Latin America's New Socialism

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evo morales

Evo Morales [Santino Di Renzo / Flickr]

Evo Morales won a decisive victory in the Bolivian presidential elections today. It is a historic event, as Morales will be the first Bolivian of indigenous Indian descent to hold the presidency.

But his election is also significant in that Morales is a former coca farmer, and draws his base of support from the country’s poor and dispossessed, whereas his opponent was an American-educated businessman who stood on a neo-liberal platform of free trade. Morales promised to remove restrictions on coca growers, positioned himself as a champion of the poor, and criticized American influence and domination in the region. His will likely be the latest in a growing number of Latin American governments tilting to the left, including those of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Brazil’s Lula da Silva. And Morales is already one-third of what America’s conservative leaders describe as an unholy political trinity, along with Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. (We’re just waiting for the axis-of-evil (or is it Eje-de-Malo?) speech on this one.)

Latin America may be looking for a new Bolivar, but they may also be looking for a new economic model. After the broken promises of international capitalism — think the destruction of Mexican agrobusiness in the hands of NAFTA or the collapse of Argentina’s economy after Menem privatized everything and took bad advice from the IMF — it looks like Latin America is trying to find a third way. Not quite the old brand of state-sponsored communism, not quite the Western brand of free trade and global capital.

So after our Chavez show we’re coming back to Latin America, and we’re asking: what’s the new moment for Bolivia, and for the continent? Why is socialism back in vogue? And how far will it go?

Jeffrey Sachs


Author, The End of Poverty

Former economic advisor to the IMF, World Bank, WHO, and OECD

Prescribed economic “shock therapy” to cure inflation in Bolivia in 1985

Open Source guest on our shows about Kenya and China.

Miguel Centellas

Global Voices blogger

PhD candidate researching formal institutions and electoral system in Bolivia

Jim Shultz

Executive Director, Democracy Center, Cochabomba, Bolivia

Global Voices blogger, Blog from Bolivia

Extra-Credit Reading

Jeffrey Sachs interview fromPBS

Morales and Latin American socialism

More on Morales from the NY Times

Tagged articles on Bolivia and Latin American Socialism

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89 thoughts on “Latin America's New Socialism

  1. Hopefully, you can take a balanced approach to this and not the protectionist, anti-globalization slant that your intro seems to suggest. For example, NAFTA didn’t devastate Mexico’s agricultural economy- there are numerous studies that show this- and the IMF and the Worldbank can’t help a country (Bolivia) that ranks dead last on the World Economic Forum’s rankings for a number of indicators including the protection of intellectual property. The people in Bolivia deserve much more than they’ve gotten from their corrupt government and the elites who own over 80% of the country’s wealth, but blaming global capitalists and praising mass murderers like Che Geuvara are not going to help though.

  2. Hi Jscorse – with regard to Mexico – NAFTA plus American agricultural subsidies did negatively impact Mexican farmers, who were unable to compete with cheap, subsidized American crops, grown at an economy of scale typical of US agribusiness but not of Mexico. Although if you would like to recommend some articles or studies to the contrary, please do. Argentina’s economy was devastated in part because of IMF recommendations, although most of the blame lies with Menem. I recommend the film The Take on this matter.

    As you yourself pointed out, elites in Bolivia control 80% of the country’s wealth. The real question now is, what will Morales (or anyone else) actually do about it? Will he do it preserving and inhancing democracy, or will he fall into the patterns of authoritarianism and corruption favored by some of his contemporaries? And will criticism of him stem from genuine concern for the well being of people in his country, or from some reactionary gut fear of “socialism”?

  3. Actually NAFTA and US subsidies did very little to affect Mexican corn farmers- see the following:

    Many people continue to attribute all sorts of ills to free trade, capitalism, and markets that are simply based on sloppy thinking, sloppy methodology, confusing correlation with causation, and an inability to appreciate what the counterfactuals might have been as well as an inability to focus blame where it should be: on local elites and governments that have been exploiting their people brutally for centuries. My guess is that Morales will scare off international capital and FDI, increase Bolivia’s share of the drug trade, and that the elites will not cede anything and the people will remain desperately poor. I hope I’m wrong but nothing in the history of Latin America makes me believe I am, especially amongst groups that romanticize Che Guevara and other communist “heros”. I am a big advocate of many government interventions, but full-on socialism has a history that makes capitalism look like utopia.


  4. I year and a half ago or more I queried a story on this very topic to a host of news magazines, which were utterly uninterested. (It wasn’t Iraq, so it wasn’t news.)

    I called it “True Believers” and it focused on the University of Santa Clara in Cuba, which is known as “Che University” after the revolutionary Che Guevarra, and on activities around the FMLN headquarters I had visited in San Salvador. There I saw many young people from all over Central and South America talking and exchanging information in the bougainvilla-decked garden out back. (As well as people, young and not so young, from Europe and North America.)

    There have been victorious leftist presidential candidates in Brazil and Venezuela and now Bolivia. There is a mounting backlash against “globalism” and free trade movements all around Latin America, especially in southern Mexico. This movement (these movements–I think they are a group of movements, not a monolith) are thriving and filled with a new generation and are having a pronounced effect on not just local or national but — glory to the interconnectivity — regional and world politics and economics. I would be mighty suprised to see The Revolution transform the world. But these movements ARE alive.

    I wonder what kind of contrast there is between the world of the left as seen through the lens of youth versus the hold-overs from the earlier leftist movements of the 70s and 80s. Are there conflicts there? (If the FMLN is any indication, the old guard will do anything it can to impede “counter-revolutionary” activity.)

    What strikes me in all this is that there would be True Believers left after the “bankruptcy” of world communism. It seems counter to common sense, but it endures. Why? These movements (and I think there are more than one) also have an increasing identification “indigenous” movements, even when few of the people involved seem to come from a surviving “indigenous” culture.

    This “new leftism” in Latin America has just begun to be recognized as such. Last year (?), the University of Wisconsin had a conference entitled, “The New Latin American Left: Origins and Future Trajectory.” Communism did not end with the Sandinistas. We believe it did, we wind up with a compromised view, of an entire continent, the one closest to us.

