|Doctors Flee Venezuela |
— But Save Lives in Remote Chile
The first time Luis Vieras Delnardo gazed across Last Hope Sound and saw the icy blue waters ringed by snow-covered mountains, he felt like he was watching a scene unfold from a movie. The then-33-year-old anesthesiologist from Caracas, Venezuela, had applied online for a position at the public hospital in Puerto Natales, a town in Chile’s southernmost region — Magallanes and the Chilean Antarctic. He had never heard of the town’s name before, so on a frigid winter day last July, Vieras stepped off a bus to see if he could envision building a life in a blustery coastal town in the Chilean Patagonia
About seven years ago, I was a medical student in a Puerto Rican hospital who didn’t speak any Spanish. I was upset over this because my medical school had misled me about the need to speak the language. I complained and whined about it, but then realized that I could either rise to the occasion or just walk away and lose an amazing opportunity.
So I hired an online Spanish tutor. Within six weeks, I was functionally fluent in Spanish. It opened a world of opportunity for me, and now I can’t imagine living a life where I can’t communicate with the tens of millions of Hispanic Americans and the billions of other people who also speak Spanish.
One result of this has been getting to know lots of Venezuelans, living all over the world, and getting to hear their personal stories of pain and heartbreak.
Recently my Uber driver was a Venezuelan woman who discussed with me, in depth, the difficulty she was having getting the rest of her family out of Venezuela.
The conversation started because there was surge pricing for Uber rides, and I told her that surge pricing represents the beauty of capitalism. She told me that most people think it’s a rip-off. I replied that if I thought it was a rip-off, I’d walk home in the rain. There was surge pricing that night because there were more ride requests than drivers available.
Instead of being a ‘rip-off,’ prices are a beautiful mechanism for balancing supply and demand. When prices don’t rise in response to supply-and-demand mismatches, shortages result. The driver chimed in that this is exactly what is happening with food in her home country. Even if you have money, price controls on things like food, water and toilet paper often mean the shelves of stores are bare.
Her biggest difficulty right now, other than keeping her family members fed, is figuring out a place for them to go to, and how to gain legal status for them once they leave Venezuela. I was not able to be of much help in this regard. I just know that there are more than a million Venezuelan migrants in Colombia alone, and it is creating a volatile situation on the border.
Over the last few years, I’ve had more people than I can count ask me to help them get medication to their loved ones in Venezuela. I’ve yet to figure out how to do this because there is no way to send something of value to Venezuela without having it stolen by Maduro’s thugs on the way in. I could easily obtain any of the medications people have asked me to get–but I can’t get them to where they are needed.
Many Americans, while being peripherally aware of what is going on in Venezuela, haven’t had a chance to meet the people who have been so profoundly hurt by the evil regime in power there.
So when I hear Americans talk about the situation, what I perceive is a tremendous lack of empathy. It is an interesting news story for them and that’s about it, while to me it is a giant cascade of human tragedy.
At this moment, people are suffering from the lack of doctors and medicine there. The medicine shortages and electrical blackouts have caused thousands to die in the hospital. More than 22,000 doctors have fled the country in the last two years, leaving Venezuela with only 1.9 doctors per 1,000 people, compared to 5.7 per thousand in Cuba and 47 per thousand in the USA.
It is a hideous reminder of the fact that ideas have consequences when one group’s ideas are forced on an entire country. While it is correct to say that the human suffering we are seeing in Venezuela is a direct consequence of socialism, we need to think deeper: Why is it that the population of Venezuela was so vulnerable to this intellectual cancer? And why were Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and so many other socialist countries so vulnerable to it too?
Esophageal cancer often arises as a consequence of ongoing inflammation in the distal esophagus. Socialism is an intellectual cancer that rises from the ashes of colonialism and other highly extractive social structures. Think of the popularity of Soviet-style socialism in Vietnam when the French lost their empire there.
This trend also happens in Latin American countries, including Venezuela, where the European colonizers have been gone for centuries, but the wealth of entire nations kept getting concentrated in the hands of a few elites. When socialists talk about inequality, it resonates with people who see the examples of inequality and other types of oppression in their daily lives.
Hopeful, happy people with opportunity and optimism don’t bite on the Marxist bait. Miserable people who feel trapped in a hamster wheel are the ones who bite on this bait. When people take that bait and make it public policy, as the Venezuelans did when they elected Hugo Chavez, the consequences are death, starvation, and misery on a massive scale.
I see the beginnings of a socialist revolution in the United States, and it has nothing to do with the current crop of demagogues the media loves to discuss. It has nothing to do with the radical nonsense that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez loves to spout. It has nothing to do with Bernie Sanders promising free everything.
It has to do with a criminal justice system that forces millions of young people into lives as second-class economic citizens. It has to do with out-of-control occupational licensure that locks too many people out of good jobs while also trapping consumers into high prices and low-quality services.
It has to do with the toxic mix of zoning regulations and inflationary lending policy that is driving a massive real estate bubble. It has to do with a calcified educational bureaucracy that exists to benefit teachers and professors, fails to deliver skills valued by the market and traps millions in extreme debt. It has to do with a system of healthcare cartels that have managed to help themselves to nearly one-fifth of the entire US GDP.
In short: the breeding ground from which socialism is rising in America is a closed economy where the government is creating and perpetuating a more and more rigid class structure. Just like how Maduro’s socialist government in Venezuela concentrated public funding and lucrative government contracts into the hands of an elite few, we see private for-profit companies like Molina Healthcare fighting against the repeal of Obamacare because they can’t stay in business without those Medicare and Medicaid subsidies. (One of the Romneys is on the board of this same company.)
This is where American socialism is born–not in working-class blue districts, and certainly not in academia like so many conservatives seem to believe.
I have no doubt in my mind about why the demagogues who favor massive government expansion in the economy are so hostile to the market-based reforms that can fix these problems: it will erode their political support base because happy people with opportunity don’t buy what they are selling.
The real fight for the soul of America is not in the next presidential election. It is in state-level fights about occupational licensing, it is local fights over zoning, local fights about educational reform, and fights at the state and federal level about health freedom.
These are the issues that matter for freedom because it is by winning on these issues that we can (potentially) avoid a fate similar to what our neighbors to the south have endured.
Socialism is rising in America because of a closed economy where the state is creating and perpetuating a more and more rigid class structure. We still have time to nip that threat in the bud, but ordinary people in Venezuela who are no different from us no longer have that luxury.
In regard to our Venezuelan neighbors: please, reach out and help someone! If you know someone trying to get out of the country, give them a helping hand however you can. If you know someone stuck inside, consider (maybe) sending them some bitcoin to help them survive.