Free Markets, Free People

The Left

Brooks On Capitalism

David Brooks had started down the road to Damascus when he was called back into the fold by Dear Leader. His Op-Ed in today’s NYT is the result.

Most of Brooks’ offering is a rather transparent attempt to shame congressional Republicans into supporting Pres. Obama’s agenda:

The Democratic response to the economic crisis has its problems, but let’s face it, the current Republican response is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate.

The G.O.P. leaders have adopted a posture that allows the Democrats to make all the proposals while all the Republicans can say is “no.” They’ve apparently decided that it’s easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand.

There are myriad problems with Brooks’ line of reasoning, including many in just to two foregoing paragraphs (e.g. How much input did Republicans have into the recent legislation? By “adopted a posture” is he referring to “not having control of either the House or the Senate”?), but I wanted to focus in on a couple of points in particular.

After some platitudinous admonitions, Brooks launches into his prescription for Republicans to save capitalism:

Third, Republicans could offer the public a realistic appraisal of the health of capitalism. Global capitalism is an innovative force, they could argue, but we have been reminded of its shortcomings. When exogenous forces like the rise of China and a flood of easy money hit the global marketplace, they can throw the entire system of out of whack, leading to a cascade of imbalances: higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.

I really don’t know what point Brooks thought he was making, but he failed miserably on any score. First of all, “exogenous forces” cannot be “weaknesses” and/or “shortcomings” with capitalism since, by definition, they come from outside that system. At best, examining such forces can be used to understand better ways of protecting capitalism from them. In the context of the entire Op-Ed piece, however, it appears that Brooks is pitching the tired line that capitalism must be reigned in so that people don’t get hurt. That’s like diagnosing the problem with house, finding termites, and then thinking of ways to protect the termites from the house.

Furthermore, Brooks cites a “flood of easy money” (which, of course, is caused by government) as an example of an exogenous force, and then lists the following “shortcomings” of capitalism: “higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.” What do any of those things have to do with capitalism? If anything, these are once again a failure of government skewing incentives.

In fact, when the government does its darnedest to make the cost of borrowing money historically low, people would be really stupid not to take advantage of that. We all know that rates fluctuate, and that the cost of money will be more expensive when they go back up. Logically therefore, it only makes sense to borrow when the Fed turns the money spigot on and then to find some sort of an asset to grow that money in. That, of course, is what leads to bubbles as everyone has barrels of money but not as many clear ideas of what makes a good investment. Instead of taking the time to really investigate what opportunities are available, and which ones fit a particular person’s portfolio, the herd mentality takes over and we all tend to keep up with the Jones and Smiths whether that means buying tulip bulbs or a run-down house we intend to flip.

The bottom line, however, is that these sorts of scenarios start with government intervention into the market place. In addition to turning on the money spigot, the federal government was also encouraging lenders to make high-risk loans, and for the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to buy them up, securitize them and sell them into the derivatives market. Again, that’s all fine and dandy (until it it all goes to hell), but it has nothing to do with “weaknesses” and “shortcomings” of capitalism, and everything to do with government sticking its big fat honker where it doesn’t belong.

More Brooks:

If the free market party doesn’t offer the public an honest appraisal of capitalism’s weaknesses, the public will never trust it to address them.

The “free market party”? Who does he think he’s kidding here? The Republicans haven’t acted like a free market party since … well … it’s been so long I can’t remember.

Moreover, I simply can’t fathom how Brooks thinks a “free market party” would ever be able to reconcile itself to joining hands with Obama on his completely anti-capitalist agenda.

Power will inevitably slide over to those who believe this crisis is a repudiation of global capitalism as a whole.

Earth to Brooks: that’s already happened. Look who the president is for crying out loud, or take the time to read your own newspaper. Each and every day we hear about how the excesses of capitalism caused this crisis, and how the “libertarian” policies of Bush (HA!) have landed us in this awful spot. Capitalism didn’t get a trial, Mr. Brooks, it was rounded up, convicted and summarily shot as soon as the latest grand experiment in government do-goodism failed (again).

