How Venezuela Took the Fastest Route to Poverty

By Anne Bradley Published on February 7, 2019

Some say all press is good press because it brings attention to an issue, idea, or person. Venezuela is getting a lot of press these days, but there is nothing good about it.

Media coverage continues to detail the desperate economic conditions plunging Venezuelans into poverty and despair.

We live at a time when we can look at history and see the havoc and violence centrally-planned societies unleash on ordinary citizens. We should know better, but we don’t. Perhaps we think it can never happen to us. We should ask Venezuelans what they think.

The Fastest Route to Poverty

Here’s the situation: Venezuela is a country rich in oil and human capital. But bad economics, poor policy decisions, and terrible institutions will trump the engines of human creativity and entrepreneurship every time.

Let’s give the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez the benefit of the doubt and presume he pushed the policies of two-cent gasoline (now one-cent per gallon) and free housing because he cared about the poor. But caring for the poor is only a necessary condition for helping them and not a sufficient one.

If we want to help the poor, we shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds them. This is what socialist, centrally-planned policies do. Despite the best of intentions, people are left without food, security or freedom.

Please Support The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the Political, Economic and Moral Issues of Our Day.

The assumption behind such policies is that we can wave a magic policy wand and make things free and eliminate prices — and, somehow, this is a good thing!

It’s counter-intuitive, but prices are the best tool for rationing scarce resources. When allowed to emerge within well-defined, well-protected property rights, prices help us do more than just “not run out of stuff.” Prices help us “get more stuff than we could imagine.”

Eliminating prices and making things free or nearly free is the fastest road to poverty and ruin. Making something free doesn’t make it less scarce. It just means we have to find another way to finance those free things.

Historically, for Chavez (and now, Nicolas Maduro), this has meant encouraging monetary inflation. That’s fancy economics talk for printing money. Inflation is usually a last-ditch effort of a tyrant near their demise. It often results in hyperinflation, which is devastating.

What does that mean in real-world talk? It means a dollar isn’t worth a dollar anymore. So much money is circulating so fast it’s devaluing. This causes extremely high, prohibitive cost increases for basic items. You could go to bed with a loaf of bread costing $2 and wake up with it costing $100. That price will continue to rise as money continues to lose its worth. You can see why this is so damaging to the poor.

Economic freedom and personal autonomy are the costs of these damaging policies. Out of 162 countries, Venezuela ranks nearly dead last (only ahead of Syria) in global economic freedom.

This hurts everyone, but it hurts the poor especially because they don’t have the extra income to withstand the loss of currency value and the loss of freedom resulting from inflation.

We Know Better

The tragedy of Venezuela’s current economic and political situation is that it is entirely unnecessary. We know how to increase prosperity. We know how to acquire and increase economic freedom. Yet there are still many global examples of countries who have lost both these things.

This happens because we often do not have a biblical understanding of how we fit into God’s design and what he desires for his creation. We were created to use our God-given talents to create value for others. When we do this, we increase flourishing and glorify our Creator.

To do this well — and foster it in places like Venezuela — we must not dampen economic freedom and trade. We need to have prices where there are none instead of destroying prices where they exist.

Prices are powerful market signals. Policies aiming to eliminate them are the surest, quickest way to poverty.

Venezuela can change. It can recover economically and politically. Doing so requires good, biblical thinking about fostering human creativity and eliminating the policies that amount to biting the hand that feeds us.


This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics ( IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Visit to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Comments ()
The Stream encourages comments, whether in agreement with the article or not. However, comments that violate our commenting rules or terms of use will be removed. Any commenter who repeatedly violates these rules and terms of use will be blocked from commenting. Comments on The Stream are hosted by Disqus, with logins available through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts. You must log in to comment. Please flag any comments you see breaking the rules. More detail is available here.
Prayer is Our Secure Communication Channel to the Father, Inviting His Presence in the Battles Between Kingdoms in Conflict
Mark Driscoll and Ashley Chase
More from The Stream
Connect with Us