I stayed in Venezuela for six weeks from late March to early May 2016. This ethical question has been bothering me ever since. Its answer will determine whether or not I recommend my family and friends go there.

Since the price of oil has gone down, the Venezuelan economy has crashed and the country is in a severe crisis. There is strong inflation: the Venezuelan bolivar (BsF) has lost 99.2% of its value in the past four years, so that one needs 1000 BsF to buy today what four years ago would have cost 8 BsF. Electricity is in short supply because of a drought, scheduled black-outs are common. Food is in short supply, starving people in the capital have raided supermarkets for food (though I have not witnessed this). Toilet paper is in short supply, people are paid to distribute it to users of public restrooms.

I converted US dollars to Venezuelan bolivars on the street, because the street exchange rate is four times better than the official one. (Official currency exchange kiosks give you 250 BsF to the dollar, street traders will give you 1000). The government blames the currency black market for the very high inflation and many Venezuelans believe it, but that seems dubious. The black market reflects the inflation and the true market value of the Venezuelan bolivar (by contrast with the value the government would want the currency to have).

Assume one stays in budget hostels and goes on a couple of organised tours for a few hundred dollars. Further assume, for I do not want to encourage illegal behaviour, that one does not use the black market to convert currency (though I've never met a tourist who doesn't). Is travelling to Venezuela in mid-2016 ethical?

Consider a behaviour ethical if the people of the visited country are better off (or at least not worse off) after the traveller's visit. For example, if food is in short supply and travellers consume food, causing locals to be hungrier, consider that a negative ethical point. If the increased demand for food creates more jobs for Venezuelans, consider that a positive ethical point. If bringing in foreign currency helps the country, consider that a positive ethical point. Finally, if you believe the currency black market is detrimental (or beneficial) to the country, please explain why.

  • 5
    You're really overthinking this IMO. Venezuela seems like it is generally unstable with many serious problems, but if it fits your risk profile there are probably ways to enjoy yourself, and any influx of foreign currency and spending levels will probably benefit locals (however slightly) given the financial situation.
    – Urbana
    Sep 1 '16 at 14:52
  • 3
    I'm also voting to close this off topic for being primarily opinion-based. Your question seeks an answer based on persuasive argument, rather than objective reality, the normal criterion for a question belonging on this website. Maybe you could find an answer on a philosophy or economics discussion board.
    – Urbana
    Sep 1 '16 at 14:59
  • @davidvc +1 for the correct singular form of criterion.
    – phoog
    Sep 1 '16 at 15:34
  • 1
    @MastaBaba If you get past the (pre-edit) title, actually the substance of the question is the factual question of whether increases in tourism make the economic crisis better (bringing in cash) or worse (more competition for limited resources) Sep 9 '16 at 18:57
  • 1
    Voting to leave closed, though I think it was closed for the wrong reason. This is a perfectly valid question that can be answered based on facts (though some opinion would be needed to weigh up those facts). However, the question is way too broad. "Does tourism harm or benefit a struggling economy?" is the sort of thing one could write a whole thesis about. That's too much for a Stack Exchange answer. Sep 9 '16 at 21:12

It's this kind of thinking that got Venezuela into trouble in the first place.

A market exchange leaves both parties better off. If you go on a (successful) trip, you exchange money for an experience that you value more. The people at the hotel, restaurant, airline, exchange their time for your money. If it didn't make them better off, they wouldn't do it.

If your sole criterion for ethical is that all parties involved benefit, then any knowing and voluntary exchange is ethical.

  • 2
    That's my opinion as well. My question is deeper than that though. Of course the guy that sells you food is better off after you bought it, but are other Venezuelans worse off?
    – Pertinax
    Sep 1 '16 at 14:51
  • 5
    Imagine you have a large, half-full container of water, and you throw in another cup of water. It roils the surface of the water and briefly, some parts of that surface are higher than they were before, some are lower, but the average level of water in the container surely goes up. You have injected money into the system, all the other effects are secondary and temporary. Sep 1 '16 at 14:55
  • 1
    I'm confused - your answer & comment seem to imply that going there does have an overall benefit (however small) to Venezuela (and would therefore be ethical), but you start your answer with "No" - which as a direct answer to the title of the question means it is unethical...
    – brhans
    Sep 1 '16 at 15:10
  • 1
    @brhans -- perhaps my edit clarified things. Sep 1 '16 at 19:27
  • This is a decent answer but needs a few provisos. For example: don't let yourself get over-charged for food, goods, accommodation etc, because if that happens on a large scale you're contributing to price increases or an imbalanced market (example: Armenia, where well-meaning rich Armenian-Americans get royally ripped off for their homes in the homeland resulting in the capital becoming almost unaffordable for most young Armenians, increasing emigration). And don't pay extra to jump the queue or secure genuinely scarce items, for similar reasons. Sep 10 '16 at 9:18

If you are willing to disregard the economic effects (good or bad) of political policy:

Is it ethical? Yes. Why? Because, presumably, you had nothing to do with the situation there.

Your enjoyment of Angel Falls would be the same regardless of other economic conditions. You can pose the same question about North Korea or Myanmar.

If you connect the economic effects (good or bad) of political policy:

Then you have to decide yourself whether the result is good or bad. If you're OK with the result, yes, it's ethical. If you think the result is problematic, then no, it is not ethical because you are effectively supporting that result.

You can apply the same reasoning to otherwise prosperous countries depending on what metric you consider important.

Any other discussion of this, particularly Venezuela, will be hopelessly bogged down in political debate.

  • 4
    I don't think it's that simple. There are considerable ethical concerns around tourism to North Korea, as tourism does, at least to a certain extent, support the government and its activities, and serves as a mechanism for propaganda. The same concerns do not exactly apply to Venezuela, but there are certainly places where there are ethical problems with injecting yourself as a camera-toting tourist, even if you did nothing to cause the situation. Sep 1 '16 at 15:11
  • But that is a completely different question, which is why I specifically avoided the political aspect. Is it ethical to support a Government responsible for the starvation of it citizens? No, but then people will disagree that Government policy is responsible for people starving.
    – Johns-305
    Sep 1 '16 at 15:17
  • 3
    Sure. It's a complicated question. My point is that a blanket policy of "it's ethical to travel there because you didn't cause the situation there" is overly simplistic. Sep 1 '16 at 15:23
  • 1
    If you read the full question, it's about whether travelling to Venezuala during an economic crisis makes that crisis better or worse. We can argue all day about the vagueries of ethics, but the actual substance of the question is concrete consequentialism. Sep 9 '16 at 18:55
  • The original question was about the ethics involved. You can't modify a question then nitpick someone who answered the original question. Also, the help/hinder cases were merely examples. The edited question is irrelevant to the original. You really should rollback that change.
    – Johns-305
    Sep 9 '16 at 19:55

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.