Honduras And The Effects Of Raising The Minimum Wage

Honduras is going through a rather large spike in kidnappings. From 5 in 2005 to 121 in 2008. In an attempt to understand this rise in kidnappings, The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the U.S. Department of State, was sure that economic conditions had most likely driven the spike. But what specifically was likely to have caused it? Apparently an increase in the minimum wage:

In January, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya increased the minimum wage 60 percent, raising monthly wages from US$ 181 to $289. As a result, an estimated 15,000 people have been laid off in urban areas. This number is expected to steadily increase as businesses cannot afford the new mandatory wages. Remittances from Hondurans in the U.S. have also decreased throughout 2008.

Some analysts predict increased crime in Honduras due to citizens unable to find legitimate sources of income. Many unemployed Hondurans could look to kidnapping for ransom in order to obtain large sums of money for a small amount of planning and effort. As the disparity between economic classes continues, wealthy Hondurans or foreigners of affluent appearance conducting business in Honduras could continue to be targeted at a higher rate.

Of course everytime increases are argued against here, those in favor of them tend to wave off the point that raising the wage will cause unemployment among those who can least afford it. Obviously I’m not contending that if we do so here, those laid off will take up kidnapping, but to pretend such rises in minimum wage don’t have any detrimental effect is simply not true – and Honduras provides the case study.

~McQ

Speaking Truth To Cluelessness

Heh … I love it when this sort of thing happens. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen often enough.

The saccharine conventions of showbusiness were thrown out of the window last week, when the Hollywood actress Maria Conchita Alonso was collared by paparazzi and asked if she was pleased about her former co-star Sean Penn’s recent Oscar victory.

“He’s an amazing actor. I can’t take that away from him,” she said of Penn, who worked with her on the 1988 cop film Colors. “It’s just that he has no clue at all what’s going on in Venezuela. He’s been praising Hugo Chavez, who is a dictator and a killer. He should shut up about what he doesn’t know.” Alonso, who was raised in Venezuela, was apparently upset by a glowing article that Penn had written for The Nation magazine about her homeland’s charismatic but increasingly dictatorial left-wing President.

Of course Penn’s not the only one from Hollywood in the thrall of Chavez:

Other Hollywood liberals face public criticism, most notably Oliver Stone, currently filming an adulatory authorised biopic of Mr Chavez. Stone could be joined in the pillory by Danny Glover, who was given $18m by Mr Chavez in 2006 to make a left-leaning film about Haiti’s 19th-century leader, Toussaint Louverture. Harry Belafonte sparked outrage two years ago when he appeared on a platform with Mr Chavez to call George Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world”.

The term “useful idiots” describes them well.

~McQ

Saul Alinsky, Barack Obama and George Orwell

Stephanie Gutmann brings up something I’ve noticed. She starts with an Orwell quote:

“The program of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor…All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies, perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured in some hiding place in Oceania itself.” 

1984 by George Orwell

She then says:

In the passage above, and throughout 1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell illustrates how regimes with tentative hold over beleaguered populations deflect anger away from their own corruptions and mistakes with the deployment of a greatly embellished, even invented, external enemy.

There are many things that bug me about Barack Obama — the insane laundry list speeches, the silly rhetoric, the hostility to the free market — but these are all talked about. He has another habit that hasn’t been talked about so much and, of all the things he does, it makes me the most queasy.

It’s pretty subtle, but I think it’s worth keeping an eye on because, if it were to become full-blown, it has the potential to be the most socially damaging element of his presidency.

I’m talking about what I’m going to call his Goldstein-ism, his tendency to make veiled, dark allusions to a recently vanquished “other”, an evil being (he is never specific) who is, he always implies, the real cause of all our problems.

His references to his “inherited” problem, to bankers, greedy Wall Street and his “predecessor” are all too common, not to mention Limbaugh and Hannity.

So why this tendency to attempt to deflect criticism by blaming it on others? Well, consider the Obama march to the presidency. His entire campaign was based on how bad George Bush was and how necessary it was to replace him. Bush was Obama’s “Goldstein”. And Obama used Bush to deflect attention from his own paper thin resume and lack of experience. He managed to make Bush so bad that those things didn’t matter to most Americans who bought the characterization.

But Bush is gone now. And Obama has no specific “Goldstein” with whom he can shift blame and/or deflect attention. But Gutmann points out, he still tries to use Bush when possible. For example:

Monday was full of terrible economic news. It was another day of “unstoppable selling on Wall Street,” according to AP, a day in which Foreign Policy said ” the markets were sending an unambiguous signal that the U.S. economy is now headed in the wrong direction.” How did the administration respond?

