Socialism and Other Crimes in Venezuela by Benjamin M. Wiegold Ludwig von Mises Institute

In the aftermath of the brutal murder of Venezuelan lawmaker Robert Sierra and his wife Maria Herrera, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said in a speech on October 27 that he will “purge” and “revolutionize” the country’s police forces. This comes in response to not only the murder of Sierra, but also to the murder of militia leader José Odreman a week later, and to the general failure of law enforcement to address soaring crime rates in the country.

Venezuela has the second highest murder per capita rate in the world behind Honduras. A 2013 Gallup poll ranked Venezuela as the most “insecure nation in the world,” a sentiment shared by many of its citizens: 2014 Gallup polls showed that only 19 percent of Venezuelans felt safe to walk alone at night.

Maduro dismissed the notion that the recent murder of Robert Sierra resulted from a botched burglary, and rather insisted that it was a premeditated political assassination. He suspects that the vicious crime was facilitated through help of some within the police force itself.

Whether Maduro’s allegations are true is somewhat beside the point. The president is entirely correct in his prognosis, that the problem of Venezuelan crime is a radical one, requiring a drastic response. However, if Maduro’s support for the socialist Bolivarian Revolution is any indication, his efforts will do little to quell the violence plaguing the country.

The real culprit for the rampant crime in Venezuela is socialism.

A recent Forbes article detailed the ways in which the Venezuelan economy is on the brink. What the article didn’t mention is that Venezuela ranks 175th in the world on economic freedom, the lowest in South America behind only Cuba. Thus economic instability is to be expected and it’s no secret that harsh economic conditions encourage more criminal behavior.

But this isn’t the only way in which socialism is causing crime throughout the country. Usually terms like “capitalism” and “socialism” are applied to whole nations in a political context, but in an economic relation, this can apply to specific industries too. A nation becomes socialist when it abolishes private property in favor of state (public) property, so concomitantly an industry becomes socialist when private competition is abolished and the state takes over.

The provision of police services in Venezuela is of course socialist, leading to all of the expected inefficiencies and poor service that are endemic to socialist institutions. The policing function is disconnected from the price system — being funded through compulsory taxation rather than voluntary trade — meaning there is no feedback mechanism to assist in crime prevention. Part of Maduro’s plan is to give the army a greater role in local police functions and he has therefore announced a 45 percent raise for army personnel. But without market generated feedback, he has no way to gauge how profitable (or unprofitable) this move will be.

Furthermore, absent competition, the incentives of police officers and administrators is greatly diminished, aside from the occasional good will that some of them may possess. Even still, to the extent that some are motivated by the desire to uphold their oaths and to serve and protect the citizenry, surely there are just as many who, given their privileged position, seek to exploit their power through extortion, deals with drug cartels, or even political assassinations.

Human Rights Watch claims that the “police commit one of every five crimes” in Venezuela. But the corruption isn’t simply limited to the local level, as the regime crimes of former President Hugo Chavez have been well documented. Given that Maduro was Chavez’s hand-picked successor, surely nothing has changed.

In his speech, Maduro said that he would create a new “ethic of power” to end the practice of police “using power to enrich oneself.” This is true to socialist form: attempting to change human nature rather than adapt to it. Whenever some people have power over others to force them around and to rule over them, it’s no surprise such power will be abused. Wherever this unaccountable police power exists, there are no meaningful checks and balances because power creates a moral hazard that is difficult for anyone to overcome.

Even a country as developed as the United States isn’t immune from the detrimental effects of socialist institutions, as Chicago homicide rates provide a chilling reminder of. At the federal level, the list of corruption scandals in the U.S. isn’t limited to just Watergate either, but is in fact rather lengthy and comprehensive.

Fortunately there is an alternative, namely capitalism. America has begun to provide an example for the world in the development of private security firms. Today there are three times as many private security agents than public police in the country. In general, the private security industry is booming with the increasing popularity of alarm systems, safes, window bars, personal firearms, etc.

In response to the failure of governments to prevent crime, Latin America is also seeing a huge increase in the employment of private police. A concern with this development is that most Latin Americans live in poverty due to socialist economic policies in the region, and are therefore unable to afford such protection. The other more pressing concern regards eliminating state corruption, since private security will be no defense against public criminals.

The only way to genuinely revolutionize the Venezuelan police forces and to finally reduce crime levels is through capitalist policies, unfortunately President Maduro is unlikely to adopt any of these.