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August 31, 2008

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Once again, nice try Noel, but a huge failure.

For starters, take this:

"In 2003, the opposition collected 3.5 million signatures calling for a recall election under the 1999 constitution. In 2004, the government put all 3.5 million names on the web, including birthdates and addresses."

What you forget to note here is that the reason the government put the list online was because the opposition was illegally placing people's names on the signature list who had never signed. The government made the list public so that people could go online and make sure their name wasn't illegally placed.

Secondly, you also forget to mention that this kind of political descrimination does not come from the top-down in Venezuela, but rather is a part of a long tradition of the political culture. Adecos and Copeyanos used to descriminate against each other in a very similar fashion long before Chavez was on the scene, and so, when bureaucrats were given the chance to use this list to politically discriminate, they did. (Hardly a political "machine") And they did it on both sides. I personally know Chavistas who lost their jobs because their names WEREN'T on the list.

Thirdly, and even more importantly, the research you cite is a total fraud, and has been demonstrated as such right here:

http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/an-empty-research-agenda-the-creation-of-myths-about-contemporary-venezuela/


Fourthly, these are the kinds of baseless claims that one could only make having not spent enough time in Venezuela to really get an accurate view of what is happening. Political descrimination is common in Latin American countries, and if you give government bureaucrats an easy way to find the political affiliation of anyone, they will likely use it to descriminate. This was a massive blunder on the part of the government, but hardly a top-down poltical "machine" as opposition hacks like Francisco Rodriguez (and you) want to make it out to be.

However, a quick study of the methods of previous governments, who simply murdered and tortured leftists, using the tactics of Posada Carilles, who was the head of the national police, might shed a little light on what a real "political machine" in Venezuela looked like.

Anonymous, please read what I wrote. Seriously, man. Read it.

(1) You say that the list was publicized because of allegations of fraud. Strangely, that's not what countries with serious civil services do. Nor was it Tascón's /stated/ reason for publicizing it.

But let's grant that the government's stated reason for publicizing the Maisanta list is the true one. Uh ... so what? It ain't like Gray Davis wasn't worried about fraud, and it ain't like there wasn't a whole lotta fraud in that petition. But the law prevented publicizing the list for a good reason, and that's the case in all American states that allow recalls.

Not that I'm a big fan of American governance. But hey, we do a couple things less wrong than we used to, and reigning in our politicos' endless attempts to create lasting machines is one of 'em.

(2) I didn't mention that political discrimination in Venezuela is widespread. Uh ... well ... er ... didn't I write, "Now, Venezuela is a politicized society: government supporters (ID’d as the signers of a counterpetition) saw an even bigger relative drop in their private-sector employment."

C'mon, Anonymous! You gotta /read/ what I wrote, man.

(3) The CEPR paper refutes Hsieh et. al. Actually, it doesn't. It's not about that at all! It is about whether social spending has caused poverty, inequality, and illiteracy to decrease. That's not an argument that I want to get into --- you can go to Francisco Rodriguez's website and read his rebuttal of the rebuttal and then make up your own mind.

http://frrodriguez.web.wesleyan.edu/index.html

The paper you linked to has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand. Zip, cero, nada.

Dude, like, you gotta read what I wrote, and even more importantly you gotta read the papers you cite!

(4) This is a repeat of point (2). Yes, Venezuela is politicized, and has been for some time. It's also seen some of the great political machines of history. No disagreement from me, sir.

Now, I will take issue with one allusion you made: political machines that work don't have to break heads. If the government is breaking heads to stay in power --- See Party, Institutional Revolutionary, as exhibit A, although Leticia will probably argue that Peron's later years make a better example --- then its machine has broken down.

Does Chavez have a machine? Well, you'd have to show me that his government eschews patronage, distributes public services on exogenous bases, and faces biting institutional sanctions when it doesn't. There's a lot of evidence that none of those three things is true.

Now, Chavez did say, “There are still places that use Tascón’s List to determine who gets a job and who doesn’t.... That’s over. Bury Tascón’s List. Surely it had an important role at one time, but not now.”

