On Monday night, the 24th of June, I left a message that we were moving and that Asylum Watch would be back on-line as soon as I could get reconnected to the internet. Using my word processor, I started this post on Saturday morning, the 29th., not knowing; suspecting it was going to be a while before I would be able to connect to the internet again. I will explain why that was the case and why it is related to the title of this post in a moment.
Nineteen days without access to the internet and I was bouncing off of the walls. Being a news junky, I was feeling lost. There are just so many games of Solitaire and Mine Sweeper one can play before going mad. Also, I am sick and tired of the computer cleaning my clock at novice level chess. I tried to convince myself that the computer wasn´t really playing as a novice. I fear, however, that I still have a ways to go to reach the novice level. I can’t tell you how much I have missed our daily interactions. So, I thought that today, since I am not up to speed on the news, I would tell you a bit about what life is like here after more than fourteen years of Marxist style socialism.
For those who do not know what country I am living in, please understand that I must be a bit cryptic. The country is in South America and its name starts with the letter that comes before “W”.
For nearly fifty years, following the fall of the last dictator here, the country was run by one or the other of the two largest political parties. (There are many political parties here.) Then in 1998 H.C.,The Magnificent, former military coup leader, was given a full pardon, by the then President R.C. and was released from prison. Instead of picking up arms again, the charismatic populist decided to form a new political party and run for president in the 1999 elections. Not one of my coworkers thought he had a chance to win. I told them they were wrong. H.C. , The Magnificent, had a simple campaign message: the oligarchs had been running the country for five decades to the benefit of the richest 20% and it was time for the poorest 80% to elect him to run the country for their benefit. It was an easy sell. H.C., The Magnificent, won by a massive landslide and the rest is history.
Some day someone more talented than I will write the complete story of how the ignorant masses allowed one charismatic man to destroy every institution of this beautiful country in the name of socialism. The poor and undereducated, as well as those who knew how to take advantage of system, adored this man and had he not died of cancer after winning reelection for the fourth time, he would be serving another six-year term that would have given him twenty years in office.
Sadly, only a relative few will read that valuable lesson in man’s foolish search for social justice through government. History buffs will read it and so will political science buffs. Of course, all those here of the loyal opposition will eat it up. But, those who need to read it, those who believe that government can and should solve every problem. will not read it. And so, history will once again repeat itself; sometime, somewhere.
The policy changes the H.C. The Magnificent would implement were predictable. They had been tried so many times by second and third world countries. The results of those policy changes were equally predictable. Let’s look at just two of them today.
The largest cattle ranches and farms were expropriated by the government and in many cases were turned over to collectives (officially formed groups of poor locals) to work the lands for their own benefit; but without ownership of the lands (the State would retain ownership). Prior to H.C. The Magnificent and his land reforms, this country produced 80% of its food consumed. Now it imports 85% of the food consumed.
One example of just how screwed up these socialist can be was demonstrated by the importation of chicken from Brasil. After putting the big chicken producers here out of business (nasty oligarchs), the State said it would import chicken from Brasil. Her is how it works. The States pays the chicken producers in Brasil (Brazilian oligarchs) more than they would have paid the local “oligarchs” and they have to pay the Brazilians in dollars rather than in the local currency. The chickens are bought frozen and either transported by ship or by truck from Manaus. Then to demonstrate to the masses how great socialism is compared to capitalism, the State sells the chickens for less than they would have paid their own oligarchs. In other words, the State heavily subsidizes all that they import.
Recently, my wife made a trip to a lovely small town near the Brazilian border. She told me the town was teeming with Brazilians, who among other things, were there to buy Brazilian chicken for 25% less than they could buy Brazilian chicken in Brasil. A good use of scarce dollars, right?
Typically in these countries, when the socialist come to power, one of their immediate concerns is that the rich will try to get their capital out of the country and so currency controls is one of the first new policies to be put in place. By currency controls, I mean that they fix the exchange rate and create a huge bureaucracy to establish rules and controls on who can get hard currency (dollars) and how much they can get. It is a nightmare for people who want or need to travel outside of the country. But, more importantly is that importers of all the things that the people need in their daily lives from food and medicins to appliances and personal hygiene products become scarce because the importers, either do not receive the dollars they need or they have to buy the dollars they need on the black market, which appears like magic over night.
But where do those black market dollars come from? It should be obvious that the majority of those dollars could only come from corrupt government officials (socialism for thy but not for me, who use their position to buy dollars from the government’s central bank at the fixed low rate and then ell them on the black market for three or four or at the moment for five times the official exchange rate. They then use their huge profits to buy more dollars to sell and also to deposit in their offshore accounts. In this manner, we now have a new class of socialist oligarchs. All of this, of course causes prices (inflation) to skyrocket.
