Senator Bernie Sanders has hired David Sirota, a fan of former left-wing Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, as his “Senior Communications Adviser and Speechwriter.” Sirota fawningly praised “Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle” in a 2013 article in Salon.
Thanks to the socialist policies that Chavez put in place in Venezuela, it has economically collapsed. In the face of widespread malnutrition, torture, and disappearances, over two million Venezuelans have fled their country. As “Venezuela collapses, children are dying of hunger,” noted the New York Times in 2017. As El Pais reported last year, the “majority” of Venezuelans “have lost weight and are going to bed hungry. Around 64.3% of people surveyed said they had lost 11 kilograms [24 pounds] in 2017. ”
In the 1970’s, Bernie Sanders himself supported the “nationalization of most major industries,” as CNN notes. That means the same kind of government control over the U.S. economy that Venezuela exerted over its oil industry, which recently caused oil production to collapse. But Sanders promoted government ownership of most of the economy. For example, in 1976, Sanders told the Burlington Free Press, “I favor the public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries.”
Such public ownership is not typical in the nations that progressives once admired most, such as Sweden. In Sweden, companies remain in private hands, and “the government doesn’t own the means of production,” as a Swedish historian explains.
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Sirota wrote his article idolizing Hugo Chavez when it was already apparent that Chavez’s economic policies were destructive, even though Venezuela’s economy was temporarily afloat due to higher oil prices. In 2013, oil prices were much higher than when Hugo Chavez took power in Venezuela in 1999, giving Chavez lots of money to spend. The rise in oil prices would have made oil-rich Venezuela the richest and most prosperous country in Latin America by far, had it pursued capitalist rather than socialist economic policies. But it didn’t. Socialist mismanagement had already dissipated much of the oil wealth that was showered on the country due to rising oil prices. (Prices for the type of crude oil that Venezuela produces rose by an even bigger multiple than the price of oil in general after 1999.).
Socialist Venezuela under Chavez took a very different path from neighboring capitalist Colombia. In 1999, just before Hugo Chavez took power in Venezuela, life expectancy was three years longer in Venezuela than in Colombia. But by 2013, when Sirota praised Chavez, life expectancy in Venezuela was a year shorter than in Colombia. (These figures are from the World Almanacs for 1999 and 2014.)
Improvements in life expectancy had stalled in Socialist Venezuela even though Venezuela, unlike Colombia, has vast oil wealth and benefited from rapidly-rising oil prices during Chavez’s rule. Under the regime of Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, became one of the world’s most violent cities. Meanwhile, Colombia has become less violent, even though its turbulent history included civil wars in the 20th century that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
In addition to his past record of support for socialism, Bernie Sanders would burden our economy by radically increasing government spending, which would crowd out private investment. He wants to spent vast amounts of money America simply does not have. For example, Sanders supports the radical proposal known as the Green New Deal. It has been estimated by think-tank scholars to cost up to $65,000 per household per year, or at least $50 trillion and possibly over $90 trillion (four times the size of the entire U.S. economy). It would harm our free-market economy by endangering the stability of America’s power grid, and by closing many low-carbon power plants that provide cheap and reliable energy.