Hugo Chavez – No Hero of the Poor
Supporters of Hugo Chavez and his legacy typically argue that, regardless of his illiberal crackdowns on speech, dissent, and civil liberties, those aspects of his regime pale in comparison to the great good that he did for the poor in his country. At the newly relaunched FiveThirtyEight, however, Dorothy Kronick demonstrates – quite conclusively, in my view – that despite all of his populist Bolivarian rhetoric, Chavez’s policies achieved virtually nothing for the poor, but instead largely squandered the windfall that came with increased oil prices in the 2000s. Kronick cannot be accused of simply engaging in hippy punching here, either – Chavez’s ideological compatriot Evo Morales comes out of the analysis looking just fine. Money quote:
We can also compare Chavismo with the rest of the region on the outcomes that Chávez emphasized: poverty, inequality, health and education. “What good is macroeconomic stability if, in the end, there is more poverty and hunger?” Chávez asked in a speech early in his presidency (my translation). “How many kids are going to school? How is infant mortality? Those are the big questions.”
On all these metrics, Bolivarian socialism underperformed. Nature handed Chávez by far the biggest resource windfall in Latin America (Figure 4), yet compared with its less-lucky neighbors, Venezuela experienced slow economic growth (Figure 5) and high inflation (Figure 6). Nor did Venezuela eclipse many of its neighbors in lowering infant mortality (Figure 7), slashing poverty, reducing inequality or improving school attainment during Chávez’s tenure.