In Venezuela, some are mourning, and some are not, for Hugo Chavez, the country’s polarizing president, who died yesterday. Supporters see him as a champion of the poor. Critics say he ruined the country’s economy. Chavez’s economic legacy is a mix of both.
If you consider the impact of Hugo Chavez by traditional economic benchmarks, like inflation, he ended on a low note.
Javier Corrales is a political science professor at Amherst College.
“He’s leaving the country in the midst of a serious economic crisis. A very large fiscal deficit. A devaluation was announced that is going to have enormous inflationary effect, as well as productivity declines everywhere,” says Corrales.
The country’s economy is less diversified than when Chavez took control. Venezuela is now almost totally reliant on oil revenues.
But, for a long time, oil profits worked in his favor, allowing Chavez to invest heavily in his populist agenda. Corrales says other Latin American leaders had mounted similar progressive campaigns in the past, but always ran out of money.
“What Chavez was able to do was to sustain that much longer than any other Venezuelan president or Latin American president simply because the oil windfall that Venezuela enjoyed between 2003 and today has been enormous,” says Corrales.
At the same time Chavez depended on the oil industry, he also undermined it. When oil industry administrators went on strike early in Chavez rule, he fired 18,000 industry workers. Oil production levels fell.
“Large numbers of its revenues were going, rather than to reinvestment in the industry, were going directly to fund social programs,” says Alejandro Velasco, assistant professor of Latin American Studies at New York University. “The criticism is that an oil company shouldn’t have as its major focus social missions. It should have as its major focus the production of oil.”
But from the perspective of the poor, Chavez was seen almost like a god. He focused the country’s oil wealth on improving the lives of the dispossessed.
“It’s meant a tremendous amount both in economic assistance. But more significantly, I would say, it’s meant more in terms of how people imagine their roles in society. No longer cast aside. No longer marginalized,” says Velasco.
The poor have been empowered, both economically and politically.
“It’s really undeniable. And even the opposition has had to come to terms with, that no longer can you sort of take for granted the voices of those who were economically marginalized. Now they have formed sort of an integral part of peoples' political calculus,” says Velasco.
But by starving the private sector, Chavez may have also worked against the interests of the unemployed in Venezuela.
“Chavez has hurt the poor by making sure that the private sector in Venezuela underperforms. The job growth, the investments that you see in the private sector are very weak. They’re not generating job growth,” says Corrales.
Corrales says that reforming the country’s oil industry would not only help the economy, but would also help the poor in the long run.
The inside of a Harley-Davidson factory looks a lot like what you’d expect -- workers in jeans, black T-shirts and bandanas.
But there's no soundtrack in the background. At least, not anymore.
Citing safety concerns, the company announced that music would no longer be allowed on the assembly line -- no tunes piped-in through speakers and no portable radios at its manufacturing plants.
“We love the fact that Harley-Davidson is associated with cool things like music," says Harley spokesperson Maripat Blankenheim. "However, when it comes to our plants, safety is a priority. Music is not.”
The idea, she says, is to eliminate distractions and improve performance.
“These are folks working on a line, they work in teams, so it’s really important to be able to hear what’s going on in the work around you,” Blankenheim says.
There are federal rules for how loud a workplace can be, but no specific rules about music in factories. So individual companies have to decide whether it’s safe, and how music impacts the bottom line.
At the Milwaukee company Helios Solar Works, employees make solar panels while listening to Internet radio. Line worker Josh Drane says it helps him get through what can be a pretty monotonous day.
“We tend to perk up when we hear one of our songs played. But beyond that it’s just nice to have ambient background music instead of just the very mechanical sounds of the line operating,” Drane says.
Managers at the Helios Solar Works plant believe music makes employees more productive. And there’s plenty of research to support that idea. Teresa Lesiuk is a music therapy professor at the University of Miami. She surveyed information technology professionals and found they overwhelmingly reported positive effects of music in the workplace.
“It was calming to them or it provided some excitement when they were needing it. For some others, it was more nostalgia to the music, and somehow that was helpful to them in their work,” Lesiuk says.
But Lesiuk does say that for some factory jobs, like driving a forklift, music would certainly be a distraction. And even a danger.
This final n...on the way o... damn you, Dubner.
Okay, I'll think of something new. But anyway in the interests of equal time, this note today from the Speaker of the House John Boehner.
"While I'm disappointed the White House has chosen to comply with sequestration by cutting public tours," Boehner says, "I'm pleased to assure you that public tours of the United States Capitol will continue."
As well, I'm sure will the sequestration tit-for-tat.
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