I do not think it a coincidence that late in the day the administration “threw open the curtain on years of Bush-era secrets” as the ever in-the-tank Associated Press put it, with the release of memos “that claimed exceptional search-and-seizure powers…”

Soooo, what was in these scary-sounding memos? Midway down the article AP explains that the memos detailed possible legal rationale for tactics the Bush admin was considering using in its anti-terror program. You’d have to read further still to see that the “Bush administration eventually abandoned many of the legal conclusions.” Nevertheless, AP harrumphs, “the documents themselves [about stuff that had been discussed] had been closely held.” But who cares what the article actually said: It generated a nice headline — “Obama releases secret Bush anti-terror memos” — during a day the populace might have been thinking disloyal thoughts about the their president’s direction.

Of course this gets harder and harder for Obama to do, and besides, it’s unseemly if a president does it – that’s what minions are for. And as Bush fades, a new Goldstien is necessary. Enter Robert Gibbs, Rush Limbaugh, and others:

Jim Cramer. Rush Limbaugh. Rick Santelli.

What do they all have in common? Most likely, none of them is getting invited to the White House Christmas party.

All three media personalities have been singled out by President Obama’s press shop in the course of less than two weeks. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in doing so, has shown an unusual willingness to spar with cable and radio hosts who take shots at his boss.

The rebuttals have ranged from playful ribbing to disdainful scolding.

One of the things we didn’t see, for the most part, was these sorts of assaults on people who weren’t the political opposition during the Bush years. And, in fact, few assaults on those that were in the political opposition. Never once was Keith Olberman or a host of others called out from the White House Press Secretary’s podium. In fact, they were mostly, if not completely ignored. But obviously the same can’t be said of the Obama White House.

It’s personal.

So, you have to ask, “why”?

Try Rule 12 from Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals“:

RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

As you recall, Mr. Bi-partisan, “heal the nation” Obama did have one thing on that thin resume – he was a community organizer from the Saul Alinsky school of organizing.

And as for the attacks coming from the White House Press podium? Rule 5 covers that:

RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

After watching the man for two plus years, I’ve come to realize this is more than a tendency, it’s his modus operandi. And one should assume his administration will reflect the bosses MO when dealing with criticism. The difference is Obama has himself under pretty tight control. I’m not so sure that can be said of some others. And that’s where Rule 6 comes in:

RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.

The danger with Rule 6 as it is now being executed gleefully by Gibbs (“There are very few days that I’ve had more fun,” Gibbs said.) is that he (and others) will overreach. They always do. And it certainly came as no surprise to me to find out Rahm Emanuel was involved in the Limbaugh attacks. So my prediction is this new and advanced “politics of personal destruction” campaign that this administration has embarked on will blow up in their face at some point.

But that doesn’t detract from Gutmann’s point about Obama’s tendency to need and rely on a “Goldstein”. I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but it seems to indicate, at least to me, a deep-seated sense of insecurity. If I had no more experience than Obama has, I might be looking for such a scape-goat myself.  Knowing that, however, damn well doesn’t make me feel better about it though.  But we shouldn’t be surprised when a Saul Alinsky trained community organizer acts like a Saul Alinsky trained community organizer, should we?

~McQ

Geithner defends tax increases

Tax cheat Timothy Geithner is defending President Barack Obama’s proposed tax increases:

President Obama’s Treasury secretary is defending proposed tax increases, saying they are necessary to limit future budget deficits.

Timothy Geithner responded on Wednesday to Republican criticism that the administration wants to increase taxes during a recession. Geithner noted that tax increases on couples making more than $250,000 per year would not take effect until 2011.

Obama inherited a $1.3 trillion budget deficit that is expected to balloon to $1.75 trillion this year. Obama says his plan would reduce the deficit to $533 billion in four years.

Don’t you love how they act like the only way to cut the deficit is to raise taxes. I guess it’s too much to ask to just reduce spending to cut the deficit.

