Income inequality and hunger in Venezuela and the US

Once in while, a news item comes along that inadvertently gives us a telling insight into our media mindset. NPR featured this obituary by the Associated Press’s business reporters Pamela Sampson and Pablo Gorondi on the legacy of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez that had this quite extraordinary passage that tells you all that you need to know about what the oligarchy and its media lackeys consider development and progress. Sampson says:

Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.

Words failed me as to how to respond to such garbage because in reality, as this report that is otherwise quite critical of Chavez points out, “Using profits from oil production to fund social programs, Chávez’s administration was able to bring many people out of poverty and procure a more equal distribution of income. According to the CIA Factbook, the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, had dropped in Venezuela from nearly .5 in 1998 to .39 in 2011, rivaling only Canada for a more equal distribution of income in the Western Hemisphere.” Yes, the ‘gains were meager’ indeed. No wonder the US oligarchy hated Chavez and tried repeatedly to get him defeated, going so far as to back a coup in 2002 that fortunately was foiled. What they would have liked to have seen was oil revenues being used to further enrich the wealthy and for showy projects that would create yet another playground for the global elites.

venezuela-poverty2But Jim Naureckas had the perfect response to Sampson and Gorondi that you have to read. He showed this chart that demonstrates how under Chavez, Venezuela reduced the number of people living on less than $2 per days from 35% to 13% in just three years. Brazil too reduced the numbers of poor by a large amount. Naureckas asks what kind of monster would squander his nation’s wealth on health care, education, and nutrition programs. He drily concludes, “Of course, during this time, the number of Venezuelans living in the world’s tallest building went from 0 percent to 0 percent, while the number of copies of the Mona Lisa remained flat, at none. So you have to say that Chavez’s presidency was overall pretty disappointing–at least by AP’s standards.”

In contrast to that trend, here is an excellent video about how income and wealth inequality have increased in the US. It makes very clear what has been happening since the mid-1970s when the gap between the few very wealthy people and the rest of us simply exploded. The video shows that most people do not have the faintest idea how skewed the wealth is in this country and I hope that seeing it will bring them to reality. What is perhaps most encouraging is that over four million people have already watched it.

Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson talked to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show about their new documentary on hunger in America called A Place at the Table that has just been released in theaters around the country and is available on iTunes and on demand.

They say that a 1968 CBS News report about hunger in America shocked viewers at that time. They could not believe that such widespread hunger could exist in the richest country in the world and it galvanized them and the government into action and that the problem was largely solved by the late 1970s. But with the arrival of the so-called Reagan revolution, the tide turned against ‘big government’ and the government withdrew from this effort and the burden was shifted to private charities. The number of food banks exploded from just 200 then to over 40,000 now and yet they still cannot cope with the scale of the problem.

Of course, nowadays significant numbers of people look on the hungry as moochers and undeserving of any assistance. In the film, president Richard Nixon pledges to eliminate hunger during his administration, noting that a wealthy country like the United States should not have children going hungry. Imagine that. Today the Republican party would drum him out for being a Communist because their dogma is that people are poor and hungry because they are lazy and parasitic, lounging around waiting for others to give them free stuff rather than going out and working.

The passion that Silverbush and Jacobson demonstrated was inspiring.

Part 1:

Part 2:

(These clips were aired on February 26, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Something tells me that Sampson & Gorondi provided their readers with truly glowing accounts of Mitt Romney and his star-studded campaign.

  2. ollie says

    I think that sometimes, people judge things by the upper bounds rather than by the means or by the lowest quartiles. Remember the health care debates? Many conservatives said (correctly) that the wealthiest people in the world came to the US for health care…from which they concluded that the US had the best health care in the world.

    The US does have the best health care in the world…IF you can afford it. It isn’t so good if you can’t.

  3. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Now that the demonization of Chavez has started… where are all his WMDs? I’m sure you can find some, if you look carefully enough. Somewhere near the oil fields.

  4. richardrobinson says

    1) You seem to have missed the point.
    2) Fidel Castro did not seed control to his brother, he ceded it.

  5. slc1 says

    The grammar nazis have arrived. However, Mr. Robinson is entirely correct. It should have been ceded.

    The point is that Chavez was not entirely bad or entirely good. We could say the same thing about Frankenberger/Schickelgruber/Heidler/Hitler. After all, he built the Autobahn, set up the Volkswagen company and reduced unemployment a lot more then Roosevelt did.

  6. Ravi Venkataraman says

    @slc1: What an odious comparison! You are trying to use a version of the “guilty by association” argument to demonize Chavez. By creating a false association (comparison) between Chavez and Hitler, you are trying to imply that he was in the same category as Hitler. Shame on you, slc1.

    Chavez actually helped the poor in his country. His main fault, according to the slavish Western media and people like you is that he was not subservient to the oligarchy, that he did not personally enrich himself while doling out largesse to the already rich folk in Venezuela. You completely forget the fact that he was elected in fair elections several times and that he and his policies were extremely popular in his country. The bottom line is that he did the greatest good for the largest possible number with the natural wealth of his country, instead of squandering it on mega-projects destined to fill the coffers of the already wealthy.

    And that, my friend, seems to be an unforgivable sin in the Western mainstream media, second only to being insufficiently appreciative of anything and everything the Israeli government does.

  7. Mano Singham says

    Ravi, I am going to anticipate slc1’s response to your comment and say: “Do you know who else was elected several times in elections? Hitler!”

  8. Stanley says

    Here’s a simple question: how many bases has Chavez built in Mexico near the U.S. border for drug interdiction? Answer:0

    Now how many bases have we the U.S. paid to build or improve in Colombia near the Venezuelan border? Answer: 7.

  9. Tadas says

    Mano and others who read this,
    I just saw “Good People” (a Cleveland Playhouse production at Allen Theater), a remarkable play that hit on so many issues that you talk about with respect to wealth distribution and society’s view on it. I’m generally pretty stoic (i guess), but this play moved me. Big time. My friend and I were speechless after the show, and then couldn’t shut up about it later on. The writing was entertaining and thought-provoking. It’s so much more than the write-up for the play. If you have a chance, I think it’s something you might really enjoy (running thru 4/14). There was a display to the side of the theater commenting on wealth in America which included the “Wealth Inequality in America” video that you have posted above.

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