May 21, 2008

There's no accountability without accounting

Quico says: A few days ago, Katy posted a link to this Rory Carroll piece in The Guardian, to mixed reactions. Personally, I thought it was a pretty good, up-to-date primer. But the bit that really caught my eye was this paragraph on Land Reform:
Nobody had a clue how much this was costing. Government agencies hum with young helpful staff in red T-shirts who consult maps of farmland with swooping arrows showing the next phase of "recovery". But queries about budgets are met with blank looks. In Barinas I visited the auditing agency Superintendencia Nacional de Cooperativas (Sunacoop), the National Land Institute, the credit agency Fondafa and the agriculture ministry. Not one could say how much money was being ploughed into the land. Was it $5m, $50m, $500m, $1bn? Shrugs. The lack of accountability is astonishing. Even petro-boom Venezuela has finite resources.
This kind of thing always baffles and fascinates me. There's a limitless pathos to this little anecdote: the inviability of the revolution condenced into a single paragraph.

It seems to me that behind all the anti-capitalist rhetoric, what lurks is a knee-jerk aversion to accounting. The revolution thinks it below its dignity to work through such grubby concerns as, y'know, whether its economic initiatives cost more than their product is worth.

"Capitalist values!" they'll scream. "The bourgeois fixation with profit!"

These people are revolted by the very thought that a cost and benefit calculus can ever be a basis for action. But, when you think about it, what is profit if not an accounting expression of what happens when the things you produce are worth more than the things you use to produce them with?

What can you expect from people who lionize the principle of indifference to profits other than unchecked waste?

I guess what I mean is that it's anything but a surprise that the revolution consistently uses up Bs.5 worth of lemons to make Bs.3 worth of lemonade. Just the opposite: that's more or less the cornerstone of its economic vision.