Monday, August 4, 2008

Serious thinking, for once

I don't know enough about what's going on in Venezuela to have an informed opinion about Chavèz and the Bolivarian Revolution. But a few things jumped out at me in this piece:
Critics fumed that Chavez did not consult with major business groups before approving the decrees, and some warned the laws would scare off private investment and further weaken private enterprise.

"We ask the president: Why does he fear democracy?" Fedecamaras business chamber leader Jose Manuel Gonzalez said at a news conference.

A very juvenile, very vulgar Marxist inside of me takes a great deal of smug satisfaction at this quote. How does it feel now that the shoe's on the other foot, motherfuckers! As I said, juvenile and vulgar.
Under one of the new laws, food retailers or distributors caught skirting government-imposed price controls or hoarding products will be punished with up to six years in prison.

Crap/not crap: Criminalizing, with prison terms in addition to civil fines, unethical business behavior (for our purposes we'll assume the process to arrive at this was democratic).

Enough. The big boys can play now.


dr said...

Market outcomes are, ipso facto, democratic. Bam!

wobblie said...

Bam! What is this "bam" you speak of? Is it French? Around here, we use the "Boom!"

lex dexter said...

hey, i really need to dissertate right now, but... the Bolivarian revolution is not crap, Wobs - even if Chavez kind of is. it's not necessarily a "revolution" either, but what're you going to do?

i keep meaning to do a BIG venezuela/bolivia post, but so much keeps happening so quickly in both of those places. after i hand in the big document, maybe.

most importantly, tho - don't be ashamed about being turned on by nationalization.

wobblie said...

I probably should've been a little more clear in the original post. What I know about the economic reforms in Venezuela leave me suitably impressed (I do still get the MR in the mail!)- especially the experiments in cooperative production and non-market exchange - and nationalization gives me all sorts of warm fuzzies. Hell, even the idea of neighborhood defense committees, in theory, makes me all tingly.

It's my ignorance of the politics behind the reforms to which I was alluding.

Incidentally, to my original question, I vote not crap.

lex dexter said...

oh and jesus, of course "white collar" crime is as worthy of incarceration as any other kind of violence.

dave3544 said...

Let me "man up" and vote "not crap" right off, before I object to the form of the question.

You seem to presuppose that "skirting government-imposed price controls or hoarding products" are "unethical business behaviors" that have been "criminalized." Or you are you saying that now that these actions have been criminalized, they become unethical? Or did they become unethical, as well as criminal, when there were laws passed against them?

That laws (assumed to have been made democratically) have been passed against these practices makes them criminal. Of course jail and/or fines are acceptable punishments.

I would very much like to know more about this sentence:
"Business owners who refuse to produce, import, transport or sell ''items of basic necessity'' can face up to 10 years in jail."

If the government can, on pain of imprisonment, tell you what you must produce, import, transport, or sell (and at what price you can sell it), then what we have there is damn close to totaltarianism, if not, in fact, there very definition.

Now, one could argue that a business owner who does not like the new restrictions can opt out of owning a business. Mayhaps. I don't know. Can one refuse to produce something by not producing anything? Is that the choice? Produce what the government tells you or become a peasant? Can one refuse to sell something only by not selling anything? Is that even an option? Or is it that if you owned a business when the decree went into effect, then you have to continue to sell what the government says at the price the government says.

Seems awful dicey to me.

wobblie said...

Let me preface my response by admitting that I wrote this late at night under the palliative effects of brown liquor which, in retrospect, warranted a "BUI" tag - or possibly a sober decision not to hit the "publish" button.

That said, my assumption in the question I posed is the first option that you listed, that they are unethical behaviors.

As for your second point, a couple of things pop into my mind. First, I think a lot depends on how sacred you hold the private ownership of the means of production to be. If you hold them to be inviolable, then yes, it would seem to be totalitarian. If, on the other hand, if you think that the pursuit of private profit should be suborned to the social good (again, with the caveat of a democratic process), it doesn't appear as troublesome. The fact of the matter is, we do accept some government controls on what people can produce, how it can be transported, what can be imported, and what at price it can be exchanged. You can't produce DDT. Hazardous materials can't use certain routes. We can't import Cuban sugar. Some urban areas still have rent controls on the books. There are two differences that jump out at me - the aspect of criminaliztion and the context within which these things take place. In Venezuela, these actions are obviously being taken as a precursor to a broader socialism.

Just because I'm reading the second volume of the fantastic Trotsky biographical trilogy, it brings to mind his arguments about mixed economies and socialist accumulation in the early to mid-1920s during the NEP. He recognized the need for private enterprise to exist in order to generate the needed economic base for the transition to socialism, but stressed that the private sector was allowed to exist in the service of a government that (nominally) represented the interests of different social class, i.e. one that didn't recognize private ownership as sacrosanct. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than to demonstrate that I've been reading.

LERCer said...

Obviously we're working off of a very sketchy NYT article here, so I am only basing my comments on what I've read, not on what is actually happening in Venezuela, as such they are more theoretical than actual.

If the government wants to own the production and means of production of a certain product, that's fine. Let the industry be nationalized. Let the government hire workers and pay them a fair wage (nominally higher because of the lack of profits). Well and good. Let socialism reign!

If the government wants to institute tight controls over the means of production, ensuring adequate wages, safe working conditions, etc. Great! Let regulatory government reign!

If the government says that profit is evil and will be taxed at 100%, great, let high taxation on profits reign!

But if the government says that you must produce a product, if the government says you must work in a certain factory, if the government says you must sell a certain product for a certain price or you go to jail, then what you have is totalitarianism.

Do people have the right to not work for the government? It seems to me that the options being offered are work for the government or go to jail. This seems coercive to put it mildly.

Where have I gone wrong?

dave3544 said...

sorry, that was me posting under the wrong alias

wobblie said...

We're working from the same crib sheet here.

I think the thing to point out here is that all of the scenarios you put out there rely on some sort of government coercion, whether it be expropriating private enterprise or enforcing a regulatory or tax regime.

dave3544 said...

I think there is a difference between depriving a person of his (forgive me) money-making opportunity (nationalization), his freedom to run his business anyway he wants (regulation), profits (high-taxation), and his freedom (imprisonment).

In the first three examples, an individual still has the choice as to whether or not he wants to participate in the process. It seems that the NYT article is describing a situation where people are not being given a choice as to whether or not to participate. They are forced to produce, import, and sell at the government set price or go to jail. Not producing, not importing, and not selling (hoarding) do not seem to be options.

wobblie said...

Well, yeah, but, just using the example of the regulatory scheme. Let's say there's a law in place that states that a business owner must pay his (intentional here) workers a living wage, time-and-a-half overtime, 12 paid holidays and 4 weeks of vacation a year. That would, in your schema, be depriving someone of the freedom to run their business.

But to enforce it, there'd have to be some penalty, right? As it stands, most of the time those penalties will be fines, but the penalty could also be time served, right? That's the criminalization of unethical business behavior that we agreed was not crap before, right?

Under all those scenarios there has to be some sort of mechanism to enforce the rules - to coerce people into following the rules. Granted, jail time is harsh, but in any of those scenarios, enforcing the particular economic regime (or any number of others) could be accomplished by imprisonment.

dave3544 said...

I hate to keep this going past it's expiration date, but...

In your last scenario, if the business own does not want to follow the regulations, he can close the business.

The NYT article has led me to believe that this is not an option in Venezuela.

wobblie said...

Huh. I didn't pick that up from the article, but as I said before, brown liquor.