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Hugo Chavez and the 47 Percent


An article in last Friday’s New York Times about Venezuela’s presidential election provides some fascinating insights into America’s welfare-warfare state and the reason that U.S. officials love the welfare-warfare state way of life.

The article, which was written before election day in Venezuela, was entitled “Fears Persist Among Venezuelan Voters Ahead of Election.” The article delved into the deep concern that Venezuelans on the government dole had of opposing Chavez’s reelection. They feared that if they supported Chavez’s opponent, Chavez would retaliate by cutting off their dole.

The article leads out by pointing out that Chavez “doles out government largess with abandon.” Whatever else might be said about Chavez, he understands that the more people he can put on the government dole, the greater chance they would support his reelection.

Sure enough, the strategy has worked. The article quotes several Venezuelans who said they were too scared to oppose Chavez, for fear of losing their dole. The article states:

Many Venezuelans who are eager to send Mr. Chavez packing, fed up the country’s lackluster economy and rampant crime, are nonetheless anxious that voting against the president could mean being fired from a government job, losing a government-built home or being cut off from social welfare benefits.

Thirty-three-year-old Luisa Arismendi was scared of losing her job as a public (i.e., government) schoolteacher. “If Chavez wins, I could be fired,” she exclaimed. Diodimar Salazar, 37, was scared of losing her job at a government-run day care center. Law student Fabiana Osteicoechea was going to support Chavez to make sure she could fulfill her dream of becoming a prosecutor.

According to the Times, “The fear has deep roots. Venezuelans bitterly recall how the names of millions of voters were made public after they signed a petition for an unsuccessful 2004 recall referendum to force Mr. Chavez out of office. Many government workers whose names were on the list lost their jobs.”

During the 1950s and 1960s, my hometown of Laredo, Texas, was known as a political powerhouse for the Democrat Party. Party leaders in Laredo could guarantee, if I recall correctly, a block vote of around 8,000 votes for a Democrat presidential candidate.

How could they do that? Through the public-school system. People were convinced that local officials were monitoring their votes, a concern that was encouraged by the officials. The common belief was that if a schoolteacher or other school employee voted the wrong way, he would lose his government job. That was the real value of the government school system as far as public officials were concerned. It was a base of political power.

Let’s be honest. The climate of fear in Venezuela’s dole society is no different here in America’s dole society.

For one thing, ever since the 1930s, both Republicans and Democrats have done their best to get as many people in the public (i.e., government) sector as possible. Even today, like Chavez, they continue to spend federal money “with abandon,” especially prior to federal elections.

You’ve got the vast national-security state, including the military, the CIA, and the NSA, plus all the contractors, sub-contractors, and weapons providers.

You’ve got the multitude of welfare-state and regulatory departments, agencies, and bureaucracies.

You’ve got the millions of people receiving government welfare, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education grants, SBA loans, farm subsidies, bailouts, and stimulus funds. That’s, of course, the 47 percent that Mitt Romney was referring to. Actually, though, the number is much higher because Romney wasn’t talking about the military, intelligence forces, the DEA, and most of the other federal bureaucracies. He was referring to people in the private sector who receive welfare.

Many of the people in the federal sectors are as scared about losing their jobs or their dole as the Venezuelans are. Whenever, for example, someone hints that military spending should be slightly reduced, the entire national-security establishment goes into overdrive, warning that “national security” is gravely threatened and that the nation will be in danger of falling to the communists, terrorists, drug dealers, illegal aliens, or worse. Republicans, of course, play on these fears by suggesting how “soft” the Democrats are in foreign policy.

It’s no different with respect to people who receive welfare. For example, if anyone hints of some minor reform of Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, the recipients and soon-to-be recipients of these welfare programs go ballistic, proclaiming that they have the right to receive the money because they “put it in” during their work years. Democrats, of course, play on these fears by suggesting that Republicans are going to take away their Social Security and Medicare.

The Venezuelan and American experience with the welfare state (and warfare state) shows what socialism does to a nation. It creates a weak, dependent people who live in constant fear of losing their government job or their government check. It destroys people’s sense of self-reliance, independence, can-do, self-esteem, and belief in one’s self, in freedom, and in free markets.

And, of course, there is the economic disaster that socialism brings to a nation, as we see in both Venezuela and the United States. The larger the public (government) sector, the more wealth that has to be confiscated from the private sector to fund it. The less wealth in the private sector, the lower people’s standard of living will be.

Ironically, when you ask the people holding federal jobs or receiving a federal check if they’re concerned about out-of-control federal spending and debt, many of them will say yes — that that is a very grave problem facing our nation.

But many of those on the domestic side will then exclaim, “But don’t take my dole because I’m entitled to it. Take it from the military, which spends more than the next 14 countries combined.”

But then the military and its vast army of contractors exclaim, “Oh, no. Don’t take it from us. National security is at stake. Take it from them instead.”

Meanwhile, America continues moving toward fiscal catastrophe, the same type facing the Venezuelan people.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.