Friday, 28 July 2017

For journalists who hate economics

OPEC barrel price evolution. In red: dollars. In blue: 1998 dollars
If you read in English and you want to learn how to do some real investigative journalism on Venezuela, you should read people such as Alexandra Ulmer, Keyal Vyas or Girish Gupta.

If you want something very superficial, you should read something like BBC news in English, particularly if the journalist is a native English speaker. It is really amazing how the British organisation can make news about Venezuela sound so trite.

We constantly hear and read sinking oil prices are the major cause of Venezuela's collapse. 

We can read about that on BBC here and here.

But this is highly inaccurate. Yes, prices do have a role to play on the hardships Venezuela is going through now. Still, a much more important reason for the misery is the sheer corruption and incompetence of Chavismo. This is something BBC journalists do not seem to grasp because they do not seem to take their time to learn about the long term evolution of Venezuela's economy and society. For them, it seems, there is not much time to try to understand what exactly were the conditions in Venezuela in 2007, in 1998, in 1992 and much less before that.

The BBC work in Venezuela resembles more or less like this: they interview a state employee, they interview some opposition economist or politician, they quote one, they quote the other and they do not care or are not given the time to do proper research, listen to more nuanced, more complex reports, try to understand at least the basics of how economies function. The way BBC reports on Venezuela I simply cannot imagine their journalists ever have taken a look of more than 1 second to a chart showing the evolution of life expectancies in several Latin American countries across decades or GDP growth in Venezuela since 1962 or even less trying to analyse what kind of things Venezuela was exporting in 1998 apart from oil and what it does now or what kind of education programmes there were in the sixties, eighties or now.

If you take a not too short sighted view of the matter you will soon realise oil prices now are still higher than they were in the late nineties, shortly before the military coup monger Chavez got elected...and yet living conditions now are considerable worse than back in 1998. The average price for a barrel of OPEC oil in 2017 is around 49.77 dollars. That is about 33.75 dollars of 1998. Back then Venezuela was getting less than 13 dollars for a barrel. Even if we accounted for population growth: Maduro's government should be getting more money than the government of Caldera II. What a lot of foreign journalists still fail to see is the sheer amount of corruption and utter incompetence that have thrived in the Chavismo years. Chavismo will probably make Mobutu's regime look like "nearly Swedish standards" on accountability.

Yes, for many decades the popularity of Venezuelan presidents has gone up and down according to oil prices. Oil prices enabled Chavez to have available more social programmes than what presidents had in the decade that immediately preceded him, when we had the longest oil recession. Still, the loss of popularity has more to do with the level of plundering that has taken place in Venezuela.

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