Venezuela is a disaster. Populist authoritarian 'socialism' has caused untold misery in the once oil-rich South American country.
Somewhere between 4.7 and 6 million people have fled the lush country of 28 million. Many are now exploited throughout the region - and continuously blamed for all social ills.
Indeed the wife of an old friend in Chile (a doctor in fact) informed me that Covid is in Chile because the Venezuelans cannot help but have parties. No note about the cramped, marginal living conditions almost all refugees endure.
In Peru they are blamed for most crimes in Lima and even people from Trinidad told us they have 'lost' their country to Venezuelans.
(Of course any student of history will remember Chavez came to power because of deep, structural inequality in right-wing Venezuela - but that is a discussion for another day.)
In heavily Latino - and historically Cuban - south Florida, huge numbers of voters turned out to oppose Biden and his 'far-left' agenda, to stop the USA turning into the next Venezuela.
Sadly, such terms as 'socialism' and 'far-left' are tossed around so much these days, I fear all perspective has been lost.
In almost every setting, as soon as you leave your house, you are stepping into socialism.
Roads, schools, healthcare, fire service, military, police, social services, government weather service, disaster response, unemployment insurance, vaccine procurance (a current issue), border services, national parks, business licenses, central banks, environmental regulation, even a legal system designed to protect rights and freedoms - the list of socialist services is almost endless.
Managing these collective services is the job of our elected officials and this is what we debate during elections. The obtuse hyperbole of a slide into Venezuelan command socialism - or the more frequent 'Communist China' is ridiculous and not the least bit helpful.
And whilst on the tangent, this new villainization of China is extremely misleading. Communist China is an authoritarian capitalist regime. Horrific human rights violations, but a wild free-market, lacking almost any sort of meaningful social welfare and a desperate lack of environmental protection.
Russia - another dictatorship - functions as a nationalist, intolerant, oligarchic system with vast wealth concentrated in a tiny sliver of the population.
Saudi Arabia is much closer to the Venezuelan central command system. An absolute monarchy, this oppressive 'Kingdom' of 34 million people (1/2 of whom have virtually no voice and must hide behind burkas) is an oil-based economy and spends massively on its military. Yet this is 'right-wing.'
In all fairness, happiness would seem like a good collective goal. Of course something as intangible as 'happiness' can be difficult to define, but it is well studied and quantified. I have long been interested in the Human Development Index (HDI). This model explores a huge amount of data: life expectancy, years of education, personal safety, social diversity, healthcare, crime, economic freedom and numerous other metrics.
Unsurprisingly, the Scandinavian countries regularly top the the happiest list, with Finland taking top honours the last few years. The first G7 country (large economy) on the list is Canada at 11th place, followed by Australia (12) and the UK (13). Germany - Europe's largest economy is 17th and the mighty USA is 18th.
Capitalist China is way down the list at 94th. South Korea and Japan are surprisingly low (62, 63). Russia sits in 73rd place.
Lies, damn lies and statistics. Yes, everything can be debated, but fairly consistently, it would seem heavily mixed economies with a high rate of social equality and diversity, personal safety and low rates of corruption best achieve the collective goal of human well-being. These are the 'tax and spend' economies.
Political Compass - perhaps you would be interested to see where you really land on a political spectrum (and where different world leaders land). This one is fast and easy. Click here.
I have previously written about the rise of populism - on all sides of the political spectrum. Corruption is extremely destructive to social development as are extremist religious positions. Nationalism often leads to conflict, whereas international trade seems to encourage greater economic opportunity.
This stuff is complicated. Economics and politics are moving targets. The free market has served economies well, when government structure has proven effective and monopolies limited. Income distribution and investment in public infrastructure, education and healthcare has a direct correlation to wellbeing.
In our economically empowered world, almost no-one is calling for abusive Soviet-style communism. The greater threat to our wellbeing right now is the rise of authoritarian populism. Yes, Trump is the most obvious example, but the list is long. Putin in Russia, horrible Bolsonero in Brazil, Duda in Poland, the Jobbik party in Hungary, UKIP in the UK (and the DUP) and once again the military regime in Myanmar.
This conversation can go on and on, but let us step back from the brink and stop suggesting the most basic conversations of good governance is somehow a direct slide into some nefarious socialism.