Christopher Buckley Also Has Second Thoughts

The scion of conservative legend Bill Buckley seems to have suddenly misplaced his rose colored glasses as well:

The strange thing is that one feels almost unpatriotic, entertaining negative thoughts about Mr. Obama’s grand plan, as if one were indulging in—call it—the audacity of nope. It is on the one hand clear that something must be done about our economic woes. But that is very different from saying that spending these vast, oceanic sums of money is the right corrective to a decade of fiscal incontinence.

One thing is certain, however: Government is getting bigger and will stay bigger. Just remember the apothegm that a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away. And remember what de Tocqueville told us about a bureaucracy that grows so profuse that not even the most original mind can penetrate it.

If this is what the American people want, so be it, but they ought to have no illusions about the perils of this approach. Mr. Obama is proposing among everything else $1 trillion in new entitlements, and entitlement programs never go away, or in the oddly poetic bureaucratic jargon, “sunset.” He is proposing $1.4 trillion in new taxes, an appetite for which was largely was whetted by the shameful excesses of American CEO corporate culture. And finally, he has proposed $5 trillion in new debt, one-half the total accumulated national debt in all US history. All in one fell swoop.

He tells us that all this is going to work because the economy is going to be growing by 3.2 percent a year from now. Do you believe that? Would you take out a loan based on that? And in the three years following, he predicts that our economy will grow by 4 percent a year.

This is nothing if not audacious hope. If he’s right, then looking back, March 2009 will be the dawn of the Age of Stimulation, or whatever elegant phrase Niall Ferguson comes up with. If he turns out to be wrong, then it will look very different, the entrance ramp to the Road to Serfdom, perhaps, and he will reap the whirlwind that follows, along with the rest of us.

Have you ever seen such a mish-mash of contradictory thoughts?

“If this is what the American people want, so be it …”, said the modern day Pilate as he washed his hands of it all.  And then the acknowledgement that these things being passed into law will never go away?

Where was he during the run-up? Eagerly lapping up the kool-aid and projecting his idea of hope and change on the blank screen Obama provided. And now he voices concern? Now he’s not sure about what seems to be planned?

What a fundamentally dishonest guy Chris Buckley is – sell the agenda knowing full well the probable outcome of its implementation and is now saying “well if this is what the American people want, they can’t complain when it takes us all to hell”. If you want to tap into an unlimited source of renewable energy, hook something up to Bill Buckley’s grave. He’s probably spinning so hard he could power NYC.

~McQ

[HT: RWN]

David Brooks Finally Figures It Out

Well sort of.  He tells us in his latest piece that he considers himself a “moderate-conservatitve” (what in the world is that?) and he finds the Obama budget (and agenda) waaay to “progressively liberal” for his taste.

Like David Broder, he seems to be surprised by that.

But the Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.

So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.

The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide. The president issued a read-my-lips pledge that no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people. All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward.

The lesson the left learned from the Clinton era is to move boldly and unapologetically toward what they want while they have the power and popularity to do so instead of screwing around with moderation, incrementalism and governing from the center. And the Republicans only reinforced the lesson when they tip-toed around while they had power, seemingly more worried about being liked than getting things done that agreed with their principles. Well, as Brooks and the “moderates” who were fooled into thinking Obama would be another Clinton have found out, there’s nothing “centrist” to this bunch now in power.

To their horror, they find they’re getting exactly what they were told they would get and, for some reason, they’re surprised and don’t like it. But without them, this little progressive song and dance never had a chance of hitting the main stage.

Now, per Brooks, its up to the moderates to save the country.

Oh goodie.

Pardon me if I don’t hold my breath. The squishy middle save us from anything? Based on what?  What principles do they rally too?  As easily as they were gulled in the last election, they have little credibility when it comes to such activities. And to whom or what would they appeal? Other moderats who were as clueless as they were? Then what?

But losing the middle would be a bit of a blow to the Obama administration’s plans. Obama is presently trading off of his popularity and there seem to be more questions about his true intentions than satisfactory answers. A loss of popularity might stiffen the spines of some blue dog Dems and slow this rocket sled to hell down a bit. Of course, it seems there’s a RINO in the weeds for every blue dog that says no, so I’m not sure what real impact that would have.  But hey, even the RINOs may get the message (again, not holding my breath).

I know it’s not much to hope for, but it is interesting to see the scales finally begin to fall from moderate eyes.  It demonstrates the brilliance of the candidate being the projection screen and with a few key words like “hope” and “change”, conning the middle into pretending that the fantasies they’ve conjured up and projected on him would become reality.  Now we pay the piper for that little screw up, don’t we?