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  6. I find it interesting that amongst the blame and mudslinging when it comes to the deplorable state of latin america, few place any blame on latin american politicians. What can one expect of representatives that glorify the likes of che or fidel, tolerate and participate in rampant corruption, villify sound economic principals, implement suicidal economic policies, and exploit the lumpen. The pathetic debate that takes place in most of these countries does not merit a second thought. Take for example Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, anyone who has been to the barrios of Petare or to rural Bolivar state, can see with absolutely no doubt that his so called social programs have done little to alleviate poverty, yet his main support is amongst exactly those whom he purports to champion. A logical conclusion would be that latin america for the most part is populated by people in desperate need of education, and governed by shameless megalomaniacs who regard their countrymen as simply a means to fulfill personal aspirations while baming neo liberalism, Bush, IMF, World Bank, Microsoft, CIA, DEA, globalization, and the grinch for all their shortcomings. So, we have Morales in Bolivia, who will soon be testing the waters, Lula in Brazil, who desperately wants to, but is afraid, Hugo in Venezuela who feels he can do no wrong, Kirchner in Argentina who has no idea, and Fidel en Cuba pulling all the strings. None of them will last forever, but how much harm can they do before their timely demise?

  7. First, I am personally amazed that so many of the posts for this topic so far support free trade. I do, but I expect that many people who frequent this site tend to lean to the left politically (I could be very wrong). The Left in the USA doesn’t typically support free trade. Interesting…

    My theory about this neo-socialism in Latin America is that it is the result of the elites stifling the rest of the population in their countries. In many cases they hoard the wealth and stymie the masses’ (including the indigenous) opportunities for education and substantive economic development. This is a big culprit behind causing the poverty among Latin Americans.

    From a different perspective, I find the recent national German elections interesting. Angela Merkel grew up under socialism in East Germany, but she embraces the more capitalist ways of West Germany (especially as she is pushing for more dramatic labor policy changes than the Social Democrats are to help improve her country’s economy). On the other hand, Gerhard Schroeder grew up in poverty in capitalist West Germany, and he has chosen to embrace socialism. Each wants what they did not have growing up. Why is this? Unfortunately, I would argue that Latin Americans have not had the opportunity to fully experience capitalism like Schroeder did. This does not give them the proper perspective to truly understand capitalism. Thus, their push for socialism is done half-blind, at least.

  8. Here in Chile free market has had a nominal success. Even though infrastructure has gotten better, jobs and industry have been created and the country “looks richer” there’s also been a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. Now the poor are poorer and the rich are richer. Now that copper price is high (the base of our economy, no doubt about it) we seem to hold on fine in this situation, but I wonder wheter it is going to come to the point where there’s so much social injustice -inequality- that this apparent statu quo is going to be broken. We do need some degree of state regulation here in Latin America in order to really grow as sustainable, stable countries.

    Chile is heard of as an example of sound economics in the region, but that is mainly because we sell tax-reduced copper to developed countries. This is an example of economic luck rather than success of the free market model in the latin american context.

  9. As a Mexican I can say that the resurging power of social parties in Latin-America is just the product of two main factors: a strong democracy and lack of education.

    One- If it wasn’t for the strong democracy, Latin-America will be having guerilla wars in Central America and Military Dictatorships in South America. Because there is democracy (and because the CIA is not intervening) people can elect the governments that before the USA wouldn’t have allowed.

    Two- lack of education – With the same ease as the Republicans in the USA rallies the lower educated class with unimportant issues such as abortion and Gay rights, while they take the USA to bankruptcy; with the same ease Populist Leaders in Latin-America rallies people around bread and water. Because they are uneducated, there never question from where is these bread and water going to come, and for how long.

    Not all Latin-America is equal; the richest countries are pro market. The economy of Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay together are similar if not bigger than the economies of Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia. And this is with 30% less population.

    Population GDP-PPP GDP-PC

    Country per capita

    in millions in Billions

    Mexico 106.2 $1,006 $9,600

    Chile 15.9 $169 $10,700

    Argentina 39.5 $484 $12,400

    Uruguay 3.4 $49 $14,500


    Total Pro-Market 165.1 $1,708 $10,342


    Venezuela 25.3 $145 $5,800

    Bolivia 8.8 $22 $2,600

    Cuba 11.3 $34 $3,000

    Brazil 186.1 $1,492 $8,100


    Total Anti-Market 231.6 $1,693 $7,309


    all data

    In 2004 the Uruguayan economy grew 10.2%, more than the 9.1% of China and the 6.2% of China.

    The GDP per capita of Cuba is $3,000 us, similar to the $3,200 us of India.

    The GDP per capita of Venezuela is $5,800 us, similar to the $5,600 us of China.

    The GDP per capita of Argentina ($5,800 us) and Uruguay ($14,500 us) are higher than the GDP ($11,100 us) of South Africa.

    In the 5 years period from Jan. 1995 to Dec. 2000 the Mexican stock exchange went up 319 % (from 2,067.60 to 6,585.67 ) almost equal to the 320 % of the S&P 500 (from 459.27 to 1,469.25),

    In the last 5 years (Jan. 2000 – Dec 2005) the Mexican stock exchange has gone up 171% (from 6,585.67 to 17,832.80) in the same period the S&P 500 went down 14% (1,469.25 to 1,258.17)

    In this 10 year period the Mexican stock exchange went up 763 % compared to the 174% of the S&P 500.

    Is this the Latin-America that is digging itself into a hole?

    From New York, NY 10128

    Diego Barberena

  10. diego,

    I don’t entirely agree with you when you say, “With the same ease as the Republicans in the USA rallies the lower educated class with unimportant issues such as abortion and Gay rights, while they take the USA to bankruptcy; with the same ease Populist Leaders in Latin-America rallies people around bread and water.” However, I find your perspective very interesting. I do agree with you that the religious right in the USA is focused on a few social issues, and it does seem that sometimes their fixation leads to them to temporarily ignore other issues like government fiscal responsibility. Wait a second…you may be on to something. To avoid appearing “backboneless,” I do think that abortion and gay rights are important issues, but focusing only on them while ignoring other important issues is dangerous.

