SANTIAGO, Chile — This column is written from Chile, where I’m visiting my daughter and her family and taking the opportunity to do some in-country tourism. While not my first visit to Santiago, it’s the first of any length and the first to include travel to some of Chile’s tourist attractions outside the capital.
Easter weekend we were in the Lake District 500 miles to the south, where we sampled world-famous salmon fishing and observed Villarrica Volcano venting steam and ash. The fishing was fun if unproductive, and the volcano only revealed its smoking summit when the clouds cleared on a beautiful Easter morning.
Chile is one of South America’s most successful economies, no thanks to local leftists who continue to believe the government should “take care of the poor.” No greater hoax — not even the Easter Bunny — has been foisted on so-called intellectuals than the idea poverty is a condition that can be “cured” by central government planning and generosity.
And many governments in South America have tried it to differing degrees. Cuba is the most noteworthy example, of course, with its successful overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro in 1959. Castro first declared a revolutionary socialist state, and then in 1965 declared himself leader of the ruling communist party. This is a common progression for such dictatorships: first they’re a peoples’ party, then a socialist state, and finally a communist revolution.
The progress is predictable: the ruling party declares itself the savior of the landless and the poor, then it takes over large farms to distribute to small farmers, then factories to give to the workers, and finally controls the entire economy. You know you’ve arrived at the highest pinnacle of communism when the papers devote much of their daily coverage to mindless worship of the president, when price controls and import restrictions are imposed, and when stories begin to filter out of shortages of the most basic commodities.
Cuba is caught in a 50-year time warp with the economy about where it was when Castro came to power — except for the thousands of people who drowned trying to flee to the USA and elsewhere. Venezuela, a once-wealthy oil producer that has prided itself on good relations with the Castro brothers since 1998, is now following Cuba’s crumbling path. The government stopped keeping statistics on shortages of consumer goods a year ago, when that index reached 28 percent and “empty store shelves in Venezuela” became the country’s leading Twitter hashtag.
Chile has in the past toyed with progressive politics (“progressive” is a total misnomer: it’s a 19th century political philosophy that has failed everywhere). The current president, Michele Bachelet, has lived in the USA, Australia and East Germany and has studied medicine, economics and military strategy. She’s Chile’s first female president and leader of the Socialist Party. One could expect she might follow Venezuela’s and Cuba’s lead, but a successful market economy has existed here for years and exports include much more than the copper that’s mined here.
Chances are excellent you see abundant Chilean products in your grocery store: wines, grapes and other delicious fruits. This trade with the USA (and elsewhere) is no accident — Chilean producers and exporters have access to foreign exchange and transportation links are excellent. Bachelet’s social policies have raised some eyebrows, but her economic policies have been the most successful in South America. The robust economy is an example of successful policies in a continent full of crashing failures.