My personal thought is that it's about time. This article is interesting but I think it is slanted against the land reform which is described as "brutal and legal" because
The violence has gone both ways in the struggle, with more than 160 peasants killed by hired gunmen in Venezuela, including several here in northwestern Yaracuy State, an epicenter of the land reform project, in recent years. Eight landowners have also been killed here.
Sounds to me that the resistance to land reform is roughly 20 times as brutal as the land reform effort. The disproportion between quotes of supporters and opponents is much less extreme.
The part that irritated me (and makes an alternative title "why do people hate economists") is that "economists" appear to be all opposed to land reform.
"Economists say the land reform may have the opposite effect of what Mr. Chavez intends, and make the country more dependent on imported food than before." "agricultural economists say the government bureaucracy, which runs a chain of food stores, is also rife with inefficiencies" Finally economists get a name
Carlos Machado Allison, an agricultural economist at the Institute for Higher Administrative Studies in Caracas [snip]
“The double talk from the highest levels is absurd,” Mr. Machado said. “By enhancing the state’s power, the reforms we’re witnessing now are a mechanism to perpetuate poverty in the countryside.”
SIMON ROMERO notes, in his own voice, that "Top-down land redistribution projects have a troubled history in Latin America" which is true. However, Latin America is not the whole world. Consider some countries which have had massive Top-down land redistribution projects : Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Italy. Italy might seem to be l'uomo dispari fuori (odd man out) but experienced an economic miracolo from the year of the reform 1953 through 1962.
Key feature of successful land reforms include enough compensation of landowners that they don't fight (the Italian land reform was designed by Count Antonio Segni) and clear rules. The Venezuelan approach based on the initiative of squatters does not work (in fact the Italian boom could also be timed as following the end of the occupations of land organized by the Communists successfully trying to force the Government to approve a land reform). More generally, each of the four miracle preceding land reforms I mention were implemented by anti-leftists who wanted to get it over with.
I do fear that Venezuela will follow the path of Peru, Mexico or Zimbabwe exactly because the struggle is politically useful to Chavez. However, the facts about the ground make it possible that a land reform has great potential to cause increased GDP both because
But Venezuela, unlike many of its neighbors, has long imported most of its food, and uses less than 30 percent of its arable land to its full potential, according to the United Nations.
A good part of the reason is the havoc that its oil wealth plays on the economy, with a strong currency during times of high oil prices making it cheaper to import food than to produce it at home. Meanwhile, vast cattle ranches take up large areas of arable land.
This suggests that agriculture less integrated into world markets will suffer less from exchange rate havoc and, more importantly, that production is kept low because landlords have less fear that cattle will get uppity than that tenants will become squatters. The pattern of low productivity land use reminds me of what I heard from an extremely elderly Italian once.
But why oh why did Simon Romero have to make these obvious arguments in his own voice. Has no economist in Venezuela noticed the costs of the current pattern of ownership ?