SCENE 01: SEAN'S PISSED. SEAN No show has ever so quickly raised my hopes then instantly made me more angry than Season 2 of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime. Seriously. Season 2 revolves around something that's really important to me and a number of my friends: The current economic and human rights disaster that is Venezuela. But from the very first moment we're re-introduced to Jack Ryan in the series, he presents a fictionalized version of the country that is spectacularly, outrageously misleading in a way that, for me at least, is completely unforgivable. Strap in, cause this one's going to be a little rough. Like, share, and subscribe buttons pop up alongside the title. SEAN Welcome to Out of Frame. SCENE 02: BACKGROUND SEAN For those of you who aren't familiar with the series, or the character, Jack Ryan is about... uh... Jack Ryan. He's a CIA analyst and special agent created by Tom Clancy, the late, great novelist and author of classic spy thrillers like The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear & Present Danger, and the Sum of All Fears. Over the years, the character has been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Chris Pine, Ben Affleck, and now by John Krasinski. Apart from being action-packed, global mysteries filled with danger and intrigue, the great thing about the books and the movies was always that they felt so much smarter and more true-to-life than anything else in the genre. Clancy wrote fiction, but his books were always always set in the real world. So, while he obviously heightened some narrative elements and wrote plots and characters that didn't actually happen to make them more exciting and fast-paced, the one thing you could always count on from Tom Clancy was a ton of of verisimilitude. That's a fancy word, but it just means that these stories seem true, even though they aren't. By all accounts, Clancy was pretty obsessive about military history and did a ton of research for his books. And he built most of his stories around the factual details of whatever geopolitical situation he was writing about, from the Cold War to modern terrorism. As a creator, that's exactly what you want. Amazon's Jack Ryan presents itself with the same type of seriousness. It wants us to believe that the series is about real events. SCENE 03: AMAZON'S JACK RYAN SEAN In the first few minutes of the first episode, we're re-introduced to Jack. Last season, he was a Ph.D economist working as an analyst for the CIA who happened to be the one man capable of stopping an ISIS terrorist plot to blow up Washington, DC. Now, he's a national security policy instructor at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. We come back to him as he stands in front of a crowded lecture hall, teaching a class on threat assessment. If there's one thing we know about Jack Ryan, it's that he knows what he's talking about. That's important framing. The show is telling us to trust Jack. Professor Jack Ryan shows his students a bunch of news clips highlighting some of the scary things Russia and China have been doing, and ends with some news about Russia landing planes in Venezuela. He then asks the class what they think, based on those clips, is the most important national security threat in the world today. Most think Russia, a bunch think it's China. Then Jack turns the tables and tells the class that Venezuela might be the single most important country in the world, given its vast oil and mineral reserves. So, he asks, why is it in the middle of a humanitarian crisis? At this point I'm excited... because woah, a huge Amazon Prime show has a chance to call out Hugo Chavez & Nicolas Maduro's destructive economic policies as the cause of so much misery. But wait... What's this? It turns out that this show is not only not set in the real world, it's not even a little bit interested in reality. CLIP: Jack explains that Nicolas Reyes was elected on a wave of "nationalist pride" and that Gloria Bonalde - his challenger - is promoting "social justice" (12:50). JACK RYAN "So, why is this country in the midst of one of the greatest humanitarian crisis in modern history? Let's meet President Nicolas Reyes. His rising to power on a wave of nationalist pride, and in a mere 6 years, this guy has crippled the national economy by half. He has raised the poverty rate by almost 400%." SEAN Did you get that? Jack Ryan presents a Venezuela that is very much the same as the real one. Same hyperinflation. Same poverty and starvation. Same human rights abuses. Same state-run media. Same disappearing political dissidents.... Except, instead of taking this opportunity to inject something true about the cause of Venezuela's economic catastrophe, it completely drops the ball. In the real world, Venezuela's problems have one, incredibly predictable root cause... And it's not simply "corruption" or "nationalist pride". We need to be clear about this. The cause is socialism. SCENE 04: VENEZUELAN SOCIALISM SEAN This is a big deal to me. Venezuela is experiencing the largest refugee crisis in the world right now. We see headlines and related quotes from the articles below: SEAN Hyperinflation has completely destroyed the value of Venezuela's currency, to the point that it's better to use their money to make handbags and art than spend it. Price controls and state-ownership over resources has created severe shortages of almost every type of good or service imaginable. "ENCOVI universities survey found that 73% of Venezuelans said they had lost 9 kg (19 lbs) of body weight in 2016[226] and 64% had lost 11 kg (25 lbs) in 2017." SEAN People in Venezuela are starving, and yet government