You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, let us tell you why: Santa Claus is coming to Caracas, and this year he’ll be bringing toys to all the pro-regime boys and girls—and jailing those who get in his way.
Striking an almost comically Orwellian posture of Saint Nick meets Robin Hood, last week Venezuela’s consumer “protection” agency seized several million toys that will, ostensibly, be redistributed to the poor. The trinkets were confiscated from a toy distributor that had purportedly “committed fraud” against the country by selling the goods at unlawfully high mark-ups. Two of the company’s executives were arrested in the toy-taking. Agency officials say the toys will be sold at below-market prices. They haven’t said who will get to purchase the discounted dolls, but presumably being a supporter of President Maduro’s United Socialist Party won’t hurt one’s chances.
It’s easy to see the folly in this Christmastime collectivism: perhaps, after a portion of the pickings is redirected toward government bureaucrats and influential supporters, some poor Venezuelan children will awake Christmas morning to find these toys wrapped up and placed around their Christmas trees. But every other Venezuelan will now find it even more difficult to buy presents for their children. Companies are, after all, generally loathe to invest in producing or importing toys if they are liable to be dispossessed at a moment’s notice. As toymakers and distributors move or close shop, it will be harder to find toys—and those that are available will be far more expensive.
Venezuela’s policy of plaything plunder will cause some children to go toy-less this Christmas, but similar practices have also caused Venezuelans to go hungry. A project started by the late President Chávez and continued by President Maduro gave the Venezuelan government control over all production, importation, and distribution of food. Over this past summer, this policy resulted in mass food shortages, with supermarket lines often exceeding a thousand people. Protests, looting, and violence also followed the widespread unavailability of food staples and medicine.
Humanitarian organizations like Amnesty International and the United Nations have offered supplies to offset the suffering caused by the food shortages, but the Venezuelan government has refused assistance. Even if it were accepted, foreign aid would bring only limited relief to an enormous problem. The root cause of Venezuelans’ empty stomachs and barren Christmas trees remains collectivist policies that, attempting to apportion goods evenly, distribute only hunger and disappointment.