Pity the poor Venezuelan businessman. He is misunderstood, unjustly slandered, and kept at arm’s length in the process of making and implementing public policy. If only political elites would abandon their ideologies and stop manipulating the masses, the nation’s clear-eyed, pragmatic business leaders, free of ideology, could dramatically increase economic productivity and expand opportunity for the greater good of all. This, in a nutshell, is the thesis of José Antonio Gil Yepes’s disappointing book.
The author purports to explain the origins and nature of Venezuelan democracy through examination of political culture, party system, and government. He then considers the organization of the entrepreneurial sector, the structure of business-government relations, and the nature of policy-making. He concludes with a number of general reflections on business, politics, and public policy and with speculations on the future of Venezuelan democracy. The author’s social and political analysis is very poor and quite tendentious, grounded in a weak and heavily ideological set of ideas best described as a marriage of Ayn Rand with a combination of Talcott Parsons and Samuel Huntington, mediated by Theodore Lowi. Outdated and highly dubious notions of culture, modernization, and development derived from these sources are used to prop up what boils down to an exposition of the political and social position of the business sector in Venezuela. Not surprisingly, the most useful chapters are those concerning the organization of the business sector and its dealings with successive governments since 1958. Issues such as taxation, trade, and investment policy are discussed at some length. The worst chapters are those offering general social and political analysis, in which the author is both inaccurate and misleading.
Gil Yepes is perhaps best read as an insight into the mentality of the Venezuelan business elite. This mentality can be reduced to a number of related propositions. 1. The masses are lazy and easily misled by unscrupulous politicans. 2. This mass gullibility stems from an inherited political culture of dependence and paternalism. 3. There is too much politicization and mass participation in Venezuela. 4. There are no basic class conflicts—rather the interests of different social classes are complementary, and elites should work together harmoniously to incorporate “marginal’’ sectors into the “modern” economy. 5. Political parties, above all on the left, are ideological—business is simply realistic and pragmatic. These views are repeated throughout the book.
If this work offers reliable insight into the mentality of Venezuela’s business elite, one must conclude that the commitment of these individuals and institutions to democracy in that nation is fragile at best. A leftist electoral victory or a major policy shift in a leftist direction would be clearly unacceptable. Toward the end of the book, Gil Yepes offers some comparative judgments about Chile, and his evident sympathy for the military’s version of events in that nation, and for the solution they imposed, bode ill for the democratic future of Venezuela.