What Venezuela’s Medical Crisis Tells Us About Socialism

The Lancet is a renowned medical journal headquartered in England. The current issue includes an article on Venezuela, titled “Data reveal state of Venezuelan health system”. The data in question come from the Venezuelan government, after two years in which it released no reports. No doubt the picture the government paints is, if anything, optimistic. Still, the facts are grim:

Maternal and infant mortality have skyrocketed in Venezuela in the past 2 years, and diphtheria and malaria, diseases that were once controlled, are on the rise according to data released by the country’s Ministry of Health. The epidemiological data show that maternal mortality rose by about 9% between 2014 and 2015, then jumped by nearly 66% by the end of 2016—-with 756 deaths. Infant mortality rose by about 30% between 2015 and 2016—-11,466 deaths in 2016—-according to government figures.

The country is on its eighth health minister since 2013. I don’t think personnel is the issue.

“It’s very sad. We don’t even have an aspirin tablet in stock”, said Iván Machado, chief of cardiology at University Hospital of Caracas. The Venezuelan Institute of Palliative care published a letter on May 11 that reported the country had run out of all classes of analgesics, and doctors are incapable of alleviating pain for patients. Doctors took to the streets on May 17 to protest the shortages.

The situation in hospitals is bleak:

Doctors describe hospitals without functioning equipment, basic medicines, or even running water, and laboratories without reagents.
The University Hospital’s cardiology unit, which usually does 100 catheterisations and 30 open heart surgeries per month, has done only 30 catheterisations and 20 open heart surgeries so far this year, Machado said. Several operating rooms are out of service and vital equipment is idle for lack of replacement parts.

Venezuela is perhaps the most resource-rich country in the world, but this is what its hospitals look like under socialism

Young doctors are leaving Venezuela in droves, seeking better opportunities elsewhere:

Venezuela is haemorrhaging doctors, especially young ones. Thousands of doctors are thought to have left the country, leaving the system short-staffed. By the time his medical students reach their fourth year, Castro said, 60% of the class will have emigrated.

Their devotion to the state is apparently insufficient.

The Lancet refers to Venezuela’s “political and economic crisis,” but never mentions the key word, socialism. This is the point I want to make: neither Venezuelan reformers nor the Lancet seem to understand the role of socialism in the collapse of Venezuela’s health care system, along with the rest of its economy:

Durán and others are calling for a health emergency to be declared in the country, which is wracked by a political and economic crisis. This would allow the import of medicines, while pharmaceutical plants, which have been idle for years, can begin producing again. International organisations, however, say they cannot act without the government’s approval. So far, the regime of president Nicolás Maduro has been silent.

“Health shouldn’t be politicised”, Durán said. “Health has nothing to do with ideology. Health is a right.”

But in a socialist country, everything is politicized. That’s the point of socialism–where everything is controlled by the government, everything is politicized.

Mr. Duran is correct in this respect: in Venezuela, health is a “right,” as provided by Article 83 of the Constitution:

Article 83: Health is a fundamental social right and the responsibility of the State, which shall guarantee it as part of the right to life.

A socialist government can “guarantee” health, but a socialist economy can’t perform competently enough to supply hospitals with running water, let alone the tools needed for sophisticated medical care. The reality is, if you want your people to die miserably, you should socialize your health care system.

Pretty much everyone understands that socialism is a lousy way to produce cars, television sets, cell phones, and so on. Yet for some reason, there are lots of people who think health care should be socialized because it is “fair.” That is the position of pretty much the entire Democratic Party. If you think it is fair for children to die at birth or from malnutrition, diphtheria, malaria and the like, and for hospitals to shut down for lack of working equipment, then, yes, socialism is the system for you. (It isn’t entirely fair, of course, because those who run the socialist system generally become billionaires while others starve.)

Venezuela’s experience shows that socialism is just as disastrous for health care as it is for every other industry, regardless of what the government purports to “guarantee.” Why on Earth would any American want to copy the Venezuelan example by bringing socialism (“single payer”) to the United States’ health care system?