Black Friday has come and gone in the United States. As you’re surely aware, millions of shoppers are spent the day after Thanksgiving pouring into stores searching for bargains. True to the nature of capitalism, that’s good for the buyers and good for the sellers as well.
In Venezuela, a black Friday already happened this month. But instead of putting stores into the black, it put them into the red. It also seriously damaged the rule of law in a country that already had a poor reputation in that area.
The Economist reports that embattled President Nicolas Maduro declared an “economic war” against selected retailers on November 8. By fiat, he declared that the prices of all electrical appliances would be slashed to what they had been in October. That’s a big deal in a country where the official inflation rate is 50 percent per year and the unofficial rate is calculated at 280 percent a year. The country’s currency is depreciating so quickly that last month’s prices look like a steal.
And in fact, on November 8 there was plenty of stealing going on. Maduro had dozens of store owners detained for what he called “usury.” Looters took their cue and ransacked many stores. Instead of maintaining order, members of Venezuela’s national guard helped themselves to the goods.
For his part, Maduro seems completely out of touch. “If I’m bringing down the price of appliances by 1,000%, that has to have an impact on November’s inflation figure, right?” he asked on national television. As if stealing products from retailers could improve an economy.
Venezuela is nothing like the United States, of course. Our Constitution guarantees that we live under the rule of law. The Constitution is difficult to change. And that’s a feature, not a bug. Venezuela’s constitution, meanwhile, is more malleable. Under Hugo Chavez it was rewritten more than once when it became inconvenient to his quest for power.
There are many things to give thanks for this long holiday weekend. Let’s remember that the rule of law—and the Constitution that ensures it—should be on that list.