“Let them eat cake.”
Apocryphally attributed to Marie-Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI of France prior to the revolution, the smarmy line she supposedly offered when told people were dying of hunger keeps ringing over and over in culture after culture, almost as if history is repeating.
The newest echo comes to us from, where else, the socialist utopia of Venezuela, where, according to Josh Guckert, writing for The Libertarian Republic, the collectivist government spent 650,000 Bolivars (about $65,000 U.S.) on a massive cake honoring the birthday of dead President Hugo Chavez. This, despite the fact that the Venezuelan economy is as dead as Chavez, and the starving population has resorted to crossing into Columbia for food or killing pigeons, dogs and cats for meat.
Deriving his information from an original report in the Venezuelan paper Informe21 that features photos of the big party, the rather ugly cake, and current President Nicolas Maduro cutting it, Guckert notes that the cake required massive amounts of food staples starving Venezuelans desperately need:
“…720 eggs, 50 pounds of butter, 200 pounds each of flour and sugar, and 44 gallons of milk. Based on these measurements, the total cost would be somewhere around 650,000 Venezuelan Bolívars or $65,000. This would be enough to purchase at least 541 government food distribution packages.”
While one wonders how all those ingredients can cost $65,000, the point is clear. As with all other collectivist nations in history -- nations that were spawned by ideas from people such as Rousseau and Marx and supposedly exist to help “the common man” – the politicians who run the government get what they want, while the people are forced to suffer, or, in many cases, forced to labor for the government.
In fact, while the government bureaucrats in Venezuela and US leftists like Bernie Sanders who continue to promote collectivism as the answer to “income inequality” eat very well, their command-economics destroy the price mechanism required for market participants to be able to allocate supply to fit demand. Collectivism also destroys the incentives to work, as the settlers at Plymouth Plantation discovered hundreds of years ago.
In his notes about their first few years, and the decisions that led to their near eradication due to starvation, Plymouth Governor William Bradford wrote in 1623 that the settlers had tried the “Platonic Ideal” of communal property and mandated collective work, and…
“For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.”
Luckily, Governor Bradford and the survivors at Plymouth changed their political paradigm and instituted private property and ownership of the fruits of one’s labor. Soon thereafter, the people became industrious and prospered, to such an extent, in fact, that they could trade with the local Indian tribes and instituted the famous Thanksgiving to feast on their abundance.
The abundance did not come at the expense of others. In a market economy, productivity increases because competing sellers try to offer more to the consumer for less, beating their competition.
In collectivist economies this is impossible. In fact, it is philosophically verboten.
Which is why the people in Venezuela are not only starving, but are also now being told by the government in an emergency decree that they will be forced to farm the empty and fruitless fields - all while the government officials eat cake.
Since Marie-Antoinette likely did not say those lines, we cannot claim that the Venezuelan collectivist politicians were inspired by her, but they sure do follow in that unctuous and hypocritical tradition.
The contrast is clear. In Venezuela, while the store shelves are empty and people do not have enough to eat, politicians take valuable food away from the market and celebrate collectivism. In market economies, the shelves are full of treats, industries grow, and the suppliers of them are constantly trying to lower their costs and prices.
In one country, only the connected get to eat much of anything.
In others that are more market-oriented, the people can get what they want.
Perhaps, this collectivist idea will finally be recognized for the failure it is, but one can’t count on it. After all, it has been centuries since collectivism almost killed everyone in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the collectivist education system in the US doesn’t teach kids that lesson.