One of the basic premises of having government in the first place is that public health matters are dealt with. Indeed, historians usually point to the small scale governance of urban areas as the very beginning of the basic concept. How to get the rubbish carted away, how to deal with the drains, how to make sure the dead are buried. That last not so much for religious reasons as purely pragmatic. Corpses not only stink – for good reason, it’s useful that we instinctively think of a dead human like us as smelling repellent – but can, assuming they’ve died of infectious diseases, be dangerous. And yes, many deaths in the past were by infectious disease.
There’s also something deeply human about disposing of those dead. Certainly, different cultures do it in different ways, there have been burning ships, chopping up for the birds to eat and expensive coffins as examples, but every culture does have a socially approved manner of doing things. And leaving the body to rot where it fell ain’t in any of them. Which is why one story of the 1978 and 1979 troubles in England struck such a chord. It was a time of strikes. And at one point the municipal gravediggers in Liverpool went on strike.
This allowed – well, it would, wouldn’t it? – people to claim that the dead were going unburied as a result of all that socialism. Which, of course, they were. They weren’t rotting in the open, that’s true, in chilled storage awaiting their turn and all that but still. It’s just something which doesn’t sit right with people, the very idea.
At which point we get 21 st century socialism, as in Venezuela:
Wenceslao Alvarez’s body lay rotting in his house in Maracaibo until the stench spread up the street. His shamed family had no money to bury him.
Just days before, another family buried Ender Bracho in his own back patio, covering him with a few shovelfuls of earth until the local state authorities finally stepped in with a coffin and a grave.
In February, the corpse of street vendor Francisco Rollos was laid out in front of the city hall in the northwestern city of Turen — a silent but forceful plea for the municipality to take on his burial.
For Venezuela’s poor, the living nightmare created by the country’s economic crisis — which has forced millions to flee — is lingering beyond the grave.
There is a macabre joy in this of course. The socialists are insisting that this form of governance, where the government determines near everything, is better than when we’re left to deal with things ourselves in markets. And yet this very same government which would detail all cannot even manage to bury the dead. How much more proof do we need that government doing everything ain’t a great idea?
But more than this – and more even than the obvious penury which Bolivarian socialism has brought – is that this is one of the, as above with Liverpool, stories that strikes to peoples’ hearts. What? The dead rotting in their beds? No, really, that’s not right, there’s something wrong with that system. It’s an insistence far stronger than arguments about liberty, expropriation or exploitation, there’s a simple “that’s not right, innit?” to it all.
It would be more than a little cruel, over-egging matters perhaps, to insist that “Vote Jezza so Granny can rot in the streets.” But there’s more than a nugget of truth to it, as Liverpool once showed us, as Venezuela does now. Socialism simply doesn’t work, not when imposed.