The Mirage Jet Fighter and Venezuelan Oil

What’s the connection? Each of these topics is the subject of a very interesting essay on the Val e-diction blog.

Val writes in considerable detail about his experiences as a military pilot in Venezuela back in the day, when he flew the Mirage III. The Mirage was France’s first-generation Mach 2 fighter, a classic aircraft of the 1960s in the same way that the Spitfire was a classic of an earlier period. (The Mirage’s reputation was made by Israel, which used it with spectacular success in the Six Day War.) The Mirage, like the Spitfire, was beautiful. And as with the Spitfire, the Mirage’s brilliant design was achieved partly at the cost of design tradeoffs which limited its overall effectiveness — low fuel capacity and short range in the case of the Spit; an oversimplified, slatless and flapless (!) delta wing with lousy low-speed handling characteristics in the case of the Mirage. This is a fascinating post if you have any interest whatsoever in aviation or military history.

Val has many other great posts on his blog, including this reminder that Castro has used our distraction in Iraq as an occasion to make an example of Cuban dissidents, and a long and thoughtful discourse on tennis, from which I know nothing.

But after his Mirage post, which for me was pure vicarious fun, his most insightful comments may be the ones he makes in discussing the political history of Venezuela. It’s not all about oil, apparently. Rather, Val argues that the country’s chronic problems result from a combination of uncontested socialist theory in the political realm and a Spanish legacy of poorly defined and allocated property rights:

In other words, during the entire second half of the Twentieth Century and while previously poorer countries like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong were busily and successfully developing under capitalist systems, Venezuela suffered the worst-possible combination of Seventeenth-Century Mercantilism and Twentieth-Century Marxism, as if Adam Smith had never been born. That’s why Emeterio Gmez, one of Venezuela’s top economists, says the country has to relive the Eighteenth Century before it can modernize.

. . . I cannot overemphasize the importance of the historical fact that there were no pro-capitalist political parties or influential pro-market economists in Venezuela during the entire Twentieth Century.

[. . .]

But most importantly, contrary to what happened to the colonies of North America where parliamentary democracy, general access to property and individual rights were part of the English legacy, Venezuela (and Latin America) inherited from Spain an absolutist culture that cultivated state power and opposed individual liberty, responsibility and property beyond personal and basic commercial goods. In Spanish law, later adopted by Latin America in full, the state owned everything, including soil and subsoil and their riches. Contrary to what many pundits believe, Venezuela’s strong and ubiquitous state did not appear suddenly from the oil-polluted sea, like a modern Aphrodite, in a Shell.

Hmm. . . sounds familiar. And worth reading.

(I confess that I may have had a hand in provoking the Venezuela essay. IIRC I asked Val a naive question in which I suggested a parallel between Venezuela’s corruption and that of the Arab oil states. I also plead guilty to egging Val on to write about his air force experiences.)