. The end game is near in Cuba. There is no need to do anything.

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