While the election of Bernie Sanders as President remains unlikely, it’s interesting to think what the U.S. economy and markets would look like with the Democratic Socialist in charge.
Among Sanders’ proposals are implementing a single-payer health care system, raising minimum wage, breaking up big bad banks, paying for college tuitions, and ending free trade agreements. He’s very clear about the spending part, just not so clear on how he would pay for all these “free” programs which would lead to high taxes and high deficits.
Let’s turn to Venezuela shall we?
Venezuela, in other words, is well past the point of worrying that its economy might collapse. It already has. That’s the only way to describe an economy that the International Monetary Fund thinks is going to shrink 8 percent and have 720 percent inflation this year. And that’s not even the worst of it. No, that’s the fact that the state itself is near collapse. Venezuela already has the world’s second-highest murder rate, and now the Chavista regime seems to be threatening violence of its own if the opposition succeeds in recalling President Nicolás Maduro. It’s a grim race between anarchy and civil war.
This is an entirely man-made catastrophe. Venezuela, by all rights, should be rich. As we just said, it has more oil than the United States or Saudi Arabia or anyone else for that matter. But despite that, economic mismanagement on a world-historical scale has barely left it with enough money to even, well, pay for printing money anymore. That’s right: Venezuela is almost too poor to afford inflation. Which is just another way of saying that the government is all but bankrupt.
How did Venezuela get here? Well, by spending more than it had and not having as much as it should. Let’s take these in reverse order. It really shouldn’t have been hard for the government to use some of its petrodollars on the poor without destroying the economy. Every other oil-rich country, after all, has figured that out. But you can’t redistribute oil profits if there aren’t oil profits to redistribute, or at least not many of them. And there weren’t after Hugo Chavez replaced people who knew what they were doing with people he knew would be loyal to him at the state-owned oil company. It didn’t help that he scared foreign oil companies off too. Or that he took money out, but didn’t put it back in, so that they can no longer turn as much of their extra-heavy crude into refined oil. Add it all up, and Venezuela’s oil production actually fell by about 25 percent between 1999 and 2013.
But that didn’t stop the government from going on a spending spree. How big of one? Well, even triple-digit oil prices weren’t enough to balance its books. So it got money from the one place it could: the printing press. And it has had to get a lot more now that oil prices have fallen so far the past two years. The result, as you might expect, of printing all these bolivars is that the bolivar has lost almost all its value against the dollar — and no, that’s not hyperbole. Since the start of 2012, the bolivar has, according to black market rates, fallen 99.1 percent against the dollar.
But rather than face this reality Venezuela has opted for a game of economic whac-a-mole. It has tried to legislate inflation away by telling businesses what prices they’re allowed to sell at, and even tried to wish it away by saying it “does not exist.” All that has done, though, is make it harder for businesses to sell things at a profitable price — which means they haven’t sold things at all.
What Bernie Sanders wants to do would probably cost our U.S. government more like $15-18 trillion. He’d expand social security, make college tuition free, and overhaul health care. He’d also redistribute wealth, increase taxes and limit trade. The numbers don’t add up. And we can’t just keep printing money we don’t have.
The money to fund everything Sanders wants would have to come from somewhere. That “somewhere” is called you and me. We would ALL pay the price…eventually. Do we really want America to look more like Venezuela?
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