Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The truth does catch up eventually 

It is a famous saying that a lie can make it half way around the world before the truth even gets its shoes on. I have always found that to be true.

A good example would be the non-sense about poverty having increased under Chavez. It is true that for a time poverty increased under Chavez but that was after opposition led coup and oil strike so that anyone even remotely honest would have to admit that was likely more the fault of the opposition than Chavez.

Nevertheless, about a year ago a propagandizing op-ed writer for the Miami Herald, Andres Oppenheimer, seized the idea that poverty was indeed up under Chavez and advocated it be used as a propaganda tool against him:

If the Bush administration is really serious about countering democratically elected Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez's claims that he is a champion of the poor and victim of a U.S. smear campaign, here's an idea -- broadcast the Venezuelan government's own poverty statistics.
Indeed, the latest poverty figures from Venezuela's official National Institute of Statistics -- buried in a mountain of figures deep in the bowels of its Internet site, www.ine.gov.ve -- contain the most damning condemnation of the Chávez government I have seen anywhere.
The figures, on Page 5 of the Institute's Social Report, show that poverty in Venezuela rose from 43 percent to 54 percent of the population during Chávez's first four years in office. And extreme poverty -- the percentage of the population that lives on less than $1 a day -- grew from 17 percent to 25 percent during the same period, the figures show.
These are stunning figures, not only because Chávez is going around Latin America proclaiming to be heading a ''Bolivarian revolution'' to help the poor, but also because the rise in poverty during his tenure has taken place at the very time when Venezuela has been benefiting from its greatest oil boom in recent history.

Of course, even when this article was written it was pretty clearly false. The numbers were already out of date as poverty had declined significantly by May of 2005 and Mr. Oppenheimer didn’t see fit to mention little details like oil strikes. For those interested in the details of this subject I have written extensively on it here, here, and here.

Nevertheless, this article had a big impact. Other newspapers ran the story. But more importantly all sorts of other writers for newspapers, magazines, and even academic publications picked up what became established wisdom – that Chavez the populist had increased poverty.

Although I knew that wasn’t true and so did a fair amount of other people I despaired of doing anything about it. After all, once misinformation like that makes it into the mainstream media it is hard to get rid of as newspapers often just use other newspapers as their source.

Fortunately, Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy Research came to the rescue. Not only did he write a well researched article on the true Venezuelan poverty numbers but he and others fought tirelessly for the record to be set straight. So much so that poor Andres Oppenheimer complained about it in his blog and has had to grudgingly admit that poverty may indeed have gone down.

And that is not the end of it. Yesterday when reading the New York Times I thought I was reading a interesting little editorial on a Manatee that somehow wound up in the Hudson when out of the corner of my eye I caught this in the “For the Record Section”:

John Tierney used an out-of-date figure in his column of Nov. 8, 2005, for poverty rates in Venezuela. The 2004 figures showed poverty rising above 50 percent, but for the first half of 2005, the Venezuelan government reported that the rate was below 50 percent. The error was pointed out to us recently.
Now I don’t even remember Mr. Tierney’s original column. Nor do I expect that all the misinformation of the past year on this subject will disappear and the damage reversed. But there is a very real victory here and that is that it looks like this lie, of poverty going up under Chavez, has reached the end of the line and won’t be making very many more appearances. In fact, the news is almost certainly spreading that poverty is way down under Chavez.

Its good to see the good guys overcome obstacles and win one. The truth may be slow to get its shoes on but when it does it catches up. Kudos to all those who worked on this like Mark Weisbrot, CEPR, Venezuelanalisis, Justin Delacour, and others. If we ever meet the first round is on me.


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