Source: Mises Wire. by José Niño
The brunt of the blame for Venezuela’s current economic catastrophe should fall on Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro. However, this does not mean that all was well in Venezuela before Chávez arrived on the scene. The ideological and institutional seeds of the current crises were sown decades earlier. A rising tide of government interventions in the marketplace during the 1960s and 1970s would soon lead to a host of new problems for Venezuela.
The Oil Boom Party Ends
The 1970s looked like a never-ending boom period for Venezuela thanks to high oil prices. The then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez took full advantage of this boom to implement his lavish social spending program. Eventually, the boom period came to a crashing halt by the early 80s, and Venezuela had to face a harsh economic downturn.
Luis Herrera Campins would succeed Carlos Andrés Pérez’s government. From the start, he came to the realization that Pérez’s spending bonanza was unsustainable. In fact, Herrera had choice words for Pérez’s policies, claiming that Pérez left him a “mortgaged” country.
Although Herrera was correct in his assessment of the Pérez administration’s fiscal irresponsibility, he would ironically continue more of the same cronyist policies as his predecessor. The chickens eventually came to roost as Venezuela experienced its very own “Black Friday.”
What once was one of the world’s most stable currencies, the Bolívar, experienced it’s most significant devaluation to date. Unfortunately, Herrera’s administration responded with heavy-handed exchange controls to stem capital flight. These controls would be administered by an agency called the “Differential Exchange Rate Regime” (RECADI), effectively creating a multi-tiered system of exchange rates.
Considerable corruption scandals emerged during the succeeding government of Jaime Lusinchi, as countless members of the political class would exploit the multi-tiered exchange rate system for their own gain.
Despite its abolition in 1989, RECADI would serve as a precursor to the byzantine exchange rate systems that the Commission for the Administration of Currency Exchange (CADIVI) and its successor, the National Center for Foreign Commerce (CENCOEX), would later preside over during the United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s period of dominance throughout the 2000s.
All in all, Venezuela’s Black Friday devaluation marked the beginning of a lost decade of sorts for Venezuela throughout the 1980s that set the stage for subsequent devaluations, currency controls, and irresponsible fiscal policy further down the line.
IMF to the Rescue?
Rising poverty rates, increased foreign and public debt, corrupt state enterprises, and burdensome regulations contributed to an environment of growing social tension and economic malaise throughout the 1980s. Venezuela’s previous growth miracle became an afterthought at this point. And it’s golden goose, oil, could not bail it out thanks to the low oil prices of the 1980s.
For Venezuela to right its ship, it would have to undergo painful fiscal reforms.
Ironically, it was Carlos Andrés Pérez that was entrusted with reigning in the excessive government largesse; the very same leader that established Venezuela’s profligate welfare state and laid the foundations for its collapse in the 1980s.
In 1988, Pérez campaigned on a platform that promised to bring back the splendor and prosperity of the 1970s. But once he assumed the presidency, Pérez realized that the Venezuela before him was on the verge of bankruptcy and crippled by excessive state intervention in the economy.
Under the auspices of the IMF, Pérez made a half-hearted attempt in reforming Venezuela’s broken petrostate. When broken down and analyzed, these reforms consisted of tariff reductions, tax hikes, flawed privatizations, and marginal spending cuts that ultimately did not address the underlying problems with the Venezuelan political economy — its flawed monetary policy, burdensome regulatory framework, and entrenched crony capitalist policies.
However, these reforms were too much for Pérez’s very own party, Acción Democrática (AD). AD was incensed by these reforms that hacked away at certain facets of the cronyist petrostate that it depended on to maintain its political power.
Of note, the phasing out of gas subsidies by the Pérez government — a popular social program that artificially kept gas prices low for the impoverished sectors of Venezuelan society — was used by the AD to channel discontent among the general populace.
Enter Hugo Chávez
Countless individuals would then take to the streets and protest the so-called “austerity” policies of the Pérez government. This eventually led to the infamous “Caracazo” incident in 1989, where the capital city of Caracas was engulfed in a series of protests, lootings, and riots. The government responded in a heavy-handed manner, leaving hundreds dead.
Read More Here: Venezuela: Forty Years of Economic Decline | Mises Wire