~McQ

NYT Asks: “Why Can’t Cerberus Foot the Bill?”

Welcome to the club. I’ve been asking that question for some time now. Better late than never, I suppose:

Chrysler said the only reason it was back asking for more money so soon was that the car market was worse than it had expected two months ago.

This cavalier approach to the public purse raises a very big question. If Chrysler is really on track for a turnaround and all it needs is some financing to get over a bad patch in sales and debt markets, why doesn’t Cerberus Capital Management, which owns 80 percent of the company, put up the money itself? Why should taxpayers have to take the risk? That’s what private equity funds like Cerberus are supposed to do.

Cerberus and Daimler, which retained a stake in Chrysler, have promised to convert $2 billion in loans to Chrysler into equity, which should help reduce its debt. But Cerberus said giving fresh money would violate its fiduciary duty to investors, breaking company rules limiting how much it can commit to any given investment.

We suspect these rules would be more pliant if Cerberus deemed Chrysler to be a good deal.

It seems the secretive private-equity fund is willing to gamble on Chrysler’s survival with the taxpayer’s dime, but not its own.

The real question is, if it is violative of Cerberus management’s fiduciary duty to bail out its own company, why is it fiscally responsible for the federal government to do so?

And what does it say when the leader of liberal opinion has more qualms about a bailout than the federal government? Nothing good I would think.

The Fight In Kansas

While California’s budget debacle seems to be catching most of the MSM coverage, there’s an interesting drama in Kansas going on as well.  Kansas pits a Democratic governor against a Republican legislature.

The situation:

Income tax refunds and state employee paychecks could be late after Republican leaders and the Democratic governor clashed Monday over how to solve a cash-flow problem.

Payments to Medicaid providers and schools also could be delayed.

“We are out of cash, in essence,” state budget director Duane Goossen said.

The move places state taxpayers, workers and schoolchildren in the middle of a political battle over budget cuts.

Before we move on, note how the situation is framed. Clearly, at least to me, the bias leans toward what? Averting pain. In essence the state should do what is necessary – even if illegal and counterproductive – to avoid any pain.

The fight then, is about pain avoidance or, said another way, facing up to what excessive spending and poor budgeting has brought to the state of Kansas.

Why? Well what happens to politicians when pain is visited on voters? So it’s a very natural thing for politicians who enjoy the perks and power of office and harbor hopes of even higher office to want to avoid pain and the possiblity of losing that power and those perks.

That is essentially what is going on in KS where the governor wants to rob one fund which is healthy to pay out in other areas and the legislature is saying a) that’s illegal and b) we insist instead that we take a hard look at the situation and do things which will actually remedy it while, unfortunately, causing some pain.

The fight:

Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers, blocked Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ proposal to borrow $225 million from healthy state funds to cover shortages in accounts used to meet the state’s payroll and issue tax refunds.

GOP leaders said they won’t approve the IOUs until Sebelius either cuts the current budget herself or signs the bill they passed last week slashing $326 million — including $32 million for education — to balance the budget.

Republican leaders said they had no choice, that by law the state can’t borrow any more money from itself.

Sebelius and Democrats disagree and accuse the GOP of playing politics with people’s paychecks.

“Through their refusal to act today, the Republican legislative leadership is jeopardizing our citizens’ pocketbooks for no other reason than to play political games — games in which the only ones set to lose are Kansas families, workers and schools,” Sebelius said in a written statement.

Replied House Speaker Mike O’Neal: “While we all can agree that these are trying times for Kansas families, seniors and business owners, the Kansas House of Representatives respectfully disagrees with breaking the law in order to gain political capital.”

Notice the Governor and Democrats come back – the GOP is “playing politics with people’s paychecks”. But what is the Governor trying to “play” with:

The Governor is asking the Legislature to be complicit in breaking the law by approving certificates of indebtedness outside of the parameters set in statute. Kansas law requires the Director of the Budget to certify that money will be present at the end of the year to pay off certificates of indebtedness, and there is no evidence that will be the case. There is no reason to believe that under the current budget such money will be available. It is irresponsible and illegal to act as if the money will be available when all economic indicators show that we may see even less.

