Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that the problem with socialists is that “they always run out of other people’s money” faced a unique challenge in Venezuela: during the course of a decade and a half, the government received nearly $1 trillion in oil revenues— the equivalent in today’s money of more than seven Marshall Plans. This was enough to mask the effect of hundreds of expropriations, stifling economic controls, and otherwise running the private economy into the ground.
Part of the windfall was spent on social programmes, which temporarily improved some social indicators and made the regime popular among poor Venezuelans. But a couple of years ago, the then minister of education admitted that the aim of the regime’s policies was “not to take the people out of poverty so they become middle class and then turn into escuálidos” (a derogatory term to denote opposition members). In other words, the government wanted grateful, dependent voters, not prosperous Venezuelans.