Reading through a New York Times description of the food riots underway in Venezuela, now that the country’s been destroyed by socialism, I’m struck by some obvious juxtapositions that are well separated in the text. Paragraph 1:
With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard.
Down the coastal road in a small fishing town called Boca de Uchire, hundreds gathered on a bridge this month to protest because the food deliveries were not arriving.
Make it more difficult and expensive to bring food, and food will be harder to get. More stunning is how familiar it all seems. The scenes of destruction of the very infrastructure necessary to produce, transport, store, and sell food are like something out of Manzoni’s description of the Milan bread riots of the Seventeenth Century in The Betrothed. And it’s not just the people’s counter-productive behavior. Here’s the Times:
In response, [President Nicolas] Maduro has tightened his grip over the food supply. Using emergency decrees he signed this year, the president put most food distribution in the hands of a group of citizen brigades loyal to leftists, a measure critics say is reminiscent of food rationing in Cuba. …
At the same time, the government also blames an “economic war” for the shortages. It accuses wealthy business owners of hoarding food and charging exorbitant prices, creating artificial shortages to profit from the country’s misery.
Here’s Manzoni (page 232 of the Penguin Classics printing):
People forget that they have feared and predicted the shortage, and suddenly begin to believe that there is really plenty of grain, and that the trouble is that it is being kept off the market. Though there are no earthly or heavenly grounds for that belief, it gives food to people’s anger and to their hopes. Real or imaginary hoarders of grain, landowners who did not sell their entire crop within twenty-four hours, bakers who bought grain and held it in stock — everyone in fact who possessed or was thought to possess grain was blamed for the shortage and for the high prices …
… [The magistrates] fixed maximum prices for a number of foodstuffs, they decreed penalties for anyone who refused to sell at those prices, and passed one or two other regulations of that kind. But all the official measures in the world, however vigorous they may be, cannot lessen a man’s need for food, nor produce crops out of season. The measures actually taken on this occasion were certainly not calculated to attract imports from other areas where there might conceivably be a surplus. …
… [Grand Chancellor Antonio] Ferrer was behaving like a lady of a certain age, who thinks she can regain her youth by altering the date on her birth certificate.
We have centuries… millennia… of lessons. Right now, we can learn once again from Venezuela. I fear too many people lack the basis to make the obvious connections.