Old and busted, Venezuela edition: Bread lines and depression. New hotness: Food fights — and not in the Animal House, fraternity-row context. A week ago, the news from Venezuela highlighted the need for consumers to wait hours in line just to get bread, thanks to a wheat-flour shortage in what had been one of South America’s most prosperous countries. At that time, people waited patiently for their staple:

As the Washington Post reports today, their patience has run out. Venezuelans have started sacking grocery stores rather than groceries, and have attacked supply trucks before they arrive at the store. Joshua Partlow and Mariana Zuñiga call this “a new, more dangerous phase,” but one that was utterly predictable:

The fight for food has begun in Venezuela. On any day, in cities across this increasingly desperate nation, crowds form to sack supermarkets. Protesters take to the streets to decry the skyrocketing prices and dwindling supplies of basic goods. The wealthy improvise, some shopping online for food that arrives from Miami. Middle-class families make do with less: coffee without milk, sardines instead of beef, two daily meals instead of three. The poor are stripping mangoes off the trees and struggling to survive.

“This is savagery,” said Pedro Zaraza, a car oil salesman, who watched a mob mass on Friday outside a supermarket, where it was eventually dispersed by the army. “The authorities are losing their grip.”

What has been a slow-motion crisis in Venezuela seems to be careening into a new, more dangerous phase. The long economic decline of the country with the world’s largest oil reserves now shows signs of morphing into a humanitarian emergency, with government mismanagement and low petroleum prices leading to widespread shortages and inflation that couldsurpass 700 percent this year.

The political stakes are mounting. Exhausted by government-imposed power blackouts, spiraling crime, endless food lines, shortages of medicine and waves of looting and protest, citizens are mobilizing against their leaders. In recent days, Venezuelans lined up to add their names to a recall petition that aims to bring down the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, and put an end to the socialist-inspired “revolution” ignited 17 years ago by Hugo Chavez.

 

Bread lines recall the glory days of the Soviet empire, in which “socialism” reduced people to beggar status, in a country with a surfeit of natural resources. Shortages and rationing always occur when socialism is adopted, especially the nationalization-of-producers variety favored by the Chavistas and the Castros.

The economic pattern is simple, predictable, and brutal. Socialists demand that producers lower prices for “the people” to a level that ensures losses for the producers. Producers either close their doors, or the government seizes the businesses from them. The leaders put people in place who have little expertise but tons of socialist credibility, and their incompetence leads to massive failures in production. Widespread shortages result, and either the leaders have to enact increasingly brutal methods of repression or the people end up revolting and putting said leaders up against the proverbial wall. And the latter scenario incentivizes the leaders to make damn sure they employ Option One for all it’s worth.

F. A. Hayek described the inevitable downward spiral eloquently in his seminal book The Road to Serfdom. Socialist systems never fail because they don’t have “the right people in charge,” as old socialists like to claim. They fail and turn into repressive tyrannies because all of the incentives for power reward the brutal when the economy fails, as it will always do with central planning and control of production.

Nicolas Maduro is running the Hayek playbook down to the last detail, by the way. If socialism is all about “power to the people,” why does Maduro need to get rid of the people’s branch of government?

Venezuela’s government is considering asking the high court to dissolve the legislature controlled by President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents who are seeking to remove him from office, a spokesman said Tuesday.

It was the latest maneuver in a political conflict that has raised tensions in the volatile South American country as it struggles with an economic crisis.

Maduro’s side “has started discussions to request a consultation with the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court” with a view to achieving “the abolition of this National Assembly,” ruling coalition spokesman Didalco Bolivar told a news conference.

As one Venezuelan told the Post’s reporters, “This can’t continue.” That’s practically the primary axiom of socialism — it’s totally unsustainable, and only exists as a path to tyranny. One way or the other, the status quo won’t continue. It’s now a question of what replaces it — a free Venezuela, or an outright dictatorship.