So, in fact, it appears that the GOP isn’t “playing” with anything to include the law, while the Governor wants to waive it so she doesn’t have to face the music and make the cuts necessary to bring the budget of Kansas back into balance.

Given that, which then is the “reality based” group in Kansas? And, after adapting to the new reality, to include the pain it will bring, do you think Kansas will be on the road to recovery faster than some state where pain avoidance is being practiced? Last, but not least – want to bet Governor Sebelius delays signing the bill which would require such cuts hoping the “stimulus” bill to be signed today by Obama will rescue her and help keep her from having to make that difficult decision (and avoid the pain)?

Pain avoidance for political purposes or rule of law?  Screw the law, opt for pain avoidance, even if illegal.

That’s exactly the type person I want as my governor.  [/sarc]

~McQ

How To Build A Dictatorship

Venezuelan voters approved a referendum to end term limits on Sunday, paving the way for Hugo Chavez to perfect his dictatorship:

President Hugo Chavez says a referendum victory that removed limits on his re-election is a mandate to intensify his socialist agenda for decades to come. Opponents warn of an impending dictatorship.

Victory!  Enslaved at last!

Victory! Enslaved at last!


Both sides had called the outcome of Sunday’s vote key to the future of this South American country, split down the middle between those who worship the president for redistributing Venezuela’s oil riches and those who see him as a power-hungry autocrat.

“Those who voted “yes” today voted for socialism, for revolution,” Chavez thundered to thousands of ecstatic supporters jamming the streets around the presidential palace. Fireworks lit up the Caracas skyline, and one man walked though the crowd carrying a painting of Chavez that read: “Forever.”

[...]

The constitutional overhaul allows all public officials to run for re-election as many times as they want, removing barriers to a Chavez candidacy in the next presidential elections in 2012 and beyond.

“In 2012 there will be presidential elections, and unless God decides otherwise, unless the people decide otherwise, this soldier is already a candidate,” Chavez said to applause. First elected in 1998, he has said he might stay in power until 2049, when he’ll be 95.

Hmmm. Maybe those “critics” are onto something, eh?

At their campaign headquarters, Chavez opponents hugged one another, and some cried. They said the results were skewed by Chavez’s broad use of state resources to get out the vote, through a battery of state-run news media, pressure on 2 million public employees and frequent presidential speeches which all television stations were required to air.

With the courts, the legislature and the election council all under his influence, and now with no limits on his re-election, officials say Chavez is virtually unstoppable.

“Effectively this will become a dictatorship,” opposition leader Omar Barboza told The Associated Press. “It’s control of all the powers, lack of separation of powers, unscrupulous use of state resources, persecution of adversaries.”

As the article notes, however, everything is not peaches and cream for Chavez. Venezuela’s economy, which is so heavily dependent on oil revenues, lies in shambles, beset by low oil prices, rampant inflation, and little prospect for relief. According to Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington:

… the global financial crisis and the plunging price of oil, which accounts for 94 percent of Venezuela’s exports and nearly half its federal budget, will limit Chavez’s ability to maintain the level of public spending that has fueled his popularity.

Without oil revenues to prop up the socialist spending regime, Chavez will have to resort to other means of stabilizing the economy. Because producers of wealth are so politically disfavored in Venezuela, and there are myriad obstacles to successfully operating any businesses, Chavez’s options for economic recovery are limited:

Empty shelves in Venezuela.

Empty shelves in Venezuela.

“Venezuela faces serious problems no matter what today’s results were. Later this year, economic problems are going to be felt more acutely.”

Venezuela, the fourth-largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S., depends on oil for 93 percent of export revenue and half the government’s budget. Prices for crude have plunged 74 percent since touching a record in July.

[...]

“Now we’re going to see what’s beyond this campaign and what he does when he takes the economy into account,” [Enrique] Alvarez, [head of Latin America fixed-income research at IDEAglobal in New York] said.

The adjustments to economic policy will probably include raising taxes and devaluing the currency to cover a public deficit now that his marathon political campaign is out of the way, said Alberto Ramos, Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York.

Raising taxes is de rigueur in such circumstances, but not likely to generate much revenue. After all, the government has taken over the most lucrative part of the Venezuelan economy, and people and businesses who don’t earn much don’t have much to pay to the government. Taxes are not going to solve any problems.

