The fire in Venezuela is a perfect example of the dangers of the corporate state:
Venezuela’s Amuay refinery explosion is emblematic of the Hugo Chavez curse. The blast hobbled PDVSA’s largest oil processor – as well as killing 39 people. The Venezuelan leader’s policy of placing loyalty before commercial prowess may not have caused the accident. But it has warped the nation’s business ethos. The way he has meddled in the state-owned oil company offers an apt example.
A decade ago Chavez purged PDVSA of 19,000 employees he considered enemies and now rewards political allegiance over anything else. Employees must now devote as much time to political proselytizing as they do to pumping and refining oil. Top jobs typically go to true-blue Chavistas.
As a result, PDVSA is no stranger to maintenance issues from wellhead blowups to oil spills and unplanned shutdowns. And now, at some 2.7 million barrels a day, oil output is almost a fifth below the level when he took office in 1999.
A large part of why I don’t like the idea of too much Government meddling is that it provides too much opportunity for abuse. I’m continually confused as to why those on our left would think that we’ll find angels in government but only devils in a free’er free market.
Recent moves make matters worse. Last week Chavez vowed to strip PDVSA of a seventh of its 70 percent stake in a key oil venture to hand it to another government-controlled enterprise -mining operation CVG. It’s a great deal for the latter. CVG companies consistently lose money, so getting a 10 percent share in 150,000-barrel-a-day Petropiar oil venture will bolster its finances. And it may also help win over CVG’s 9,940 steel workers ahead of the presidential election in October.
It’s explicit. Chavez, and he’s by no means unique, is using his power to buy votes. Capitalism may be imperfect; businesses will fail and people will lose their job, but it’s simply superior to this.
It’s not the only recent example of mind-bending politicking, either. On August 22 Chavez approved a plan to finance unpaid benefits for government workers with petroleum-backed bonds. Workers cannot cash them in for a year, however, and the 18 percent coupon they pay is less than the 19.4 percent inflation rate. But after years of waiting, this transparent play for votes must seem better than nothing to thousands of active and retired public servants.