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Bernie Ziebart

The Engineering Perspective

The blog is a view of life, science, politics and education from an engineering perspective. As engineers, we are taught to view the world objectively. We can hope, believe and calculate a particular outcome, but natural laws are inflexible and pay no heed to who we are or what we believe. We must approach the objective dispassionately, while compensating for our own distorted perceptions. Balance is also a key element; balancing between the ideal and the pragmatic, balancing cost and functionality, balancing analysis with action, etc.

Scheduling routine critical self-analysis is the foundation to objectivity. If we do not fully understand and compensate for our own failures, tendencies, habits and skewed thought processes, we will not see the world as it is. Without a regular critical self-analysis we will see the world as we are and then fall prey to self-delusion.

Failure is a great teacher. When failure is coupled with perseverance, it produces the fruit of patience and humility. An engineer, fresh out of engineering school is typically set up for failure early and often. The failure breaks the new engineer of any ideas of self-importance, arrogance and book smarts. Only then can the new engineer be formed and molded into a productive element in the industry.


Venezuela: the liberal utopia

venezuela, socialism

In a move that will no doubt help further the Venezuelan government’s aim of establishing a socialist utopian republic, President Nicolas Maduro announced this week that stores will soon begin the mandatory fingerprinting of customers. The peculiar initiative, which could be implemented by the end of the year, is meant to help combat the hoarding and smuggling of government-subsidized goods.

Venezuela exerts stringent currency and price controls on many products in a proclaimed attempt to keep them affordable for its poorest citizens.  

The stringent price controls have forced many manufacturers out of business. They prefer not to manufacture a product rather than manufacturing the product at a loss.   The few manufacturers that remain operate with governmental subsidies. 

The stringent price controls have also created a robust black market.

The oil-rich nation has been experiencing a chronic shortage of food supplies and other necessities for a long time.  Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez, accused the political opposition last year of engineering the country’s shortages with the help of the CIA in order to undermine his government.  

Moduro has proposed a two prong attack to stabilize the economy; fingerprinting as part of a rationing of goods and he has also proposed the selling of Citgo to pay down some of its debts.  

Venezuela’s central bank periodically publishes a scarcity index that quantifies the lack of staples. The last index, published in March, estimated that more than 26 percent of basic household goods were out of stock in the country’s stores. The inability to buy essentials like rice, coffee, milk, cooking oil, and corn flour — which is used to make arepas, the national bread — reflects Venezuela’s crippled economic condition, hampered by sky-high inflation and dwindling foreign currency reserves. Toilet paper, newsprint, and even coffins are scarce; production of the latter has lately dropped off upwards of 50 percent, forcing grieving families to delay funerals and burials in one of the most violent countries in the world.

Faced with empty store shelves due to a complex combination of price controls, currency restrictions, and smuggling, Venezuelans are having a hard time finding the basics they need to live. The crisis has spurred the development of an app called Abasteceme (“Supply Me”), which allows shoppers to document and share where they have managed to find products.

Most citizens long for the days of President Rafael Caldera.   Caldera pushed for private property ownership, labor law reforms, foreign investment and free enterprise, and most essentials were plentiful.  

The current economic crisis Venezuela is facing has brought municipalities on the brink of bankruptcy, as reported by the 76 opposition mayors gathered in the Venezuelan Association of Mayors.

The local leaders asserted that 2014 has been a terrible year for three reasons: the Constitutional Allocation is calculated based on an oil price of USD 60 per barrel, but the real oil price is about USD 100 per barrel; the annual inflation rate hit 70%, plus, the central government rate of wage decrease has accelerated, but then it fails to transfer that money to meet those obligations.  

The proposed biometric monitoring of every economic transaction is touted by Madura to solve all of its ills. But the critics decried it as an invasion of privacy, institute a rationing program and create an all-controlling bureaucracy that would be similar to a Cuban style surveillance system. The mandatory fingerprinting is intended to prevent shoppers from buying too much of any one item and then reselling inventory bought below cost on a robust black market, or smuggling it out of the country.

General Efrain Velasco Lugo, a Venezuelan military spokesman, recently told Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper that the government believes that roughly 40 percent of subsidized goods are smuggled into Colombia. One example of this resource drain is gasoline. Venezuela boasts the lowest gas prices in the world. At the unofficial exchange rate, a gallon costs less than a penny.

Prior to the announcement of the fingerprinting proposal, the government attempted to stop the siphoning of fuel and goods to black markets by enacting a nightly closure of the Colombian border.  

This effort has failed to pull Venezuela out of its economic free-fall.  

The proposed solution, the only solution in the liberal play-book, is complete governmental control; an infringement on personal liberties coupled with a heavy dose of electronic monitoring.  No company or individual is able to buy or sell without governmental approval. The Venezuelan government will ration food, supplies and gas; just as it rations health care. 

The way things work in Venezuela:

You are allotted four rolls of toilet paper for the month. You dare not ask for a fifth roll. But the chances are good that you will not get 4 rolls or even 3 rolls.   After the manufacturer releases the production lot of toilet paper, the federal workers, friends and cronies get their first crack at it; taking their four or fifty rolls. The remainder is divided out to the populace.   Often there is none, forcing the people to buy it on the black market at elevated prices. Often, it is the federal workers, friends and cronies who supply the black market with product.   They have created a system to benefit themselves, while proclaiming to the world that the stringent price controls are designed to benefit the working class and poor.   But the net effect is just the opposite.  

Socialism in Venezuela is an economic system that creates a large economic gap between the politically connected and the politically un-connected.   It is my contention that these effects of socialism are not limited just to Venezuela.   If the march towards socialism persists, this rationing will come to a convenience store near you. It is the result of socialists believing that you are ignorant while they are the enlightened ones. Because of their superior intellect and arrogance, they are the only ones capable of deciding what is best for you.   They proclaim the capitalistic system to be unfair and then proceed to create a system that is infinitely more unfair.

The drive of the liberal mind to make life ‘heaven on earth’ is which precisely what makes it hell.

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