Without any real economic engine to fund socialist programs, therefore, Chavez won’t be able to buy votes anymore. Instead he will have to find another way to garner (or manufacture) public support if he wants to remain in power. And there isn’t any doubt that he wants to remain in power.

The most obvious way for Chavez to accomplish this feat to convince the country that his leadership is indispensable to the country’s fortunes. That line of argument is already a staple in his rhetoric — i.e. that success of the Bolivarian Revolution depends on Chavez exercising ever increasing power — so the foundation has been laid. However, it was much easier to sell that idea when the oil revenues were pouring in. With a looming fiscal crisis at hand, and the prospects of economic improvement looking dim, a call for new leadership will likely grow louder.

Ironically, the path to permanent power for Chavez was described by socialist activist Naomi Klein in her book “Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” In what has become the bible for the anti-capitalist/ant-globalization movement, Klein

… explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.

Her theory rests on the premise that democratic obstacles to corporate domination are swept aside in times of severe crisis (e.g. Iraq war, Katrina, tsunami in Sri Lanka), allowing global moneyed interests to swoop in and take control of the economy. She often cites Milton Friedman and the “Chicago Boys” dealings with Pinochet as an example of how capitalist forces purposely, and sometimes violently, undermine the will of the people when they are at their weakest in order to introduce reforms that actually serve the interests of the elite rather than the people. In spite of her historically challenged maunderings (Friedman only met Pinochet once for an hour, and wrote him a letter), Klein does hit on an important point: crises are routinely used to further the power of the elites. Klein just identifies the wrong parties. It is typically the government elites who profit from these crises.

Take, for example, how our own government has seized upon the current fiscal crises to shove a giant social spending bill down our throats, plunging future generations into massive debt, and centralizing control over the lives of individual Americans:

Last year the US economy was hit with one shock after another: the Bear Stearns bail-out, the Indymac collapse, the implosion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the AIG nationalisation, the biggest stock market drop ever, the $700bn Wall Street bail-out and more – all accompanied by a steady drumbeat of apocalyptic language from political leaders.

And what happened? Did the Republican administration summon up the spirit of Milton Friedman and cut government spending? Did it deregulate and privatise?

No.

It did what governments actually do in a crisis – it seized new powers over the economy. It dramatically expanded the regulatory powers of the Federal Reserve and injected a trillion dollars of inflationary credit into the banking system. It partially nationalised the biggest banks. It appropriated $700bn with which to intervene in the economy. It made General Motors and Chrysler wards of the federal government. It wrote a bail-out bill giving the secretary of the treasury extraordinary powers that could not be reviewed by courts or other government agencies.

Now the Obama administration is continuing this drive toward centralisation and government domination of the economy. And its key players are explicitly referring to heir own version of the shock doctrine. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the economic crisis facing the country is “an opportunity for us”. After all, he said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And this crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before” such as taking control of the financial, energy, information and healthcare industries.

That’s just the sort of thing Naomi Klein would have us believe that free-marketers like Milton Friedman think.

Of course, that isn’t how supporters of free markets behave at all. It is, however, exactly how someone like Hugo Chavez operates.

With the Venezuelan economy shrinking, and real suffering occurring on a growing scale, the opportunity is ripe for Chavez to further “reform” the country, and complete the Bolivarian Revolution as he has promised. That won’t save the nation from economic ruin, and indeed will probably hasten such an outcome, but it will provide the impetus for perpetual Chavista rule.

The economy is doing poorly? That’s because the revolution has not advanced far enough. Economy doing well? The revolution is working its wonders! Rinse and repeat.

Thus the keys to Chavez’s Bolivarian kingdom lie in the propagandistic message that only centralized and powerful leadership can provide adequately for all. Principles such as “fairness” and “equality” are used as bludgeons against any who dare step out of line. Individual achievement is sneered at as “selfish” and “against the common good.” The redistribution of any wealth created outside the government system (as all wealth created inside is confined to the governmental leaders) is touted as the only means of ensuring a safe and productive future for all. Capitalism is deemed the language of the oppressor, and blamed for any and all ills that befall the nation. Yet, despite all this rhetoric, things will never seem to get any better.

Poor, poor Venezuela. Thank goodness we won’t such stifling of economic welfare and individual freedom here.