Mises’ “Critique of Interventionism” restaged in Venezuela

Eighty years ago the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises showed how a supposedly “targeted” state intervention in a free economy can produce a whole spiral of follow-up interventions. Government interference produces unintended consequences, which are then, mistakenly, addressed by further government interference.

Mises used the example of government setting a maximum price for an ‘essential’ commodity. Since suppliers are unwilling to sell their whole stock at the fixed price, shortages and waiting lists result. The government then steps in again and forces suppliers to sell off all their inventories. But eventually inventories deplete and there is no incentive anymore to produce the good in sufficient quantities. Hence, the government must take control of the whole process of production.

This process is now taking place in Venezuela. Act by act, events follow the screenplay written by the professor from Vienna. When the Chavez government introduced maximum prices for rice, rice started to run short. After forced sales and production controls did not solve the problem either, the government started taking over producer companies. Seizures are said to be “temporary”, but we know by now what “temporary” means in a political context. And the phenomenon is spreading to other food markets as well.

It is not difficult to guess what the nationalised food producers will be like. After Petroleos de Venezuela was taken over, the company quickly became a mixture of oil producer, government PR department, and funding source for Chavez-cronies at home and abroad (see here).

Ludwig von Mises argued that “partial interventionism” is not sustainable in the long run. An economy will either return to the free market or go down the route to full-blooded socialism. Hugo Chavez would seem to prefer the latter option.

Given the recent pronouncements of the Financial Services Authority, it would appear that a similar process is taking place in the UK banking sector.

One could argue that we’ve had ‘partial interventionism’ in the UK all my life time. I don’t know how old I need to be before that constitutes the ‘long run’?

Hayek defined what he meant by the sort of interventionism that would lead to totalitarianism in some of his interviews after The Road to Serfdom was published. From memory, I think he was very much focusing on price control and central planning rather than reguluation. This would seem logical. If you have price control, then resources will be allocated in a more and more distorted way and the planner then tries to rectify this by forcing people to do this or that job or produce this or that product.

Price control.. everything became a lot more complicated when Chavez started those

Given the recent pronouncements of the Financial Services Authority, it would appear that a similar process is taking place in the UK banking sector.

One could argue that we’ve had ‘partial interventionism’ in the UK all my life time. I don’t know how old I need to be before that constitutes the ‘long run’?

Hayek defined what he meant by the sort of interventionism that would lead to totalitarianism in some of his interviews after The Road to Serfdom was published. From memory, I think he was very much focusing on price control and central planning rather than reguluation. This would seem logical. If you have price control, then resources will be allocated in a more and more distorted way and the planner then tries to rectify this by forcing people to do this or that job or produce this or that product.

Price control.. everything became a lot more complicated when Chavez started those

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