Acton Institute Powerblog

Hugo Chavez and Jack London on why socialism kills

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In an emotional story in the January 2020 issue of Reason, Jose Cordiero relays how “socialism killed my father” – through economic scarcity. His article highlights the life-and-death stakes of wealth creation.

Cordiero writes that he was working in Silicon Valley when he got a call that his father had experienced kidney failure in Caracas.

Yet even traveling to Bolivarian Venezuela became virtually impossible. The economic collapse ushered in by Hugo Chavez’s socialist policies dried up demand: Indeed, the number of refugees who have fled the socialist paradise topped four million this summer. Furthermore, economic uncertainty reduced the number of airlines willing to supply flights to Venezuela. Cordiero had to wait two days to get a flight to his father’s side, after hearing his father may be on his deathbed.

“Fortunately, my father was still alive when I arrived in Caracas, but he required continuous dialysis,” Cordiero writes. Then he unravels the ways socialism kills through destroying economic resources:

Even in the best of the few remaining private clinics, there was a chronic lack of basic supplies and equipment. Dialyzers had to be constantly reused, and there were not enough medicines for patients. In several parts of the country, electricity and water were also rationed, including in hospitals.Given the precarious economic situation, and thanks to our comparatively advantageous financial situation, we decided the best course of action would be to leave Venezuela and fly to my father’s native Madrid, where he could get the treatment he needed.

But because of the decimated air travel situation, we had to wait three weeks for the next available flight to Spain. The few airline companies still operating in Venezuela had reduced their flights dramatically because of Venezuelan government controls. Sadly, the Caracas dialysis couldn’t hold out that long. Just two days before he was scheduled to leave his adopted country, my father died because of its disastrous policies. I still remember it vividly. I cannot forget.

Losing a parent is heart-wrenching in any circumstances, but it leaves a more bitter aftertaste knowing the difference between life and death may have been the availability of resources.

Cordiero’s story went live the same day the Fraser Institute released its annual “Waiting Your Turn” report on healthcare times in Canada. It found that waiting times have only increased in that nation’s single-payer healthcare system:

Specialist physicians surveyed report a median waiting time of 20.9 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment—longer than the wait of 19.8 weeks reported in 2018. This year’s wait time is just shy of the longest wait time recorded in this survey’s history (21.2 weeks in 2017) and is 124% longer than in 1993, when it was just 9.3 weeks.

Wait times for necessary services stretch as long as 49.3 weeks on Prince Edward Island.

These delays stem from a glut of demand cresting over an outnumbered supply of doctors and specialists. The laws of economics, like the laws of biology, take their course regardless of our desire to repeal or amend them.

“Wait times can, and do, have serious consequences such as increased pain, suffering, and mental anguish,” the authors note. “In certain instances, they can also result in poorer medical outcomes – transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities.”

In some cases, undeniably, the result has been that untreated Canadians rest in peace with Cordiero’s father.

When people think of the ways socialism kills, they often think of its long history of what R.J. Rummel called “democide”: murder of civilians by their government. This is fitting. Communism killed 100 million people in 100 years, and counting. However, as Cordiero’s mournful tale describes, socialism also kills a bit at a time. Socialist policies destroy wealth accumulation and creation, undermine property rights, and slowly induce everyone with the resources to leave their less fortunate brethren behind. Add to this the reduction in airline services and energy scarcity, and the result is deadly. An already pinched healthcare system then loses the resources – human, medical, energy – to perform at its already low level.

The snowballing effects of wealth destruction heap up an avalanche of unintended human deaths.

The closest analogy is Jack London’s immortal story “To Build a Fire.” The narrator’s combination of careless habits, self-indulgence, and heedlessness combine to claim his life. A refusal to learn the laws of economics leads nations to the same result, even against the government’s wishes.

Wealth creation plus a charitable concern for our neighbor allows everyone to benefit from plenty.

Christians who erroneously believe socialism and a single-payer healthcare system create a just society that values all lives should turn their eyes to Venezuela, to Cordiero’s story in Reason, and to Jack London’s immortal short story.

(Photo credit: Agência Brasil.  CC BY 3.0 BR.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.