It’s Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year. People wake up early to wait for hours in lines that go out the doors of malls and circle city blocks. People rush into the stores to seize one of the doorbuster specials. It is an exciting day!
But what if every day were like that?
Bread lines, food shortages, and famines have been a recurrent feature of communist and socialist economies since the beginning. They have ranged in scope and duration. While they have had many causes, from droughts to wars, a common cause has been agricultural and economic policies that did not work, like collectivization in the USSR. Sometimes they have even been deliberately brought about, such as the Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine in 1932-1933.
Moreover, famines and food shortages are not a thing of past. Socialist states still suffer through them today—in Venezuela and North Korea the people (but not the governments) are literally starving.
Is it not shocking that in Venezuela, which holds the largest oil reserves in the world, the people riot because there is not enough food?
In the past two weeks alone, there have been 50 food riots and protests, and mass looting has skyrocketed. At least five people have been killed in the chaos and 400 arrested. Other Venezuelans will beat you and hold you at gunpoint if you manage to buy food at the store. A woman shows the scratches on her face that she received trying to snatch the last stick of butter. Food supply trucks need armed escorts to deliver their goods and there is a government schedule for when you are allowed to shop. Sugar fields are bare because they lack fertilizer. Corn and rice, two of Venezuela’s common exports, must now be imported and still cannot meet demands. A woman said that “we are now living on Maduro’s diet: no food, no nothing.” This is named for the current president, Nicolás Maduro.
This catastrophe stems from the plummeting price of oil, Venezuela’s main source of revenue. In addition, the government overspent, borrowing billions when oil prices were high. Now it cannot pay for the imports necessary to feed its people. Instead it struggles to pay off its billions of dollars in international debt. Chavez’s policies of state ownership, unfettered spending, subsidies, and domestic price controls have also contributed to the massive shortages. The bolívar (Venezuelan currency) is officially exchanged at 10 to the US dollar, but the real rate of exchange is around 1100 to one. Raising wages and printing more bolívars has not helped. Rather, Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in the world. And still the government will not admit that Chavez-era policies have failed.
It’s not just shortages of food, but shortages of everything. Hospitals are understaffed and under-resourced. Patients are trying to find the medicine necessary for cancer treatment on the black market. There are no oxygen tanks, nor enough blood donations. There is no paper to write prescriptions or to keep records. X-ray and kidney dialysis machines, along with incubators and respirators, are broken and cannot be repaired. Not that this matters given that there’s not even sufficient electricity to keep the lights on, let alone to run the machines were they functional.
The apparent irony is that Hugo Chavez championed the socialist revolution precisely to prevent such things from happening. He wanted to ensure that the country would always be able to provide for its people and avoid state repression of its people. The opposite is happening. The opposite was bound to happen.
North Korea is also suffering equally, if not more, devastating food shortages. Eighteen million people, 70 percent of the population, rely on state provided food. The rations that North Korea distributes to its people have not met the UN standards of 600 grams daily per person or North Korea’s own goal of 573 grams daily for years. And now the daily allotment is down to 360 grams, nearly half the UN recommended intake. It is estimated that North Korea will need to import 690,000 tons of food this year, but so far it only has about 300,000 tons accounted for.
The situation is exacerbated by North Korea’s insistence on undertaking nuclear tests, which have led to international economic sanctions, and which divert critical resources from meeting the needs of North Korea’s starving population.
One estimate stated that the $80 million used on recent tests of mid-range ballistic missiles could supply the people with food for 50 days. The government argues that North Korea will be stronger in the long run by developing these weapons, but today people are dying. They do not have enough food, rations are insufficient, the black market is booming but most average workers cannot afford much. The country is malnourished largely as a result of the policies deliberately enacted by the government.
Venezuela and North Korea are just two examples of how socialist governments do not prioritize the needs of their people. As a North Korean newspaper put it, it is now “a time when we will again have to eat the roots of grass.” This is, of course, all for the good of society.