Column: Picture wiping away the world’s economic injustices

By Mike Eddleman

Toilet humor has never been my thing, but as I sat contemplating what I might have to say about Ven­e­zu­ela’s newest “swirling” controversy, I found it hard to hold back.
It seems the citizens of Venezuela are finally fed up with their government and its leftist ways in the wake of a national toilet paper shortage. Perhaps we have finally found a way to wipe away socialism as it demonstrates it is flush with problems.
The oil-rich nation of 28 million people has been experiencing food shortages for some time and now faces the end of its roll with a lack of two-ply on hand for the masses. I suspect if Mr. Whipple got between a Venezuelan in need and a 12-pack of Charmin things might get ugly. When they squeeze the Charmin these days, I doubt they let go.
The gross domestic product of Venezuela is more than $400 billion, but economists say strict price controls have created shortages of the basic necessities former President Hugo Chavez sought to make available to all when he took office and began tightening control of the economy in 1999.
Chavez has been succeeded by Nicolas Maduro – hand picked by Chavez – and he is promoting the theory that anti-government forces and foreign governments are causing the shortages to destabilize the government.
If only it were that easy to bring down a regime we would have instituted the great toilet paper blockade of North Korea decades ago. Perhaps instead of leaflets, we can fly low over Caracas and throw out rolls of quilted “Made in the USA” toilet tissue.
Maybe insurrectionist forces should sneak in under the cover of night and wrap the president’s mansion.
Perhaps rather than donating to “Feed the Children” we can....well, never mind. You know, for the price of a cup of coffee, you can....
In all seriousness, what this demonstrates is that cobbling together a government and an economy are not simple tasks; and if the ideology and philosophy ever matched up with reality, it would all make much more sense.
The truth is, Venezuela is neither democratic nor socialist. It is no more socialist by definition than the Soviet Union was through the last half of the last century or North Korea is today. In the United States, we know so little about the philosophies of socialism and communism, yet we throw around the terms like we are experts.
What always begins as an ideal deteriorates into a totalitarian state where the people don’t enjoy the opportunities found in a more capitalist system or the security and comfort that the socialist dogma promises.
Whether it is the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba or now Venezuela, we see how philosophies can be twisted by governments. While we do not subscribe to their philosophies, we can agree that it is the manipulation of power-hungry people that is at the root of their troubles. I would argue that those who abuse our economic system and government rules cause similar problems here, only on a level much less obvious every day.
I know what you are saying, “See, we must fight the spread of socialism or we will be next.” None of this should fuel fear and suspicion of what socialism might bring to the United States. Not only do we have plenty of toilet paper, but we have a variety of prices, qualities and quantities to choose from. We buy rolls by the dozens at warehouse stores because our system says we can, but is that always so much better?
Our principles of the free market and supply-and-demand certainly have their pitfalls as we watch the gap widen between rich and poor here, and sometimes it seems our issues are even more dangerous because for the most part we do not lack basic necessities. Our system sometimes feeds into what could be considered a more dangerous sense of comfort and well-being, which allows us to ignore the growing problems.
A lack of food, or even toilet paper, would cause us to step back and wonder where we went wrong, but our more subtle problems help us mask their dangers and plod along as though we have it all figured out.
Consider that the U.S. stock market is up 15 percent so far in 2013, reaching new all-time highs on a regular basis. Like in the glory days of 2007, investors, traders and large corporations are seeing record incomes and profits.
In spite of those gains, the average salary in the United States is down $4,000 from 2007. During the recession, lower-wage job losses accounted for 21 percent of those wiped away, while they represent 58 percent of the gains through the recovery.
None of these numbers or trends compare in our daily lives to discovering there is no toilet paper, but in the big picture they should be just as alarming and worrisome as we stumble through our own version of economic trouble.