officials are literally telling them that they should boil rocks and eat pets to survive. SEAN Meanwhile, the concentration of power in the hands of the government has created the conditions for unbelievable levels of corruption and political repression. Anyone who speaks out against the government is at risk of arrest or assassination, and there's widespread violence in the streets. SEAN Literally millions of people have had to flee the country to find food and shelter, or to avoid becoming another victim of Nicolás Maduro's regime. We need to understand how and why this happened and Jack Ryan doesn't even try to get it right. SCENE 05: HOW DID WE GET HERE? SEAN Now... There's no way I can do the whole history of Venzeula any justice at all, but here's a super-quick version. Sean's VO GOES INTO 2x SPEED (or 1.5x, whichever actually sounds good). SEAN In 1908, Venezuela's military dictator, Juan Vicente Gómez began giving concessions to international companies to look for natural resources and the country started to experience a boom of investment in minerals, gold, coffee, and oil. Although Gómez was known as a brutal and corrupt ruler, he did two very important things for Venezuela. First, by overpowering regional "caudillo" warlords, he managed to put an end to civil war and political insurrections an ushered in a period of relative peace that lasted several decades. Secondly, his economic policies not only brought Venezuela's national debt under control but also significantly increased the value of its currency. SEAN Between 1920 and 1935, oil exports skyrocketed under Gómez' policies and Venezuela weathered the Great Depression better than most of its neighbors. SEAN Venezuela became the primary supplier of oil for the Allies during World War II and by 1950, it was the 4th richest country in the world based almost entirely on one industry. But... In 1945, when the government now controlled by Isaias Medina reneged on its promise to hold elections, it was overthrown in a left-wing coup d'etat that made Democratic Action leader Rómulo Betancourt the new interim president. That coup resulted in major changes to the economy. SEAN Betancourt wanted to nationalize the oil industry and increased the taxes the government collected on oil company profits to 50% or more. He also established the Venezuelan Development Corporation, through which the government eventually built schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure projects. More importantly, Betancourt supported unrestricted voting rights for Venezuelans and stepped down when Rómulo Gallegos was elected in 1947. But just one later, Pérez Jiménez (one of the military leaders who helped Betancourt rise to power) staged another coup and overthrew the government again. Jiménez' politically repressive dictatorship lasted until 1958 when the exiled Rómulo Betancourt returned and reclaimed his Presidency with a third coup d'etat. Finally, in 1963, Betancourt held another election and ushered in a transition back to democracy that ultimately sparked a brief return to political stability. Unfortunately, the government's desire for more revenue and control over the oil business continued and by 1970, new President Rafael Caldera nationalized Venezuela's natural gas industry and raised taxes on oil production to 70%. All that money coming from oil was basically funding everything the government did, from education and infrastructure projects to healthcare and rapidly expanding welfare programs. But even that wasn't enough, and so in 1976, President Carlos Andres Pérez finally nationalized the oil industry outright, vilifying most of the former executives and eliminating all the knowledge they had of how to run that business effectively in the process. VO goes back to normal speed. SEAN Then... Oil prices collapsed and Venezuela's economy took a huge hit. By this point, successive waves of politicians had amassed a tremendous amount of power over the Venezuelan economy. MOTION GRAPHIC: Socialism Definition. Text reads, "Socialism: Collective or state-ownership of the means of production" SEAN Socialism is commonly defined as the collective ownership over the 'means of production'. What this typically means in practice is that the state controls the land, labor, and capital necessary for productive commercial activity. By the late 70s, Venezuela's government already had total control over energy production and a massive amount of power over most of the rest of the economy. And that power allowed them to decide to base everything around the assumption that the value of oil would keep going up forever. Bad plan. When that didn't happen, the government had to borrow or print tons of money to continue paying for their expensive social programs. Venezuelan politicians spent way more money than they had and instead of fixing that problem, they just pushed it onto future generations by devaluing their currency and taking on more debt. SCENE 06: HUGO CHAVEZ SEAN By the mid-1990s, Per capita GDP dropped to its 1963 levels; the average salary was worth a third of what it had been in the late 70s; and annual inflation rates of 50, 60, and even 100% were becoming routine. In 1996, then President Rafael Caldera worked out a deal with the International Monetary Fund that brought their inflation rates down and started to get their economy back on track, but the political and economic damage had taken its toll. Now, this could easily have been the backdrop for Jack Ryan. I'm not saying the show should have gone into this much detail, but to paint modern political instability in Venezuela as simply an issue of corruption is just so, so wrong. Corruption