  11. And so there goes the same story once again, as it has always been in poor Latinamerica, a new messiah comes in, nationalizes private property, people with high education and money leave the country and go somewhere else where the government will respect their properties and belongings, the poor peasants enjoy for a little while the new lands granted to them freely by their magnanimous government but they will end up looking for jobs somewhere else.

    Giving away land makes politicians very popular, just ask mexicans, here people still remember and honor President Lazaro Cardenas, who did exactly what Mr. Morales is about to do in his country, and what Mr. Chavez has also done: nationalize and redistribute the land, taking it away from filthy rich people and giving to the poor, landless farmers. And what about the legacy of President Cardenas in Mexico, more than twenty million farmers working and farming and earning money happily, but not in Mexico, in the USA. What about the nationalization of oil, PEMEX, another great legacy of same socialist latinamerican president, in its several decades of existance it has already produced thousands of rich men, with houses in Paris and millions of dollars in bank accounts in Europe and the USA, their lives changed dramatically by the decisions taken by a dreamer influenced by Marx. While us, the great mayority of Mexicans have to deal with a monopoly and have to pay some of the highest gasoline and energy prices in the world, even higher than those in countries that do not even have oil or gas. Not to mention all the environmental damage this so called mexican company has inflicted every where it has open shop the likes of which make every little town tremble every time they propose to open a facility or plant there.

    Now another man with the same ideas is running for president in my country, Mr. Lopez Obrador, and I am (I think many others in Mexico too) considering the very posibility of remaning in my country, for if Mr. Obrador does what he says he will, then I cannot afford to risk the future of my wife and son. I am Mexican, of Mexican parents, and I love my country, and I am willing to give my life for my country. But I cannot decide for my child. I hope Mr. Obrador does not win the elections. God Bless you all.

  12. Diego has hit the nail on the head. Most of us tend to blame the rulers of countries for failed policies, but as my wife has argued with me for years, the main problem in underdeveloped countries is one of education. And if you boil it down to human nature, ignorant peoples elect ignorant representatives. For the most part as social animals we gravitate towards similars, and in a way you can categorize a people by their elected oficials. This does not speak well for Latin America. However, if you understand Argentines, then you understand Kirchners’ existance, if you are familiar with Venezuelan society, Chavez is obvious. Bolivia and Morales, definitely not a tough one. And on a larger canvas, take a long look at Castro, and his influence on the latin left. Until we can educate this type of leader out of the region, keeps your shades in your pocket. A head is building in Latin America, I hope I’m wrong but I believe it will take a hammer blow to set things right.

  13. I think Diego is right, we need better education. And we can say that our countries have advanced a great deal on this area in the last decades, but the quality of education and the influence of marxism on the educational system has created a generation of misinformed people. I clearly remember our history books from primary, secondary and high school, they taught a great deal of history as seen from marxist writers, and our universities are boiling with all kinds of socialist teachers and leaders. Listen, watch or read any kind media coming from our national university, UNAM, and you will witness all kinds of antiamericanism, and support for Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Our national university is today one of the main promoters and defenders of people like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. In this university you will never see a book from Adam Smith, but you will see all kinds of socialist literature. A lot of writers and thinkers coming from this university are now top government officials, they pay more attention to our relations with Cuba than with the United States, as if we didn’t have millions of people living there. When there are problems at our northern border, or the United States tries to stop illegal inmigrants from crossing the border, this politicians claim faoul, saying this is a bilateral problem, because our culture here in Mexico does not consider self responsibility and accountability. They learned at this school and others, to blame someone or something else for their own failures. I think some the same happens all over latinamerica, Castro blames the USA, Chavez too, and now we welcome Mr. Morales to the club, pretty soon he will start crying that the USA is planning to kill him or that they are boycotting his country. He says he will be the nightmare of the Americans, when the mayority of americans will probably never be able to identify his little country in a map. Some of these thinkers have got new ideas today, they talk about an alternative bolivarian system, or whatever that is, and at the same time they mix it with socialism and indigenism. The media has a lot to do with this too, because sadly, many of these so called intellectuals have made inroads into the mainstream media, and they are practising journalism with an agenda. They have thrown into the mainstream their old conspiracy theories and dogmas they carried with themselves for so long and the people eat it right from their tv sets and magazines. Some of the same has happened the USA and Europe, the BBC for example, will show you 25 or 30 times the same allegations made by Saddam Hussein at his trial about how the american soldiers are mistreating him, or the same from terrorists inprisoned in Guantanamo, but they will never show you a picture of another mass grave discovery, with many shiites killed during Saddam’s reign, in the ouskirts of Bagdad even though it was discovered on the very same day and time when saddam made his alegations. You could even see a little smile in the spanish journalist when they went into New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane, and you could feel how their self-steem went up all the way while they were showing all the mistakes and things that happened in New Orleans, the same can be said about media in Mexico, and I think most of the media in latinamerica. I mention antiamericanism because I think it is a big factor in what is happening in latinamerica, I think it’s related to the Irak, which I don’t think was a mistake. But this anti-americanism is at the very basis of these recent victories of these socialist groups. They and mainstream media play together in the game, and pragmatic and liberal thinking people and groups in latinamerica are left helpless. Look, the americans want to invade us, want to dominate us via free trade and globalization, they want to take our lands and our natural resources. I think the United States needs to start looking at a way to support these groups left alone, after all, we all know socialist and communist political parties and movements receive a great deal of indoctrination and help from Castro, and now from Chavez too. Why is the United States not doing anything?

  14. In my lifetime my home town, Friday Harbor, Washington, has gone from a farming fishing economy to a developer’s paradise for the very wealthy. I rarely mention it but in my heart of hearts I am a socialist and it makes me SO HAPPY when socialists are elected anywhere! Why is socialism back in vogue? Because you can’t have a wealthy class without creating poverty, misery and resentment. I have Billy Bragg’s ‘International’ on my itunes. I am playing it right now. I love his version of that stirring anthem!

