More interesting is whether progressive redistributive governments can ever succeed in poor countries marked by deep inequality. This particularly applies to those rich in minerals and hence vulnerable to the “resource curse“ that unbalances their economies and poisons their politics.
Venezuela shows what happens when it all goes wrong. Possession of the world’s largest proven oil reserves during the decade of high global hydrocarbon prices after 2005 gave the former president Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro plenty of rope to strangle their country. True, social spending increased, but money was sprayed around with huge inefficiency — and oil prices could not forever defy gravity.
委内瑞拉的例子表明在出错的时候会发生什么。在2005年后的十年里，全球碳氢化合物价格保持高位，而委内瑞拉拥有世界上最丰富的已探明石油储量，这让前任总统乌戈•查韦斯(Hugo Chávez)及其继任者尼古拉斯•马杜罗(Nicolás Maduro)能够为所欲为，窒息国家发展。没错，社会支出增加了，但资金配置极度缺乏效率，而油价不可能永远涨上天。
Meanwhile, hundreds of companies were nationalised and often run into the ground by the regime’s cronies. Multiple exchange rates were used to dole out hard currency to favoured recipients, a currency black market flourished and the basic functioning of the economy collapsed.
Meanwhile Bolivia, another, much poorer, South American country, has shown that it is perfectly possible to use oil and gas revenue to achieve widescale redistribution. In the 11 years that Evo Morales has served as Bolivia’s president — and despite a similar line in frothy revolutionary rhetoric to Messrs Chávez and Maduro — he has managed to reduce the poverty rate in the country by a third while maintaining economic stability.
Mr Morales must be one of the world’s few presidents who inveighs fervently against the iniquities of global capitalism while receiving regular plaudits from the International Monetary Fund. Like Mr Chávez, he has increased social spending, though not always efficiently. Unlike Venezuela, Bolivia has maintained fiscal buffers, cushioning public spending from falls in the oil and gas price.
Meanwhile, although the rest of the economy remains under-developed, Mr Morales’s government has been restrained in taking over private businesses, including those owned by foreign investors, and the currency has been pegged against the dollar at a reasonably competitive rate with free movement of capital.
But economically, there is no particular reason that Bolivia’s redistributive model, whether or not called socialism, must collapse. True, if low oil prices persist, there will have to be some retrenchment in government spending and Bolivia will need to find other sources of growth to continue the process of reducing poverty. But the buffers that have been built up means this can be done gradually.
Venezuela is what happens when a corrupt and thuggish socialist regime gets hold of oil revenues and then destroys the economy. But it does not follow that large-scale income redistribution in a natural resource state must necessarily end in disaster.