But, hey, I'm an American. I trust my president even less than Venezuela's. So when a politician tells me something, I look to the evidence ... and there's a lot of evidence that President Chavez might not have been exactly accurate.

Unless the tax authorities went off and ran selective audits on their own and the heads of government departments disobeyed a presidential directive. I guess that's possible. But it's unlikely.

Of course, I could be wrong about all this. As a confirmed lefty, I'd like to believe that Chavez is a good guy making sensible decisions. So convince me!

Back over to you, Anonymous.

"(1) You say that the list was publicized because of allegations of fraud. Strangely, that's not what countries with serious civil services do. Nor was it Tascón's /stated/ reason for publicizing it. "

That was actually his exact reason for publicizing it. See here:

"Tascón defended his action by saying that he was providing a means for people who had not signed the petition, yet appeared on the list, to register a complaint with the CNE."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_Tasc%C3%B3n


"It ain't like Gray Davis wasn't worried about fraud, and it ain't like there wasn't a whole lotta fraud in that petition. But the law prevented publicizing the list for a good reason, and that's the case in all American states that allow recalls."


Like I said, it was a huge mistake on the part of the Chavez government, but hardly evidence of a "political machine."


"(2) I didn't mention that political discrimination in Venezuela is widespread. Uh ... well ... er ... didn't I write, "Now, Venezuela is a politicized society: government supporters (ID’d as the signers of a counterpetition) saw an even bigger relative drop in their private-sector employment.""


Okay, then if its happening on both sides, because it is a politicized society, then right there you are admitting that is ISN'T a political machine, but rather the result of a politicized society descriminating against political opponents, which is exactly my point.


"The paper you linked to has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand. Zip, cero, nada."


You can try to act like there's no relationship between the two, but its the same researcher, with the same empty agenda. He has been exposed of having a totally biased position, and of dishonestly skewing the numbers to try to make the case. Evidence that he does this on a consistent basis certainly would shed some doubt on any research of his, wouldn't it?

You can see that very clearly in Weisbrots rebuttal of the rebuttal, here:

http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/how-not-to-attack-an-economist-and-an-economy-getting-the-numbers-right/


"Does Chavez have a machine? Well, you'd have to show me that his government eschews patronage, distributes public services on exogenous bases, and faces biting institutional sanctions when it doesn't. There's a lot of evidence that none of those three things is true."


If that is the definition of a political machine, than every government in the last 50 years has also had a political machine. But that's not the case. The reality is those things are the result of a long tradition of political descrimination in Venezuelan political culture, and the lack of strong institutions to prevent it. Nothing more.


"Of course, I could be wrong about all this. As a confirmed lefty, I'd like to believe that Chavez is a good guy making sensible decisions. So convince me!"


I have a feeling you don't have any clue what the political left is. Support for Barack Obama certainly shows you're confused about what a leftist candidate stands for.

"Unless the tax authorities went off and ran selective audits on their own and the heads of government departments disobeyed a presidential directive. I guess that's possible. But it's unlikely."


And I find this to be a curious statement. So Chavez asks government bureaucrats to stop using the list to descriminate, and you call it a "presidential directive"??? I think you have a pretty skewed view of how things work in Venezuela. People hardly do everything Chavez asks them to do on his weekly TV show. If everything were that easy, Chavez would never have any problems getting anything done. Unfortunately, Chavez isn't as all-powerful as you might think, and many people in positions of power continue to be corrupt political bosses, no matter what their president says.

But if you talk to people on both sides of the spectrum in Venezuela, most agree now that the list no longer plays much of a role.

"But if you talk to people on both sides of the spectrum in Venezuela, most agree now that the list no longer plays much of a role."

Who would they be? I'd be delighted to talk to them if I haven't!

"If that is the definition of a political machine, than every government in the last 50 years has also had a political machine."

Huh? Sorry, you lost me, sir.