  15. “Marketplace” from American Public Media reported tonight that Argentina and Brazil are paying off IMF loans early. The reporter mentioned that they are trying to get out of meeting standards established by the IMF as conditions for the loans. Does this indicate that Latin American countries are trying to remove the fetters that the industrialized world has placed on them so that they can pursue socialist ways?

  16. I hope the new regimes will do the people there some good. I am not hopeful though.

    Chavez in Venezuela seems to have turned demagogue. He has recently even made some anti-Semitic speeches were he called the Jews “the descendants of Christ killers.”

    Here is the original speech:

    “El mundo tiene para todos, pues, pero

    resulta que unas minorías, los descendientes de los mismos que crucificaron a

    Cristo, los descendientes de los mismos que echaron a Bolívar de aquí y también lo

    crucificaron a su manera en Santa Marta, allá en Colombia. Una minoría se adueñó

    de las riquezas del mundo, una minoría se adueñó del oro del planeta, de la plata,

    Una minoría se adueñó de las riquezas del mundo, una minoría se adueñó del oro del planeta, de la plata,

    de los minerales, de las aguas, de las tierras buenas, del petróleo, de las riquezas,

    pues, y han concentrado las riquezas en pocas manos: menos del diez por ciento de

    la población del mundo es dueña de más de la mitad de la riqueza de todo el mundo

    y a la… “

    If Jew bating is socialism then you can have it.

  17. To start with, I would caution against reading too much into Evo’s election. Certainly, the fact that he won is not (in itself) proof that neoliberal economic model “didn’t work”. Of course, market economics has winners & losers, but it can also generate greater all around economic growth over the long term than economic nationalism (compare Chile to Cuba).

    I’d also caution against the always popular “third way” phrases that seem to suggest Latin America only reacts to international forces. These are old societies, w/ nearly the same period of political independence as the United States. Very often the “new” approach of several recent leaders (for example Fujimori or Chavez) is really just the same old “caudillo populism” that emerged as a force as early as the 1830s.

    Finally, I’d caution against lumping several of the Latin American “left” together without differentiating them. Lula is not like Chavez who is not like Kirchner. They are very different kinds of socialists, with different agendas, and different ideologies. Chavez has more in common with Pinochet (in terms how dictatorship) or (perhaps a better comparison) Fujimori than with more ideological “socialists” (those with intellectual socialist roots) like Lula, Lagos, or Kirchner.

  18. Geez, too bad Mr. Morales is so pro-coca: that’s cause for either armed invasion by the Bush machine, or covert manipulation, or both. He’ll be accused of “hurting Amurrkin children” and will soon be doing the dead man’s float somewhere; and then the CIA can take over the dealing and fund some other activities off-budget with the proceeds. Hey–maybe they even installed the man! Who knows… (“Can’t truss it–don’t believe the hype!” -Flava Flav)

  19. This type of action has been typical of Chavez’ behavior in Venezuela, it does not mean that they are trying to get out of debt, it does not mean that there is effective planning taking place amongst those responsible in various ministries, nor does it mean that they are trying to pursue socialist, rather than capitalist ways. These are simply actions taken by totalitarian wannabes to avoid any imposition of democratic policies through economic or social assistance. In the minds of these pathetic politicians exsts only one thought “I must remain”. In order to do that as they see fit, they must eliminate any possibility of economic retaliation due to undemocratic behavior. The fact is that if Castro, Chavez, Lula or possibly Kirchner were subjected to (clean) elections none of the three would likely be re-elected. Once a latin american block can become “unfettered” by democratic assistance of any nature, they can then become TRUELY undemocratic, which is their ultimate goal. These leaders simply do not believe in democracy, it puts to many hampers on their long term projects. First remove economical restrictions, then political restrictions. Think about it, if you can’t threaten someone with the loss of something they need, how do you make them play by your rules? You can’t. This is how they think. Any other interpretation is wrong. This year will be an interesting year for latin american, particularly in Venezuela, which might prove to be catalyst for the success or downfall of the left throughout the entire continent. If Chavez is forced to have fair elections in December of this year, Castros project dies, as simple as that. Good luck Hugo!

  20. BTW, here’s a half-hour video of the inimitable Prof. Walter Block clarifying what terms such as “right” and “left” and “nationalist” and “socialist” really mean, and how they relate to each other: Socialism and Fascism: A Political-Economic Spectrum Analysis (viewable on Windows Media Player).

  21. Oops! That link didn’t work–it’s complicated, and I am a tech-tard cyber-Winnie-the-Pooh. Pardon me. Can be found at under “mises media” drop-down menu…

  22. (shriber Says:

    January 3rd, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    I hope the new regimes will do the people there some good. I am not hopeful though.) Me either…regimes usually benefit the founders and maintainers–cronies–of them. Government everywhere and always becomes an armed gang, and the enemy of “its” people.

  23. (caracasbbq Says:

    December 31st, 2005 at 1:39 pm “…if you boil it down to human nature, ignorant peoples elect ignorant representatives. For the most part as social animals we gravitate towards similars, and in a way you can categorize a people by their elected officials.”) And that speaks of USA today: “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” — H.L.Mencken

  24. You’re absolutely right “…bird”, the election of Bush in the USA is an expression of the “American” personality, in the US, most people are quite ignorant of the rest of the world, and are more concerned with their own safety and well being than that of other peoples. Hence Bush. Although just as an after thought, if your neighbour was about to destroy your home, who would YOU appoint to protect it. Carter, or Bush?

  25. Ah it’s interested to see an Austrian economist pecking away here at Radio Open Source. Fly Little Yellow Bird Fly.

    One day some one is going to scrape the bark off of Bono’s favorite economist. That he looks to Europe as a third way where everything is honky dory speaks volumes about his politics and more about his limited economics. Watch out for that French riot, those long unemployment lines and the god awful work rules Jeff.

