February 18, 2008

Empire of Doublethink

Quico says: I'm a bit late to this story, but I don't want to let it go without comment. The way Chávez justified his decision to raise milk prices last month really was something else. Here (edited for clarity) is what he said on Aló back on January 20th:
I know and I'm aware that the price of milk at Bs.1,100 has fallen short, and I'm willing to raise it a bit to benefit the primary producers, although of course we have to think of the consuming public so the price doesn't keep rising. I'm willing, and I announce it to the milk producers of the country, [to raise the price of] farm gate milk from Bs.1,100 to Bs.1,500, and I hope all the producers will respond as we need, instead of just making cheeses or taking it out to Colombia, which I consider treason - they are betraying their own pueblo. Milk must first of all be for Venezuelans...so we are revising the price of milk...because we know production costs have risen.
Did you catch it? It goes by so fast it's easy to miss but, within a single soundbite, the guy both accepted that price controls lead to shortages and blamed shortages on producers' treachery.

In the same breath, he both concedes the utility maximization model of producer behavior - that cornerstone of mainstream microeconomics with its upward-sloping supply curves and its producers who rationally respond to price hikes by expanding production - and he rejects it in favor of a normative explanation. So when producers respond to high prices by increasing supply they're acting rationally, but when they respond to low prices by decreasing supply they're betraying the people.

This makes no sense. And I mean that in the strictly formal sense. If something is true, it cannot simultaneusly be not-true. Either the supply curve slopes upward or it doesn't.

The rest is doublethink. That's what Orwell called it. As usual, he had this stuff pegged decades ahead of the game. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, he wrote about:
...the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully-constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy; to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved using doublethink.
Orwell's prescience is scary. I mean, that passage reads like it came straight out of Andrés Izarra's manual...just straightforward chavista S.O.P.

What's terrifying is the way doublethink has become routinized in the Chávez era. Nobody bats an eyelash anymore. Chávez's inner circle long ago understood that taking the boss to task over this kind of thing is an excellent way to cut short your political career. The oppo commentariat gave up, understandably exhausted. Doublethink became "normal."

You know things have come to a head when it becomes a dangerous, counter-revolutionary thing to say, but I'll say it anyway:

There. That's a weight off my shoulders.

I'll expect my CIA check in the mail any time now.