Are Venezuelans Shrugging?

In Venezuela, a merchant decided to destroy his product instead of complying with the government. (Frontera Digital)
A grocery store owner decided to break his eggs instead of selling them at state-mandated prices. (Frontera Digital)

When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion — when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing — when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors — when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you — when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice — you may know that your society is doomed. — Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.

EspañolIn 1957, Russian-born writer Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged, an engaging and enjoyable novel with many time-proven lessons.

I bring it up because the current crisis in Venezuela is ominously similar to the dystopia in the book, whose entrepreneurs vanish as they grow tired of the state looting the fruits of their labor. They shrugged.

Recently, the Venezuelan government unveiled the latest installment of its surreal economic-interventionism saga. In updating the Fair Prices Act, the Nicolás Maduro administration decided to fix the price of one of the most highly consumed basic-food products, a pack of 30 eggs, at 420 Bs. (US$0.5). It used to cost around 1,200 Bs. (US$1.40).

Unlike what has happened with other products, this measure won’t result in people lining up to stock up on eggs, or periodic shortages in stores. What will happen is that eggs will simply disappear in Venezuela.

Anyone with a modicum of respect for himself and his work would refuse to sell at a loss. Case in point: in Falcón state, the owner of a grocery store decided to break his eggs instead of complying with the government mandate. The photo speaks for itself.

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I can only applaud the brave man. By destroying his product, he chose to tell the state that he won’t sell at a loss, that he is free to do as he pleases with the fruit of his labor, and that no armchair official will tell him what to do.

With this gesture, he symbolically joined Galt’s Gulch, a remote place in the mountains where the entrepreneurs and creators in Atlas Shrugged retreat to once they realize society no longer values their contributions. There they can develop their potential, limited only by other people’s rights. It’s a place where talent and ingenuity aren’t looted or punished, and where people don’t try to impose equality, the most violent act of all.

This individual refused to comply with a nonsensical regulation demanded by officials who know nothing about his trade, but want to control it. What these bureaucrats don’t understand is that the fair price is the market price.

After reading Atlas Shrugged, I couldn’t help pick up Ayn Rand’s other books The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

I deeply regret that those who pretend to run this country don’t have the faintest idea about objectivism, and the legacy of Scottish philosophers such as Adam Smith and David Hume. They don’t understand that peacefully pursuing one’s self-interest benefits everyone.

A renown professor at the Catholic University of Andrés Bello, Antonio Canova, said that “when a country’s vice president declares how much ‘a pack of eggs’ should cost, it’s clear that this is no longer a country.”

Our legislation now has more mandates — prohibitions and authorizations — than proper laws, and sometimes it looks like this isn’t a country.

But the merchant who shrugged is part of this country, just like thousands of Venezuelans who struggle for liberty every day, including Canova and myself.

As the poet George Steiner used to say, I want to keep committing the error of having hope, and think that there are thousands of John Galts, Francisco d’Anconias, and Dagny Taggarts left in Venezuela.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

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