  26. “Bar-B-Q”: (Que quiere decir “BBQ” en Espanol, anyway, mi hermano?) Neither! The executive has become anointed with magical attributes it was never intended to have. It’s just some guy, por el amor del Dio! Repeat after me, O hypnotized citizenry of the United States of Unconsciousness: The chief executive officer of the U.S. of Amnesia is JUST SOME GUY! Who (theoretically) WORKS IN OUR EMPLOY! He isn’t Superman–he’s Mighty Mouse: a cartoon character, not a real guy. Also, the Founders intended us to be able to defend ourselves against any aggressor, neighbor or otherwise. And neither one of them has, or could, protect us! Bush IS the terrorist! Not W. himself, but Team W–bush is just the name of the franchise this time around. Oh Birdy, abrir su beak.

  27. “fconte”: I am so glad that I gave up my ticket to U2 in 1983 in Boston! How annoying is that rum-soaked pop-rock-injay ego-mountain do-gooder Boffo Vox, or whatever his personally-anointed-by-Yahweh-Himself moniker is? Thanks for making me feel less freakish here at socialists-r-us radio…although ya gotta do right and not succumb to evil as Mises would say. These are good folks–at least they’re not parked in full-coma cryogenic stasis in front of Faux News Channel, eh? Peace, ALYB

  28. LOL! (that’s for ALYB’s Mencken) Brilliant! Prescient! Who IS this Mencken fella?

    We haven’t had the show aired out here yet (gotta wait till 9PM PST). I wonder if any mention was given to Spain’s brief model of socialism, gutted by Franco with crucial help by Hitler’s Luftwaffe and Facsist Italy. Some scholars (perhaps naively) believed that had Spain’s revolution not been murdered but allowed to develop, it would have become the successful socialist experiment that the USSR most definitely WASN’T.

    Indeed, it’s been said before and never often enough: the USSR was the worst thing that ever happened to the movement called Socialism. I can only hope that any new socialist governments, in Latin America or elsewhere, don’t feel so paranoid that they adopt Stalinsim in any form. The only way to set a proper socialist example is through the application of genuine democracy. Too bad it’s harder to do than it is to say.

    If anyone knows about Spanish socialism before and during that country’s Civil War, maybe you could help illuminate us ROS blog-readers?

  29. “Nikos”: WHO’S MENCKEN?!! Damnit, son–you’re older than I am! That does it–no more Sony Lobotomax (TV: “the cathode-ray nipple; the only wet nurse that would create a cripple…” -Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy, 1991) for you ’til you spend some time at the library, or the cyber-brary: goest thou and google H. L. Mencken, and sin no more!

  30. I see people talk of free-markets and the degree that they seem to work; and all I can think of is that there has nevr been such a thing as a free market anywhere ever out in the open–except outside a Grateful Dead show–pure anarchic, voluntary free trade with no official intervention or regulation; and when friends have traded services to each other off the books: rewire my kitchen, and I’ll build you a new brick walkway and a brick fireplace/hibachi area out back.

  31. BBQ = Birdy Beak Quota. Didn’t take long for the rant to come out!

    Back on topic, I think this is a very dangerous time for Bolivia. Leadership should propose solutions and not justify failure. So far Evo has adhered to the vogue line on the left. Capitalism, Neoliberalism, Colonialism, etc. etc. etc. They are all to blame. Has Chavez proposed any viable solutions? Has he implemented any? Has Lula, Kirchner? And more importantly, WILL THEY? I don’t think so. If I remember correctly, Kirchner was at least in some part responsible for the economic disaster in Argentina through regional fiscal imcompetence. Has he seen the light? Chavez tried to overthrow a democratically elected government, has he reformed? Evo DID overthrow elected governments, what might his biggest nightmare be? As for Lula, I’m afraid he will fall short of the little train that could. Latin America requires two things in order to advance, neither will be sufficient alone as has already been shown. 1) Strong Vibrant Democracy, 2) Economical competence. A little Uri Geller might help also. As far as the socialist longevity in latin america…it will survive until the people of these countries decide to apply a little of Hugo’s and Evo’s own medicine.

  32. ALYB, you missed the earlier part of the quote. Not such a convenient sound bite, but a more interesing thought:

    “The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.”

    H. L. Menchen, Baltimore Evening Sun, 26 July 1920.

    Potter, for what it’s worth, here is Mencken’s answer.

  33. “Nikos”: You said, “…it’s been said before and never often enough: the USSR was the worst thing that ever happened to the movement called Socialism.” Well, it’s been said so often that, like any Big Lie, it’s gained a patina and odor of truth. Socialism cannot last because it does not create wealth–it only transfers wealth, and filters a great deal of that wealth out of the engines of economics through the administration of that redirection. There are other problems too, including the tendency of people to usurp ANY centralized aggregation of power no matter what the force or ideology that concentrates that power, and the fact that a huge national government–or huge corporate central office–cannot accurately and flexibly respond to real life fluctuations in market forces. I think the enormous US government is a slightly new variant of socialism with fascist features and that it too will implode before long. It is thoroughly unrealistic, and is a ferociously ugly and braindead economic creature from the crypt: part Terri Schiavo and part Phyllis Diller, or Michael Jackson: a Frankenstein patchwork artifice, a parasitic tumor fed by the blood of A(s)lan “Merlin of Moolah” Greenspan’s money-printing press, and the half-willing, half-trapped in a feedback loop of debt underwriting by our chief creditors in Asia. Something’s gotta give…and when it does, Bush will have the conscripts he needs for the Empire’s ground troops–because like post-Treaty of Versailles Germany, if you want to eat and wear clothes and live indoors, you’ll have to join the war machine. But I may be wrong–partially.

  34. “Raymond”: You know, I just realized that Mencken said that before television became another branch of government and one of the two primary tools of public-opinion shaping (the other being public “schooling”, ha ha…). Nowadays, “…the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt…” isn’t as true: an enormous percentage of the target audience–the electorate–CAN be swayed by one louse, or P.R. team of lice.

