Sunday, July 31, 2016

Forced Labor in Venezuela

By David Henderson of EconLog.
"Well, Venezuela's government has now taken the next step--to forced labor.

Here's Richard Washington, "Venezuela calls for mandatory labor in farm sector," on CNBC:

A Venezuelan ministry last week announced Resolution No. 9855, which calls for the establishment of a "transitory labor regime" in order to relaunch the agricultural and food sector. The decree says that the government must do what is "necessary to achieve strategic levels of self-sufficiency," and states that workers can be forcefully moved from their jobs to work in farm fields or elsewhere in the agricultural sector for periods of 60 days.
Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, stated:
Trying to tackle Venezuela's severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid.
Good for her for pointing out the futility of the measure but her analogy is inexact because it understates the damage done by the forced-labor measure. A band aid is low-cost. Shifting labor out of its current uses is potentially high-cost.

Here's a better analogy although it's inexact in the opposite direction:

Trying to tackle Venezuela's severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg by breaking one's arm.

This gets right the damage done to the non-food sector because labor used in agriculture cannot be used elsewhere. It may slightly understate the benefit to the ag sector because, while breaking an arm does nothing for the broken leg, shifting non-ag labor to the ag sector may increase agricultural output somewhat. But not by much because the non-ag labor is not particularly good at ag labor, which is one reason it's not in ag labor.

But the whole thing--both her analogy and mine--ignores the horror of the situation. One of the biggest accomplishments of the last two centuries has been the elimination of slavery, much of which was used in agriculture--in most of the Western world. Venezuela's government has taken a further step back to that horrible institution.

At long last, Nicolas Maduro, have you no sense of decency? Have you no shame?"

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