Or perhaps I was unclear. Political machines distribute political favors to their supporters and punish their enemies on a selective basis in order to maintain political control. They sometimes also engage in electoral fraud, although usually in subtle ways involving ballot access.

Still a little lost, though. How does, say, Deval Patrick run a political machine?

"[Francisco Rodriguez] has been exposed of having a totally biased position, and of dishonestly skewing the numbers to try to make the case."

He has? C'mon, Anonymous.

If you'd like to write-up a guest post running through the arguments, I'd be happy to put it up. I don't myself want to do that, because I have to say that I found Francisco pretty convincing, but if I've missed something in the Weisbrot-Rodriguez back-and-forth I'd be happy to be corrected.

Bernard Guerrero doesn't come here anymore, but if he did he'd be happy to mention both my com-symp credentials (and, I suppose, Bol-symp ones too) and my ability to excute astounding reversals once I'm convinced that the data don't support my position.

He'd also say bad things about my temper. Deserved ones, too. But marriage seems to have relaxed me.

Finally, I'm not a lefty? I should thank you for the comment! But I do support large rises in marginal income taxes (that would, in fact, hit me), socialized medicine, and a big expansion in income supports for working people. Plus I like the idea of inheritance taxes made as confiscatory as possible. And I'm sometimes a little suspiscious of free trade, or at least that its adverse distributional effects aren't quite large.

In developing countries, I think there is room for targeted public subsidies, and as you know from my posts here, I think most Latin American countries are undertaxed.

How is that /not/ lefty? I just call myself that because, well, it seems to fit. Believe you me, as an American I'd be happy to eschew the label! So if I'm actually on the right side of the political spectrum, I'd love to know how I can convince people of that!

" Political machines distribute political favors to their supporters and punish their enemies on a selective basis in order to maintain political control."


Yes, but "political machines" are not the only ways in which these same phenomenon can occur. Certainly the distribution of political favors and punishment of enemies does happen in Venezuela, but, as I've stated, is not the result of a "political machine" but rather the result of a very polarized society with a long tradition of this kind of political culture. The very fact that the opposition is also guilty of descriminating against Chavistas in the same way in the private sector (and even among some government organs which have been infiltrated by opposition folk, like the housing ministry up until 2006) demonstrates clearly that this isn't a government "machine" designed to descriminate, but simply an obvious result of extreme political hatred on both sides of the spectrum playing itself out in ugly ways.

Very similar things happened among the Copeyanos and Adecos, but I would imagine you haven't had the time to investigate that, or talk to people who worked in previous governments. I know a lady who used to lose her government job everytime an Adeco govornor won, and then get it back whenever the Copeyanos won again. Political machine? Nah... typical partisan politics in a poor country full of corruption, patronage, and weak institutions.

"I have to say that I found Francisco pretty convincing, but if I've missed something in the Weisbrot-Rodriguez back-and-forth I'd be happy to be corrected."


I pasted the link above. If you can tell me where Weisbrot is wrong in showing that, for example, Venezuela has been more successful in reducing poverty than other countries with similar levels of growth, according to the UN's own numbers, then I'd be glad to hear it. But, otherwise, I'd say that's just one of the many clear examples of how Francisco Rodriguez is pretty much pulling things out of his ass.


"So if I'm actually on the right side of the political spectrum, I'd love to know how I can convince people of that! "


Well, you can start by telling them that you support a candidate for president who is a firm backer of Isral's 40-year illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, who has threatened to unilaterally bomb Iran, and Pakistan, and who advocates the expansion of the imperial free-trade policies of the last two decades. A candidate who, while criticizing NAFTA on the surface, secretly assured Canada that there would be no changes.

Or maybe you can tell them that your candidate doesn't support socialized medicine at all, but actually wants to use government subsidies to expand the broken private system to more people, and force poor people to purchase for-profit medical insurance.

Maybe you can tell them that you back a political party that has actually invaded more countries than the Republicans, and whose candidate has said he wants to launch a new "Alliance for Progress" in Latin America, a clear allusion to Kennedy's imperial endeavor in the 1960's. Obama has called Latin America's new leftist movements a "threat to the region", lamented the decline of US power in the hemisphere, and called for the expansion of the US's already massive military.