  35. “caracasbbq”: Re “BBQ = Birdy Beak Quota”… HA! This toucan can hold a whole KETTLE o’ fish! Uri Geller isn’t too far off–magic is how you can squeeze real value out of non-gold backed paper as long as you print enough zeroes on it and declare it to be of value and just believe, believe, believe! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord and pass the minted manna/money!

  36. Seems to me that the Mencken quote still (mostly) holds in full: the ‘second hand’ being the distorted reality of politicians-on-TV; the ‘third hand’ being the spew from the mouths, pens, and keyboards of the partisan spin-meisters.

    And ALYB, I challenge your pronouncement that socialism can’t create wealth but only redistribute it. That strikes me as another ‘Big Lie’ (to paraphrase you).

    We seem to discuss socialism using very few examples. I don’t have the stats, but I do know that quiet little Sweden has had socialist governments that oversaw economic growth (any Swedes out there?), and the same can be said for other European countries. These smaller, nearly anonymous examples are hardly as dramatic (or as ‘socialist’) as the USSR was (supposed to be), and surely it’s true that the growth they governed wasn’t as manic as that of the USA, but none of this invalidates their achievements. My visit to Sweden in 1988-9 was a real eye-opener: a country far more politically knowledgeable and involved, liberal, and educated than the supposed ‘pinnacle of democracy’ — the USA I came from. Frankly, I was embarrassed that I couldn’t defend my countrymen’s staggering worldly ignorance to any of my kindly hosts. And I didn’t need to converse in Swedish—ALL the kids in Sweden’s schools learn English and one other language in addition to their mother tongue. That’s the sort of well-educated and worldly population you can make some wealth with, IMHO. Oops! gotta run — ROS is about to air!

  37. Duh. I forgot, in my haste to turn on the radio, to mention that in Sweden I saw no filthy rich folks and no poor. My hosts said that this impression was valid because although in Sweden, as in most places, there are indeed richer and poorer, the extremes of that continuum are considered by Swedes indecent. Indecent!

    Imagine that.

  38. A couple of smiles to share: right after my last post, G.Sachs (in my own faulty-memory paraphrase) implied a comparison between ‘economic savagery’ and ‘economic decency’.

    Shortly thereafter he mentioned how European economic debate isn’t an all-or-nothing battle between irreconcilable opposites: they know how to manage a market economy in a socially conscientious way, providing genuine commonwealth to their citizenries, such as universal healthcare.

    Almost made me wanna emigrate. Too bad I’m so thoroughly American…I wanna make it happen here!

    Again (and it can’t be said enough): when we, in this ultra-capitalist nation-state with no history of socialism (outside FDR’s limited New Deal) so ‘knowingly’ debate socialism, we demonstrate to those who really DO know a thing or two that we’re nuthin’ but a bunch of parochial ignoramuses.

  39. I liked Miguel Centellas comment on how Evo Morales could neither be a capitalist or a socialist (possibly). Instead he very likely is a popularist. It reminds of a current American talking head…CNN’s Lou Dobbs. Mr. Dobbs cannot be economically liberal because he was so rabidly economically conservative throughout the 80s and 90s. He cannot be economically conservative because he has done a 180 on his editorial stance since he returned to CNN after founding Therefore, he must be a populist. His hopes of CNNfn being anything like CNBC failed. He threw temper tantrums during his time as a CNNfn executive, and now he has a show that airs at 6 PM ET with only a repeat at 4 AM ET. Hurricane Katrina (and later Anderson Cooper) took over his 11 PM ET replay spot that enabled people in MT and PT to watch him. Now ET people have to rush home to see him on time, and CT people have to rush home to catch half of his show. Fortunately, those of us in MT and PT luck out; we miss him if we work a normal work day. I guess his easy on the ears economics and nationalistic crusade has hopes of getting some viewers… This thread is about Evo Morales and Latin America, right? I am not sure if Mr. Dobbs really likes Mexicans or not (he claims that they have “wonderful work ethics,” but…)…

  40. Evo Morales better be careful… Confessions of An Economic Hit Man by John Perkins comes to mind.

  41. anhhung: yeah, but it was funny!

    Thanks, from an easily amused co-left-coaster. (Or left-sider, anyway, if you’re not as far to the continent’s left as me and peggysue, who lives a few dozen miles north from me across the Straits of Juan de Fuca.)

  42. “desertrose” Says:

    January 4th, 2006 at 4:03 am

    Evo Morales better be careful… Confessions of An Economic Hit Man by John Perkins comes to mind. YUP! Terrifying. I wish everyone would read that book–although it was a NYT bestseller, so someone must’ve…

  43. “Nikos”: The fact that people have managed to be creative and enterprising under domination and intrusion by governments of all sorts, including but not limited to ours and Sweden’s, only serves to illustrate the indomitability and inevitability of the human capacity to burst through the pavement of oppression like hardy weeds and offer themselves to the light of life and truth. That many people credit all of the good to their masters is just the mystic/religious twitch applied to the secular religion of state worship which has partially replaced other worship in the modern era. En garde! Speak! SPEAK!

  44. Hey! Speak of the devil–there’s an extensive review of the life and mouth H.L. Mencken from 1962 or so here: ! The man had a propensity for putting society’s foibles into a full-nelson with words–or better, he served at ringside as commentator as society punched itself in the schnoz over and over through the ages.

  45. A note of clarification on the whole “socialist” v. “populist” issue & other things about Evo Morales.

    First, Evo is more of a nationalist than a socialist (though one can be both, of course). But his rhetoric comes from Bolivia’s 1952 National Revolution.

    Second, Evo is “indigenous” in the loosest sense, but he’s not an “indigenista” politician (like, say, Felipe Quispe). Also, while Evo has used his ethnicity as a political tool, we must remember that ethnicity in Bolivia is very complicated. Not only because many people move from “mestizo” (mixed blood) to “indigena” (native indigenous) often merely on the basis of dress, dialect, etc. But also because the indigenous population in Bolivia is also split w/ many internal rivalries (such as conflicts between Quechua & Aymara speakers).

