Friday, August 17, 2007

Don't fix what isn't broken 

Now that all of Chavez's consitutional reforms have been presented and nicely summarized in the preceding post the question is - are they something Venezuelans should support or not?

Many of them are somewhat ambigious and difficult to know how they would actually impact anything - changing the governance structure of Caracas for example.

Nevertheless there are two which make me think Venezuelan voters, when given the chance, should send this whole project back to the drawsing board.

First is the subject of eliminating term limits. I personally don't have any problem with eliminating term limits. Let Venezuelans elect who they want - and in particular whatever president they want. But extending the presidential term to 7 years?!?!?! That at the very least is just plain bizarre.

At 6 years Venezuelan presidential terms are already very long. In fact, the only real justification for having that long is if you don't allow re-election. But they do; hence Venezuelan presidential terms are already aguably too long. Yet they now want to increase them further?!?! And why by one year to 7 years?

Seven years, even with recall rights, is just too long. I really would have thought that in proposing unlimited re-election that Chavez would have decided to make terms shorter, say four or five years. Instead he went in the wrong direction. That is certainly one reason to reject this reform.

Second is the subject of shortening the workday. The standard work day will be shortened from 8 hours to 6 hours. That sounds appealing as most people could use more leisure time.

However, I am afraid it is a misconcieved reform though that overlooks basic economic realities that Venezuela confronts.

It is said that a six hour work day will create more jobs. It is possible that is true, but it doesn't create them in the way Venezuela needs them created. Lets look at an example. Suppose there is a job performed 24 hours a day with three different people working three different shits of 8 hours. Now that would be staffed with 4 people working 6 hours shifts. Sounds good, right? Now you have another person employed.

Thing is, though, they are all going to earn less money as they all work 25% less time. If it is mandated that they all be paid the salaries that previously existed then all private industry will be less profitable and there will be less of it and the government will be that much more costly (and contrary to rumors the Venezuelan government does NOT have infinite resources). And given that most Venezuelan worders have low wages to being with a 25% pay cut is not something they are likely to accept.

This type of reform might work in Europe, Japan, or North America where people can afford to give up some of their wages for more leisure time. In underdeveloped countries like Venezuela it won't work. This measure, if implemented, would simply serve to make life that much easier for those who already have leisurely buearacratic jobs at public institutions.

Venezuela DOES need more jobs. But it needs them to be created by expanding the productive apparatus of the country. That is, there needs to be a LOT more companies, public or private, creating a lot more wealth before a measure such as this could work. Otherwise, one is simply redistributing very limited resources which are already too meager. As even Marx pointed out, socialism without an already developed economy is simply redistributing poverty.

As it stands there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the current Constitution. Venezuela has many problems, but they can largely be dealt with within the framework of the current Constitution. And Chavez has five and a half years in which he can work to solve those problems before terms limits would even become an issue. So unless something better can be devised at this point the best option is for the Constitution to be left unchanged.


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