For years it was a socialist paradise. Rich on oil money, Chavez’s Venezuela provided housing and healthcare to the poor by seizing assets that had once been hoarded by the rich. The Guardian and Owen Jones swooned and Ken Livingstone bought cheap fuel for London’s buses to bring the benefits to the UK.
The centre and right-wing of politics grumbled. Actually, Venezuela is not as it seems, they said. Subsidised shops are empty, the black market thrives, and property isn’t safe, they assured.
The left mocked them — everything is fantastic, you just can’t admit it, they shouted back.
Then the price of oil fell. Chavez fell ill and died. And the cracks in Venezuela’s economy and society turned into a chasm. Today it is a dreadful place to live. There is forced labour, widespread hunger, and complete government dysfunction.
Suddenly the left is silent, or has retreated into denialism. “It wasn’t socialism that failed, Venezuela wasn’t socialist enough!”, they whimper. The excuse is familiar to those with long memories. And meanwhile the right crows about the inherent failings of socialism and adds Venezuela to the bottom of a long list of failures.
I am on the right’s side here. I believe that free markets, individual liberty, and a state much smaller than Venezuela’s are good things. They lead to good outcomes and the happiest possible lives for the largest number of people. And yet — especially after a tough 2016 — I have started to notice the same denialism on the right as they mock in the left. I doubt that it is anywhere near as damaging, and yet damaging it still is.
FIFA and the IOC run world football and the Olympic Games. Both are privately-funded, non-governmental, and hugely successful businesses. They assemble, maintain, and regulate the two largest groupings of nations in the world. They do so within an inclusive, voluntary, and lucrative private club.
FIFA and the IOC should be the darlings of the liberal right. They are very similar to the utopia that they sell of global free trade — organised voluntarily and multilaterally. And unlike the WTO they achieve it all without charging anyone even a penny of tax.
Yet I see no celebration at all on the right. Instead they moan about the IOC’s aggressive defence of its brand. They moan about FIFA’s ban on poppies. They rile against the corruption and flawed democracy at the top of both organisations.
Or more often they stay quiet and try not to draw attention to an inconvenient truth; in FIFA and the IOC we see that the regulations, bureaucracy, and corruption that so many on the right blame on the state arise even more strongly in the type of organisation that they propose as an alternative. “No…”, I imagine them thinking to themselves, “…FIFA’s flaws aren’t because it’s too free to organise itself, the problem is that it’s not free enough!”. It sounds just like socialists talking about Venezuela, and Cuba.
I have a theory. The left’s failure to condemn Venezuela reveals that some are motivated by a hatred for the rich more than by a love for the poor. Similarly, the right’s failure to stand up for FIFA and the IOC reveals that some are more interested in creating a system which they control than in creating a system that gives power to people or countries.
Thanks for reading. As always, I could be wrong. I often am. I’m sure that you’ll tell me. :)