    Third, when I say that Evo is a populist, that has nothing to do w/ “popularity” or “being for the people” as some think. Populism is an organizational method, not an ideological belief. It’s related to patron-client networks (clientelism), where social groups are gathered together under an umbrella, but w/ the leader of the broader movement using his charisma or other resources (including financial, or threats, or favors, etc) to bind together other group leaders into a coalition. The subleaders are then responsible for keeping their clients in line, and down the line. This is a rather hierarchical type of organizational pattern, which doesn’t actually give a lot of participation. Marching in a protest is NOT “participation” if it’s a requirement (i.e. being fined by your local syndicate boss if you don’t march).

    Durign the 2005 Bolivan presidential campaign, the three main candidates (Evo Morales, Tuto Quiroga, and Samuel Doria Medina) didn’t lead “political parties”, but rather broad populist coalitions. In the months before the elections, all three engaged in very public negotiations w/ different local syndicates, trade unions, civic groups, etc, to curry their support. So while Tuto was a populist whose campaign had some pro-market rhetoric, he also made many leftist and anti-neoliberal remarks during the campaign (not to mention that his party used red w/ a yellow star as symbol). Doria Medina did the same thing. So did Evo. It was very difficult to figure out what either of them really proposed to do.

    Clearly, many of Evo’s advisors (who are older Trotsyite leaders from the 1960s) are socialists (but of the revolutionary nationalist variety). But there’s been little indication that Evo himself is a socialist or adherent of orthodox Marxism in any studied way. Instead, he’s demonstrated that he’s more concerned w/ using populist rhetoric & organization to pressure the government. Now that he’s been elected, the groups that joined his campaign are demanding cabinet posts, etc. He’s going to have a hard time balancing his own coalition, not to mention an opposition-dominated legislature. The groups (local civic organizations, syndicates, etc) are more interested in patronage & favors (this is the hallmark of clientelism, especially in a country w/ high levels of corruption) than in sticking to ideological commitments.

    In the end, the most important factors determining Evo’s presidency will not be the IMF, the US reaction, the broader “leftist movement” in Latin America (or beyond). It’ll be internal domestic Bolivian politics.

  46. ALYB: earlier last evening I thought (but failed) to post a message here thanking you for prodding me out of my Mencken ignorance. I went here:

    and thoroughly enjoyed the enlightenment.

    Then I promptly demonstrated Mencken’s inimitability (bad word invention there, sorry) by aping his caustic style at the end of my 2:06 AM post (funny, it wasn’t nearly that late out here!). And ‘aping’ is just the right verb too if an image of Nikos The Typing Chimp fleets through your mind. My point? Just to apologize to any offended by the near slur: ‘ignoramuses’.

    Oh, and I probably ought to have used ‘provincial’ in place of ‘parochial’ (although by definition parochial is pretty much synonymous). 😉

    Oh, and Sweden’s socialist government was (or is? sorry, I’m sadly ignorant of the current governing coalition) HARDLY ‘intrusive’. If you meant to imply that any socialist government is de facto akin to Stalinists like the USSR (or to what we colorfully called ‘Red China’ in my 1960’s youth), well, you need to be disabused, pal. Sweden’s socialists were voted in, and then out, and then in again. That’s the benefit of a parliamentary democracy—you get to choose between parties with honest-to-goodness policy differences! Imagine!

  47. What? Whaddya mean they don’t have Republicans in Sweden?! How they gonna defeat the Terrorists?!

    Whaddya mean they don’t have Terrorists?

    Whaddya mean they don’t operate an imperialist foreign policy?

    What kinda country do they think they’re runnin’?

    Bet they din’t help us in Eye-rack, either.


  48. Hello everyone,

    As an Argentinian, I find really puzzling that some posts here compare Kirchner with with other so-called leftist presidents in Latin America, and put him in the “bad guys� list.

    Sadly, many people in the US see politics in two colors: black and white. One option is to favor US foreign policy, love unregulated markets (aka “free markets�) and privatization of state owned assets, despise government subsidies (unless you are the US or the EU), and do everything you can to cut state funded social programs. Then you love freedom and democracy (even if you are a military dictatorship, Pakistan anyone?) and everything is good. If not, you are a dictator (although you may had been democratically elected), a communist, or whatever you want to call it. And things are not good. And God forbid if you want to cut off some of the economic ties with the US and create new ones with, say, China or the EU. Then things get messy. Ask any Ecuadorian about it.

    I have a little secret. You can be a democratically elected president that does not automatically follow the Washington line. Kirchner is a good example. Under his administration the economy is recovering after the 2001 collapse, founding for education, science and social programs has increased (can you say the same about the US?) and the foreign debt is being payed (we just canceled our debt with the IMF). There are of course much to do in all these issues. But as in any democracy, if the Argentinian citizens disagree with what the administration is doing, then Kirchner will be voted out of office in next elections. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what democracy looks like.

  49. As a self-admitted ignorant US citizen/resident, I want to thank voices from abroad like jmburgos, mcentellas, and the many others whose real-life experiences truly exapanded the horizons of discourse here on our US-centric blog.


  50. Ole Nick, the rightist alter-ego who voiced my (our) 2:09 PM post on Jan.3rd, has pointed out quite rightly that ‘imperialist’ as an adjective is a cliché overworked to the point of meaninglessness, especially when preceding ‘foreign policy’. My apologies.

    What I really meant was: “a foreign policy designed to advance the interests of American-led transnational corporations by any means necessary, not excluding the promotion of monopolistic foreign natural resource exploitation, the exploitation of wage-slaves laboring in inhumane conditions, and overthrow of democratically elected governments through subversion and assassination—such as Mossadeq in Iran and Allende in Chile, to name but two, even while hypocritically trumpeting the godly virtues of American style republicanism. A foreign policy that apparently breeds enough resentment and hatred to cause widespread applause when barbaric terrorists massacre American civilians.�

    Or somethin’ like that. Perhaps I’ll try to be less clichéd and more specific in future.

