Friday, July 20, 2007

Venezuela's brain drain

It's a safe bet that Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chávez hasn't given much thought to the concept of labor as capital. Oh sure, he's given some scant surface level attention to the Marxist concept of the labor theory of value, but it's hard to be certain he even understood what that meant. Well, unfortunately for Chávez, he's going to have to start giving the human capital idea some serious thought, because Venezuela is starting to feel the pinch of the nemesis of every developing economy, the dreaded brain drain.

For those unfamiliar with the term, brain drain describes the loss of skilled labor in a national economy; doctors, engineers, lawyers, and so on. Chávez, whose populist politics are built on pandering to Venezuela's lowest economic classes, has made a point to label Venezuela's formerly sizable middle and upper classes as "fascists" and "parasites". It's been no secret that the middle and upper classes in Venezuela have been hostile to Chávez's use of Cuban style class struggle rhetoric, and have turned against him at the polls and in the streets. Nearly 3.4 million people, many of them from the middle and upper classes, were signatories to a petition in 2004 for a referendum to recall Chávez.

While the recall referendum failed to oust Chávez, the petition remained. Never failing to seize on a way to screw his enemies, Chávez demanded that the Venezuelan government get their hands on the petition signatures. Chávista parliamentarian, deputy Luis Tascón, did just this, publishing 2.4 million names and ID card numbers on the internet. This list, now known as the "Tascón list" suddenly provided the Chávez government with the personal information of millions of political opponents, and predictably, Chávez moved to get even.

Once the list was online, Chávez appeared on television to provide the URL of the list, and exhorted his supporters to go online to examine it. Within days, thousands of the signatories found themselves losing their jobs, both in the public and private sectors. Some signatories from the Venezuelan armed forces found themselves suddenly demoted, while others found their contracts with the Venezuelan government mysteriously revoked without explanation. The message was crystal clear: oppose Chávez, and you just might find yourself out of a job.

Between the Tascón List and Chávez's infatuation with painting the middle classes as fascist parasites, Venezuela's educated professional classes found themselves doing something they'd never imagined doing before: leaving Venezuela. The numbers of people leaving, which had started as a trickle, is now turning into a torrent. A number estimated at more than 150,000 mostly middle class Venezuelans have fled to the United States alone, with many more applying for visas at the American embassy in Caracas, with hundreds of thousands of others reportedly heading to Europe, Canada and Brazil. The attitude of the Chávez government appears to be along the lines of "good riddance to bad rubbish", but there's certainly cause for concern. Not all of the same people who are fleeing Venezuela are idle plutocrats. Most of them are the trained professional specialists that a nation relies on to function, like the aforementioned doctors and engineers. So what is Venezuela doing to stop the brain drain?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It seems that Chávez is content to let malcontents leave, reasoning that one less political opponent equates to one less vote against him the next time he runs for office. The thought that the loss of the people who run his hospitals, power plants, law firms and the like, not to mention the loss of an ever increasing chunk of his tax base, might be a disaster doesn't appear to have crossed his mind. The thought that so many of his skilled professionals are going to the United States, home of his sworn enemy George W. Bush doesn't appear to have occurred to him either. Apparently, he suffers from a classic delusion that when enough force is applied, a political enemy will be converted into an ally when he or she gets tired of fighting the system. The answer, incidentally, appears to be a resounding "no". They'll simply pack up and leave, taking as much of their money and all of their skills with them.

Some Venezuelans have voiced concerns about the possibility of Chávez restricting travel from Venezuela along the lines of Fidel Castro's Cuba, but for the time being, the Chávez government appears content to use emigration as a political steam release valve. Will Chávez crack down on professionals leaving once the effects of brain drain become too severe to ignore? We probably won't know for a few more years yet, but in the meantime, Miami welcomes the cream of the Venezuelan crop. Chávez's brain drain is proving to be America's gain.


beakerkin said...

This is 100% true. I think Venezuela was in the top five countries for the limited H-1b visas. India and China are one and two. Venezuela may even be as high as number three.

Commies see what they want to see. I wish we could make a trade our useless leftists for these professionals.

Anonymous said...

This post is ridiculous and totally without real support. Thus, it's useless to discuss it.

Michael Wardell said...

Chavez's idearain drain was/is to replace the emmigrating professionals with Cubans. NO WORD OF A LIE! I was in Venezuela from 1997 to 2007. Venezuelan doctors were/are being replaced by Cuban doctors, in order to provide free health care for the poor. GOOGLE Barrio Adentro.

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