Another much smaller source of hard currencies for those in desperate need of it are the few foreigners living here. For example, lets say there is a Frenchman living here that receives his pension, in Euros, which is deposited monthly in bank account in France. And, let’s say this is a small businessman here who imports products from France for resale here. This small business man, who is not getting the hard currency he needs from the government at the low fixed rate will seek out the Frenchman living here and offer to deposit local money in the Frenchman;s local account at the black market rate if the Frenchman will deposit the appropriate amount of Euros in the businessman’s French account. Of course the businessman will have to sell those French products at a price that reflects what he had to pay to import them.
So, now let me explain how this great socialism caused a 19 day delay in my getting reconnected to the internet after my recent move to a different city.
The physical move from a metropolitan city on the coast to a large industrial city eight hours by car inland went without a hitch. The moving van arrived two hours after we did and the unpacking of the truck took about an hour and a half. exhausted from the day we went to bed early and the next morning my wife, knowing full well my dependency on the internet, set out to arrange cable service for our new residence. There is only one private cable service company for this area and the house has existing cable tha needed only to be rehooked up. My wife arrived at the cable company’s office shortly after they opened their doors for business. She was informed that they no longer sold internet service but only cable TV service. They explained that the platform for their internet serve became saturated more than a year ago. They further explained that they were trying to negotiate a deal with the State’s cable company; but so far without any luck. (The State does not like competition.) So, my dear wife took another taxi to the offices of the State owned cable company and stood in line for four hours to sign up for TV and internet service. When she had finally had filled out and signed the necessary documents, she asked how long before they would come to connect us? The person attending her calmly aid that her name would likely come up in six moths to a year.
My wife refused to be defeated. She knew that when I first got my computer we were living where there was no cable service and that I had bought a small device (a wireless modem) from one of the three cell phone companies that operate in this country. She visited the offices of all three cell phone companies and was told the same thing: they had no wireless modems to sell because they hadn’t been able to get the dollars necessary to import them. They each informed her that if she could find a modem they would be happy to change the SIM card and give her new line and sell her the internet service she was seeking. She arrived home at about five o’clock with the bad news. I was not a happy camper! But again, my wife was not ready to give up. She made calls to our daughter who lives in the country’s capitol city and to one of our sons who lives in the city we just left and put them to work looking for a wireless modem to buy. A week went by. The daughter had no success and the son found one for sale at five times the market value. We told them to keep looking. Another week passed and the son calls to tell us he found one for sale at twice the market price and I told him to buy it. He did and he sent it by courier service the next day. It arrived thre days ago to late to go to cell phone company. So, the day before yesterday my wife takes the modem and heads for the cell phone company. They quickly change the SIM card and sold her more than sufficient pre-paid cards to give me weeks of credit. The person attending her took the modem and plugged into to the company’s computer and attempted to download the company’s homepage so that the modem could be charged on-line with the pre-paid cards. Believe it or not the company’s homepage would not open. After an hour of trying, my wife gave up and came home. The next morning she went back and the result was the same. Me? I’m in a state of rage by this time.
In the afternoon yesterday, my wife’s brother came by. She explained our internet service saga to him. My brother-in-law, who does have internet service in his home offered to take the pre-paid cards and the phone number assigned to our modem’s SIM card and try to download the company’s homepage and charge up my modem. He called at eight o’clock last night saying he had been successful. After my wife and I did a little celebration dance, I plugged-in my modem and I was CONNECTED, at last!
And that is the story of how socialism made my twenty-third move an unpleasant one, to say the least. I have really missed you guys!
This post is far too long, I know. But, I want to make one more observation before I sign off.
After more than fourteen years, people here are beginning to wake up. Support for this socialist regime has fallen from over sixty percent to about fifty percent since H.C. the Magnificent passed away in March. My impression is that things would not be mch different had H.C. not died. Interestingly, it wasn’t years of fifteen to twenty percent inflation that changed the people’s mind. I wasn’t periodic shortages of things like chicken, sugar, milk or even coffee that got the people’s attention, But, fifty percent inflation and shortages of things like toilet paper, sanitary napkins, toothpaste, deodorants, and laundry soap that finally opened their eyes.
We bloggers who write about US politics and economics often ask the question: “When will Americans wake up?” If this country I am living in is an example, things have to get very, very bad before people will recognize that government is the problem and not the solution.
Well, that’s what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?