21st Century Socialism’s Race to the Extreme

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Nov 8, 2013, 8:10 am

EspañolThe Road to Serfdom, Friedrich A. Hayek’s masterpiece, was published for the first time in March of 1944. In it, the author expounds the incompatible nature of economic planning and individual freedom. Above all, however, he states that the governments that set off down the path of planning to foster social justice, wealth distribution, and the like, invariably end up spreading the scope of the state and gradually becoming the most extreme totalitarian regimes.

Despite the fact that this book was first published almost 70 years ago, it can still teach us much about the state of affairs in Latin America today. Hayek accurately describes four processes that are currently ongoing. First, the widening of the state in order to reach goals considered to be morally superior, such as ending poverty. Second, the author proves that not only does such widening not help with reaching those goals, it worsens the situation and creates new problems. Third, the state’s response is to stretch its power even more — with the justification is that it needs to fight the problems it itself caused. Fourth, and consequently, any remains of freedom are destroyed and a totalitarian regime rises instead.

The countries that have embraced so-called “21st Century Socialism” are rapidly undergoing these four processes. One of the main factors that drove Evo Morales to win the presidential election in Bolivia was his alleged defense of the right of his people to produce coca leaf. But his power has broadened so much that now even that goal has been replaced by a resolute war against drug trafficking.

Argentina’s example is even more striking. The Supreme Court’s recent decision to declare the constitutionality of the Media Law (la ley de medios), which clearly violates freedom of speech, is a way to limit the ability of the media to plainly show the government’s string of failures in the economic sphere and its scandals of corruption and persecution of the opposition.

Venezuela is the epitome of this description. It is as if the architects of 21st Century Socialism, instead of studying Karl Marx, were following Friedrich Hayek’s work step by step, specifically to exemplify the process described by the Austrian author. The Venezuelan regime presented its model as a break from a past of public corruption and promised a future of inclusion for the impoverished majorities. That aim has justified constant and growing interventions in the economy by the state.

21st Century Socialism
Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro. Source: EBC Brasil

However, not only has it failed in its attempt, it has succeeded in creating new problems in the country. Poverty was not eradicated, equality was not achieved, and corruption was not fought; rather, the opposite has proceeded. Additionally, new problems have appeared: inflation, scarcity of goods, fleeing investors, infrastructure failure, and even a reduction in oil production, the one resource that finances the so-called Bolivarian Revolution.

In this context, the response has been ever-higher state intervention, both in the economic sphere and in society. From the social point of view, Venezuela is now a statist society, at least in three dimensions: the reduction of the democratic arenas and the government’s control of public discourse; the militarization of civil society; and the state’s intervention in the media, religion, and people’s private lives. The situation is so bad that even happiness is now a bureaucratic function.

Apart from all this, an irritating cult surrounding the deceased Hugo Chávez has arisen and been reinforced through revelations such as the little birds the current President Nicolás Maduro speaks with, or Chávez’s alleged apparitions at the metro in Caracas. This is complemented by demagogic activism at the international level. The search for international enemies — mostly the United States and Colombia — is still the main strategy.

Now, private companies are caught up in this statism too, and the latest is the confrontation with Twitter. Maduro has even stated the absurd possibility of creating a similar social network for South America. However, the confrontation’s sole aim is to draw attention away from the regime’s challenges, externalize its faults and, as a solution, assert the need for an even bigger state.

Some specialists argue that calling these Latin-American regimes totalitarian is an exaggeration, and they are probably right if we base ourselves in the current reality (Cuba being an exception). Nevertheless, defending their current position forgets the trajectory of these Latin-American regimes — particularly those in Ecuador and Nicaragua — which show a determined tendency towards an unlimited expansion of the state’s sphere of action.

Therefore, not discussing this because these governments still lack total control is a mistake if we care about the future; it is also inconsiderate towards their citizens. It is them who need to realize the dangerous political trajectory their countries are following. Latin Americans have confirmed several times that a leader cannot solve their problems — they can only make them worse and bring about new hardships — and that foreign intervention aggravates the situation.

A higher level of awareness among individuals regarding the true role that the state should have in their lives is the only thing that may prevent our societies from continuing to tread the road to serfdom.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.