Back during the Cold War there was a joke about what would happen if the Soviets conquered the Sahara. Nothing for about fifty years and then there would be a shortage of sand.
That old joke came to mind with the latest news out of Venezuela:
Giovanni Luisio Mass, prior of the Order of Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Jerusalem, explained to local media that the shortage of unleavened wheat flour needed to make Hosts has been acute for a month now.
According to Caracol TV, the monthly production of Hosts has dropped from 80,000 to 30,000. This drop, Mass indicated, has affected every parish in three Venezuelan states. He added that they can only send 1,500 Hosts to the parishes in the north of the country, because there is no longer enough flour to make the 8,000 they have always needed.
Venezuela is dealing with shortages including food, toilet paper, medicines, auto parts, chocolate, oil, and clothes irons. According to the Central Bank of Venezuela, food prices went up 92 percent last year, and during the last ten years inflation has risen 1,250 percent.
According to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, since 2003 the Venezuelan government has imposed price controls on 165 products, including cooking oil, soap, milk, flour, cereals, toilet paper , cleaning products, detergent, diapers, toothpaste, and sugar. The local currency has plummeted in value.
Go here to read the rest. The frightening thing is that the economy set up by the late kleptocrat in chief of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, heavy government control and regulation, all ostensibly done in the name of the poor, doesn’t seem all that different from the type of new economy Pope Francis is calling for:
The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples. Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.
The economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home. This entails a commitment to care for that home and to the fitting distribution of its goods among all. It is not only about ensuring a supply of food or “decent sustenance”. Nor, although this is already a great step forward, is it to guarantee the three “L’s” of land, lodging and labor for which you are working. A truly communitarian economy, one might say an economy of Christian inspiration, must ensure peoples’ dignity and their “general, temporal welfare and prosperity”. This includes the three “L’s”, but also access to education, health care, new technologies, artistic and cultural manifestations, communications, sports and recreation. A just economy must create the conditions for everyone to be able to enjoy a childhood without want, to develop their talents when young, to work with full rights during their active years and to enjoy a dignified retirement as they grow older. It is an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life. You, and other peoples as well, sum up this desire in a simple and beautiful expression: “to live well”.
Such an economy is not only desirable and necessary, but also possible. It is no utopia or chimera. It is an extremely realistic prospect. We can achieve it. The available resources in our world, the fruit of the intergenerational labors of peoples and the gifts of creation, more than suffice for the integral development of “each man and the whole man”. The problem is of another kind. There exists a system with different aims. A system which, while irresponsibly accelerating the pace of production, while using industrial and agricultural methods which damage Mother Earth in the name of “productivity”, continues to deny many millions of our brothers and sisters their most elementary economic, social and cultural rights. This system runs counter to the plan of Jesus.
Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property. Property, especially when it affects natural resources, must always serve the needs of peoples. And those needs are not restricted to consumption. It is not enough to let a few drops fall whenever the poor shake a cup which never runs over by itself. Welfare programs geared to certain emergencies can only be considered temporary responses. They will never be able to replace true inclusion, an inclusion which provides worthy, free, creative, participatory and solidary work.
If the Pope were ever to get the global economy he wants, the entire world would soon be Venezuela writ large. Good intentions are never a substitute for reality, and the Pope’s hatred for free markets, and his blind faith in government intervention, at least when a government is pretending that it is controlling the economy for “the poor”, shows an indifference to economic reality bordering on both the comic and the tragic: a comedy for those observing such farces from the outside, and a tragedy for those attempting to live within such cloud kookoo land economies.