May 22, 2007

An (dis)empowerment proxy

Quico says: Empowerment. Chavismo gives the poor the tools they need to gain mastery over their own lives, to realize the possibilities open to them and to seize them. That's the basic reason the reason to support the Bolivarian Revolution. Buxton dixit. And not just her, it's a central PSF theme.

But it's a slippery concept. How could you measure such a thing, how do you certify its extent? Can we imagine something like a reliable proxy, a metric to ensure that something more is going on here than Julia Buxton going to some Community Council meetings and having her ideological erogenous zones stroked?

Here's one possibility: if we can't measure empowerment, maybe we can measure its opposite. Maybe we can find a clear proxy for generalized hopelessness, for despair. Maybe we can measure what happens when the poor lose any confidence in the future, when their communities' sense of possibility withers away.

We have such a proxy already: the murder rate. And it has more than quadrupled in the eight years since Chávez came to power.

How can we reconcile chavismo's narrative of radical empowerment with the 18,381 corpses that turned up in Venezuelan morgues last year? How is it imaginable that communities newly and radically in charge of their own destinies kill each other at four times the rate of their radically disempowered counterparts of 1998? What sense does that make?