That might give you a few ways to convince your friends that you are, if not a total right-winger, an utterly confused individual.

I know all about the A.D. and Copei machines. (Don't make assumptions about my knowledge of Venezuelan history! I am not a journalist.)

I suspect that we don't disagree about the Chavista machine. You can have machine politics on both sides; the question is whether Chavez will be able to build a machine that gives him a lock on the electoral results. Right now, that's looking pretty good.

"Nah... typical partisan politics in a poor country full of corruption, patronage, and weak institutions."

Well, I'd have to disagree --- consider Brazil and Mexico. Brazil has plenty of local and state machines (although they've come under pressure) but no national one. That's not the same as saying that corruption and patronage don't exist, of course.

Same can be said about Mexico. Corruption? Check. Patronage? Kept in check only because institutional constraints keep it that way. Weak institutions? Well, not all --- but both the police and that judiciary are such messes that I'd certainly say it'd be fair to say that the country is characterized by weak institutions.

Yet machine politics is clearly on the way out, and even the PRD in the Distrito Federal has failed to construct one. Other than a couple of PRI remnants, politicians aren't even trying to construct them. In fact, electoral strategies have run in the exact opposite direction.

(Insert book plug here: http://noelmaurer.typepad.com/aab/2008/08/buy-our-book.html.)

So where I'd disagree is that what's happening in Venezuela is typical partisan politics in a poor country full of corruption, patronage, and weak institutions.

I'd also give Chavez more credit for being a slick politico and building his machine.

Of course, I'd prefer that he didn't, and I suspect that he could keep power without it.

"That might give you a few ways to convince your friends that you are, if not a total right-winger, an utterly confused individual."

Uh ... okay. I don't think that'll be very convincing, but I'll try it.

What does "imperial free trade" mean?

Re Weisbrot: sir, I have a job which is related to but not identical with this blog, and I don't want to waste time repeating Rodriguez. I'd be happy to give you a guest post summarizing the arguments if you'd like. I am a demanding editor, of course.

Or you can do it comments with no editorial oversight. Open forum, long as things stay civil. ("Confused individual" pushes the limit, but does not cross it. Quite funny punchline, actually, made me chuckle.)

BTW, other readers, I know you're out there. This thread will stay live forever, I think. So chime in.

"What does "imperial free trade" mean?"


Oh dear. You've never heard of "free trade imperialism?" A basic history of the world since 1800 might do you some good.

Anonymous, you really might want to google my name before you make that suggestion.

But I will take it in the spirit in which I'd like to believe it was given.

So once you've googled my name, I will ask you again: what does "imperial free trade" mean?

Am I supposed to be impressed with you or what? I googled your name and I was anything but impressed. Another wannabe intellectual making broad stroke statements about countries he little understands.

But really, let's try to leave all arrogance and self-aggrandizement aside, and focus on the discussing ideas and concepts. After all, that's what real intellectuals actually do.

If you're confused about how the doctrine of "free-trade" has been, and is used as a tool of empire, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to try to explain it to you. This is something that has a rich amount of literature devoted to it. Whole library shelves are full of books devoted to the topic, with a few no-names guys Lenin, Bakunin, Marx, and others.

Let me suggest perhaps the most recent book published on the topic, called Bad Samaritans, by an economist named Chang. Its certainly not the best thing written on the subject, but would be a good introduction for someone who apparently has never heard of the notion.

Oh, gosh, Anonymous, I'm gonna have to end this here. It seems like you can't be civil. After all, first you make a snide response about my historical knowledge, and then you call me a "wannabe intellectual." That's not playing nice.

'Twas hoping you might, you know, figure that I know a tad about economic history, especially of imperialism and Latin America, but guess not.

I do feel kinda bad for you, but this sort of thing does not end well. I guess that's the danger of a comments thread.

Enjoy Boulder; it's one of my favorite towns.

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