About a month ago, I had the opportunity to attend a liberty-minded economics conference in Atlanta, Georgia, organized by the Foundation for Economic Education. As a History major, I’m not very familiar with economics (and honestly, I’ve always found the subject intimidating because it involves math). So, FeeCon was a great learning experience for me. I was able to attend informational classes and learn how economics and freedom centered politics are interrelated. Freedom facilitates success in the free-market, and success in the free-market results in a prosperous people. They go hand in hand. One of the most memorable experiences I had was attending a class discussing barriers to freedom in Latin America. When I saw the option of that class on my schedule, I immediately knew that I wanted to attend. My father is from Peru, and as I have visited my Peruvian relatives in the past, I have felt an ache for them to experience the same freedoms I have as an American.
When the time came to attend the class, it turned out to be a panel of Hispanic men and women, some of whom teach economics at universities in South America. Two of the men were from Venezuela. They somberly related the scene of devastation in their country. I was shocked as they told the story of how Venezuela has changed over the past 50 years, and even more drastically in the last 20 years. I’m 25, so I have only heard negative and sad things about Venezuela. However, during this meeting, I learned that before the 1980s Venezuela was an affluent country. They have incredible oil resources, comparable to countries in the middle east. The professors on the panel described that their country used to be a beautiful, wealthy, place that tourists frequented. Today, no one wants to go there. In fact, the citizens are fleeing. In 2015 the exodus from Venezuela was under 700,000 people. Today, it is over 4 million (1). Most of these people escape to Peru or Columbia. I remember seeing vendors on the street of Peru selling food, and my aunts and uncles explaining to me that there are many Venezuelans who flee their country and sell food on the street to survive. Latin Americans have an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. I also remember a woman I met in Peru who was from Venezuela. She told me she had looked for a job but was repeatedly turned down by employers because she was from Venezuela. In Peru, people are not protected from employment discrimination.
I was shocked to hear of the tragic deterioration of the once-prosperous country of Venezuela. How did this happen? A woman from the panel told of how Cuba exported communism to Venezuela. Cuban leaders sought out and met with individuals from Venezuela and taught them how to start a socialist/communist movement. As a result, the country has slowly declined since the eighties. The absence of a free-market economy has slowly been killing their country. Though, the silver lining is that the professors said people are starting to wake up. They are beginning to realize that the chaos, violence, and extreme destitution they are experiencing is because they gave away their freedom. Specifically, one comment near the end of the presentation made by a Venezuelan economics teacher caught my attention and touched my heart. In slightly broken English, he testified that he has a lot of hope for his country, and his people. He sees his people learning correct principles, recognizing the value of the free-market, and working to save their country, and this is the source of his hope.
As he finished his simple, firm, statement of hope, I was blown away. I (and I don’t think I’m alone) sometimes feel hopeless about America. We have lost some ground, and often our policies are headed in the wrong direction. There are groups of people who strongly believe in the claimed virtues of socialism. And in contrast to the principles our country was founded on, those facts are disheartening. However, we are far from the position of Venezuela. We are not desperate for the necessities of life or fleeing our country to find safety. If the people of Venezuela have reason to hope, then Americans absolutely can find hope.
Part of the reason this class was such a powerful experience for me is that it was a perfect case study of how quickly socialist and communist ideas can ruin a country. I’m a policy intern at the Madison Liberty Institute because I care about freedom, and I see how it is being attacked. But to hear first-hand the sorrow that has descended on Venezuela, and so quickly, was astonishing to me. I don’t ever want that to happen to the country I love, or to the people I love. Freedom and free-market economics facilitate a prosperous, happy people. And that’s the American dream that I want to shoulder and promote. Like the Venezuelan man who inspired me, I choose hope.
1: Tom Phillips, “Venezuela’s ‘staggering’ exodus reaches 4 million, UN refugee agency says” The Guardian, June 7, 2019. Accessed July 16, 2019. [Link]
Lindsey Zea is a Policy and Research Associate with the Madison Liberty Institute. Lindsey holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from BYU-Idaho and loves finding applications of history to current events and political debates. She also serves as a Policy Analyst with the Better Cities Project (BCP) and formerly interned with the Libertas Institute in Utah.