Put simply, Venezuelans are “voting with their feet.” It’s not just shortages, it’s not just crime, it’s not just the economy, it’s not just the health-care system: lots of countries have crime or bad health care but don’t have this kind of population collapse. Rather, Venezuelans are simply rejecting the governance model on offer from the Maduro government. Venezuela has vast natural resources, and to this date it has higher per capita economic output than any of its neighbors, including Brazil.
But people are leaving because central planning does not work. Regardless of how much money is in the system, no matter what the GDP per capita may be, central planners simply are not as good at making sure people have what they need as more diffuse markets are. Markets are highly imperfect and often fail, but government economic czars are even worse. And when central authorities control social resources, the temptation to corruption and tyranny is great. In some societies, such as the Nordic democracies, constitutional and democratic norms are sufficiently strong that this temptation has mostly been restrained thus far. But in countries where constitutional norms are more contested or partisan tribes have less empathy for one another, as in the United States and many developing countries, the expansion of the state gives rise to authoritarianism.
If people do indeed vote with their feet, then it is possible that few governments have ever faced so vast a tide of negative votes as that of Maduro. However, at least one country has experienced a similar exodus: Venezuela’s tiny neighbor Guyana. About 40 percent of all Guyanese people live outside Guyana today. The reason is an object lesson for Venezuela watchers.