    Incidentally, Ole Nick says, “Yeah! Now that’s a REAL man’s foreign policy, not that pacifist crap from those sissie Swedes!� And then goes back to channel surfin’ between pro wrestling and Fox News.

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  52. As a matter of fact, the USA is not the only country to use its diplomacy to advance their economic interests, to say or imply that Sweden or any European country does not do that it´s not only unrealistic but also ignorant. It was the Europeans who started all these, and the Americans play the game, but they did not invented it. Actually, here in Mexico, the Spanish, German, French, and most European contries (the Swedish included, Astra Seneca, BBB, Ericson,etc) are always pushing their home corporations, among the most active are the spanish, the spanish government offices here are a mixture of spanish corporations and banks representatives, and they are not necessarily famous for paying the best salaries. These governments would do exactly the same as the USA, provided they had the power and means, but since they can´t, then they want to be seen as the good guys in the block with their foreign policy, but only a few naive people eat that crap. We all remember here in Mexico how the spanish, french and others tried to dominate us in the past. So after 5 or more hundred years of European nations trying to conquer and dominate the world now we are to believe all of a sudden they are the good guys, yeah right!.

  53. Angel: touche!

    You’re inarguably right about the European colonialist past. But I wasn’t speaking of that. Instead I meant the contemporary American global ‘strategic’ deployment of effectively invincible military forces, in a carefully crafted and calcualted policy to maintain the current world-order pyramid — an arrangement wherein the USA ideal of unrestrained capitalisim is wholly dominant, and wherein the international business climate favors American-linked multinationals (like the Bechtel idiocy in Bolivia) as far as the eye can see. A pyramid of dominance-and-submission wherein only a small (and perhaps fading) fear of seeming like a monstrous world-tyranny keeps the USA government from nuking reprobates like the “Axis of Evil.”

    As for the suggestion that the Swedes would behave like we Norte Americanos if only they could: well, I beg to differ. Perhaps it used to be true, but I met NO ONE in Sweden who would allow their government to behave like insatiable pigs. They’d vote ’em out and gently send ’em abroad: to the USA, where folks like that can always find good payin’ jobs in the Washington neo-con think-tanks.

    Anyway, despite this small defense of the Swedes, thanks for your post. (And please feel free to chime in on our other threads. Perspectives of knowledge from the wider world would only benefit our often parochial debates.)

  54. A little yellow bird Says: (January 3rd, 2006 at 9:34 pm) “I see people talk of free-markets and the degree that they seem to work”

    I cannot doubt that they are in operation; however, one must analyze who they work for. I believe the reason why most Americans are pro-free trade is because they are profitting from it. Is it in ‘operation’? Yes. Does it mean it works? Is it fair? “To whom are you speaking to” is my only reply. I have doubts that the poor citizens of Bolivia agree with it, and I’m sure they are aware and educated of it’s hazards, just as Jamaicans were.

    Here’s a good movie if you want to see a link between poverty and the money lending institutions and free-trade in Jamaica

    Life and Debt (maybe it is written as Life + Debt)

    I’m catching up to this post as I work… I’m suprised that there are few mentions to colonialism (including post-colonialism and the theoretical neo-colonialism [of which I have yet to digest]).

  55. Nikos: I have never been in Sweden, actually I have never been anywhere else in my life other than my poor little Mexico. All I know comes from what I read, listen, and see, and it passes through a glass I have somewhere between my brain and my eyes, that is a little distorted by local idiosyncracy, historical facts and events in country, my family upbringing, and of course, from my tv set and radio and internet. So I must give you credit and agree that what you say here about the swedish people is true. Please excuse me if I came too strong in my opinion above.

  56. Viva Michelle Bachelet! I am thrilled that Chile has elected a Socialist woman.

    “Bachelet is the daughter of an air force general who was tortured and died in prison after Augusto Pinochet seized power in 1973. She too was imprisoned by Pinochet’s regime before fleeing into exile.” quote from today’s 1/17/06 Democracy Now!

    Kind of a different outlook on torture than our corrupt republicans who like to use torture and supported Pinochet.

    As horrifying as my own government, (the evil Mr. Bush) is. Bachelet gives me hope.

  57. Jscorse says, “Many people continue to attribute all sorts of ills to free trade, capitalism, and markets that are simply based on sloppy thinking, sloppy methodology, confusing correlation with causation, and an inability to appreciate what the counterfactuals might have been…”

    After giving this article as an example of “right thinking”:

    Talk about sloppy thinking! This is a typical example of neoclassical economic reasoning where numbers are thrown into a statistical model without any real effort to think through the problem.

    The article concludes that the poorest farmers did not suffer from NAFTA because the majority do not sell food into the marketplace. It does not bother to ask the question — if they are buying food to survive, where do they get the money?

    Typically, especially in areas away from the larger cities, they get it by working for larger farmers. Since the very large farmers tend to have a dedicated workforce and use less labour intensive methods, a lot of that employment is middle sized farmers. And the article notes that middle sized farmers have been hit hard by NAFTA.

    And “confusing correlation with causation”? The entire empirical basis of the article is correlation, with causation brought in by assumption.

    And sloppy methodology? 80 percent of NAFTA by page count is devoted to issues of capital flows, yet before NAFTA was ratified some of the modelling used to project employment gains all around were based on the assumption of no capital flows between countries.

    And now after large numbers of Mexican minifundistas have been pushed over the brink by NAFTA, the argument has become, “sure, the projected employment gains did not occur, but it would have been even worse without NAFTA — NAFTA turned a catastrophe into a mere disaster”. Following that line of attack, no matter how badly any policy fails, it is a success, because we can synthesize a counterfactual that makes it look rosy by comparison.

  58. BruceMcF Says:

    February 2nd, 2006 at 12:11 am

    “sure, the projected employment gains did not occur, but it would have been even worse without NAFTA — NAFTA turned a catastrophe into a mere disaster�.

    On this topic…

    …We always seem to get to the point of ‘two roads diverged’. Do we really know what would have happened had these events not occured?

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