was, and is, a symptom of way more fundamental problems. Back then, just like today, there was a ton of social unrest and the Venezuelan people were looking for someone to come and save them from economic disaster. Enter: Hugo Chavez and his "Bolivarian Revolution". Chavez' great vision for Venezuela could not have been more clear. He said: MOTION GRAPHIC: Quote. SEAN "I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell." Show footage of Gloria from Ep. 5 (21:00) as she walks onto a balcony, intercut with footage of Chavez speaking from high above a large crowd. SEAN Much like Jack Ryan's Gloria Bonalde, when he was elected, Hugo Chavez was not seen as some kind of rising dictator, but as a hero to the people. CLIP: Jack Ryan S2E5 (21:49) GLORIA BONALDE "My father drove a taxi and my mother taught at the neighborhood school. We weren't rich, but they always put food on the table, even if that meant making sacrifices. They were humble." CLIP: Hugo Chavez on ABC HUGO CHAVEZ "I was a farm kid from the plains of South Venezuela, from a very poor family. I grew up in a palm tree house with an earthen floor." SEAN Chavez always presented himself as someone who cared about the poor. Articles of Chavez being corrupt. SEAN And maybe he did genuinely care... Who knows. But he learned nothing from the history of centralization and control his country had already experienced. Instead of recognizing that decades of increasing the government's power over the economy created huge problems for Venezuela, Chavez doubled down. First, he played a lead role in getting OPEC, the world's biggest petroleum cartel, to begin restricting production in order to intentionally raise international oil prices. Then, just like his predecessors, he took billions of dollars in profits from Venezuela's state-owned oil company and used the money to fund politically popular social programs, ingratiating himself with the country's large number of impoverished citizens. He also a's oil away, saying: MOTION GRAPHIC: Chavez Quote. SEAN "I'm not giving away oil for free. Just using oil, first to benefit our people, to relieve poverty." What a hero. SEAN Then, Chavez instituted a series of price controls, raised taxes on just about everything you can imagine, and nationalized more major industries like telecommunications and electric utilities, food production facilities, cement manufacturing and construction, and of course... banks. His government also seized millions of acres of privately owned land, making it illegal to own property that was "unproductive". Never mind that soil needs time to regenerate between crops or that businesses often have long-term projects that take a while to develop... A country without property rights clearly doesn't care that much about the future. Fraser economic freedom ranking. SEAN Under Chavez, Venezuela's economy became one of the least free on the planet, surpassed only - perhaps - by North Korea. And yet... For the first few years, it looked like his policies were working. Between 1999 to 2012, poverty in Venezuela went from almost 50% to 32.1% according to the National Institute of Statistics. So it's not too surprising that tons of people praised Hugo Chavez for his commitment to (his words) "democratic socialism" at the time. Noam Chomsky met with Chavez, expressing support for Venezuela's new social programs. SEAN Nobel winner Joseph Stiglitz called Venezuelan socialism an "economic miracle". Other economists like Mark Weisbrot dismissed the criticism that Venezuela's massive deficit spending and growing inflation rates were a problem, making a series of truly embarrassing predictions that would all turn out to be entirely wrong. SEAN In 2009, UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Venezuela was "conquering poverty" by rejecting "Neo Liberalism". A couple years later, Bernie Sanders wrote that the American Dream was better realized in Venezuela than the United States. SEAN Celebrities like Sean Penn, Michael Moore, Danny Glover, Naomi Campbell, and Bill Maher all jumped on the pro-Chavez train. But now that we all know what happened, what's Jack Ryan's excuse? SCENE 07: FAILED PREDICTIONS OF A FAILED SOCIETY SEAN This is so often the problem with socialism. It actually takes a little while before the consequences of most economic policies fully materialize, and short-term results can be really misleading. If a government spends trillions of dollars trying to reduce poverty, something is going to happen. But if they destroy everything that makes their economies function in the process, whatever progress they think they've made isn't going to last. As one of FEE's founders, Henry Hazlitt, wrote: MOTION GRAPHIC: Hazlitt. SEAN "The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups." All that praise heaped on Chavez was only looking at half the picture. If that. Supporters were not only overlooking the predictable consequences of his economic policies, but also ignoring the fact that his regime was increasingly suppressing political dissent. SEAN People like Chavez promise a utopian future but their ideas only deliver misery. There's no way for any government to seize total control over an economy without ruining many, many lives in the process. After all, economies are just people making stuff and trading with each other! SCENE 08: BAD TO WORSE SEAN Now, to be fair, many people actually did see the future of Venezuela in the mid 2000s, but it wasn't until Nicolas Maduro took over that Chavez' time bomb truly erupted. After Chavez' death in 2013, everything went from bad to worse. Those price controls I mentioned earlier created severe shortages of food and other goods & services. As they do. And because all the land and key industries had been nationalized and consolidated, production levels dropped like a hot stone which meant that those shortages weren't going away. SEAN At the same time, private investment dried up, because... Who in the world would risk millions of dollars in such a hostile environment? Under Chavismo, anyone's land, money, or other resources could be taken at any moment by the government and state control over the means of production destroyed the idea of profitability. It also wrecked any hope of having useful market signals to guide people's production and consumption behavior. Worse still, even if some investor managed to avoid those problems, the nearly 30% inflation rate in 2012 would have killed the value of whatever income they managed to obtain anyway. And all that power concentrated in the hands of the politically powerful created enormous opportunities for corruption. When the government owns all the major industries, controls prices, and decides who is allowed to participate in the economy, the only thing anyone can do is try to bribe government officials to get what they need. And they're pretty willing to be bribed. SEAN Oh, and by the way... Guess who the richest woman in Venezuela is today. Hugo Chavez' daughter. Shots of protesters clashing with brutal Venezuelan police. SEAN Unfortunately, as the economy collapsed and social unrest exploded, Venezuela's human rights abuses escalated. SCENE 08: BACK TO JACK RYAN SEAN And this is really the starting point for Jack Ryan. In a Venezuela mired in corruption and political repression, Jack describes President Reyes' rival Gloria as... CLIP: Jack Ryan Ep. 1 (13:18) JACK RYAN "...a history professor turned activist. She's running against him on a social justice platform, and on the strength of - in my humble opinion - just not being an [a******]." SEAN That's fine... But it makes it seem like the problem in Venezuela is just that its political leaders have bad intentions. SEAN Not only that, the whole plot ends up being about Jack sparking yet another coup as a CIA operative, which plays right into Nicolas Maduro's own narrative about his current opposition: Juan Guaidó. I don't really want to give the CIA a pass here, as it has routinely meddled in foreign elections to one degree or another, but it makes no sense to claim that Venezuela's policies are in any meaningful way their fault. Over the course of many, many decades, the Venezuelan government burned through the prosperity created by a period of more economic freedom and pushed millions of people into poverty... In the name of social justice! And yet, it would be hard to distinguish parts of Gloria's speeches to her supporters from a lot of old campaign speeches from Hugo Chavez. CLIP: Gloria quotes Simon Bolivar (Ep. 3, 19:40+) GLORIA BONALDE "Simon Bolivar once said: People who love freedom, will in the end always be free! This is our country! We will take it back!" SCENE 09: CONCLUSION SEAN We already live in a world where few news outlets are willing to name the cause of Venezuela's collapse. Falling oil prices, corruption, bad faith, US sanctions that didn't restrict trade until 2019... anything but socialism. SEAN Meanwhile, socialists around the world who spent years touting the "miracle" of socialism in Venezuela while apologizing for its grotesque human rights abuses are now saying that Venezuela was never "real socialism" to begin with. We don't need yet another show that can't get it right. By presenting a vague world where Venezuela's problems are just an issue of "corruption" and by defining President Nicolas Reyes primarily as a "nationalist", Jack Ryan is missing a massive opportunity to challenge people to understand what really happened. But I hope by making this video, I've done just a little bit to set the record straight. OUTRO SEAN Hey everybody, thanks for watching this episode of Out of Frame. There's a whole lot more to this story, and I'm sure it will spark a lot of debate in the comments. But if you want to know more about how Venezuela got to where it is, what to do about it now, and how to avoid going down that road in America, check out the links in the description. And if you love this series, please let us know how you feel by hitting that bell icon and participating in the conversation in the comments. And don't forget to subscribe to all of our social channels on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. See you next time. CLIP: Hugo Chavez on Larry King (00:47) HUGO CHAVEZ "We want to be brothers and sisters, we want respect and equality. Simon Bolivar, our father, said a balanced world ... in order to have peace and development."

Out of Frame


About this show

Video essays that explore the intersection of art, culture, and big ideas written & produced by FEE's Director of Media, Sean W. Malone.

January 9, 2020

Amazon Prime's Jack Ryan, Season 2 does the world a tremendous disservice by using the real-life tragedy in Venezeula as the backdrop for its drama while ignoring the ideology that causes nothing but misery, poverty, and social collapse. Find out how Venezuela went from the 4th richest country in the world to one of the poorest in only a few generations, on this episode of Out of Frame.

Written & Produced by Sean W. Malone
Edited by Arash Ayrom & Sean W. Malone
Asst. Edited by Jason Reinhardt


You Can't Deny that Venezuela is a Socialist Calamity

Venezuela Has Made It Impossible to Run a Business (and Illegal to Stop)

Venezuela Has Lost 13% of Its Population in a Mass Exodus From Socialism

What Life Inside Venezuela's Crumbling Authoritarian Regime Looks Like