Tyler recently noted that price controls were making a big time comeback. In the comments, I noted that he and others he cited had left Venezuela out of the list of controllers. Serendipitously, the NY Times Sunday mag contains a long piece about oil and Venezuela. Some highlights:
Pdvsa is also subsidizing Venezuela’s domestic oil consumption. Cheap oil for Venezuelans is nothing new; when President Pérez tried to raise gasoline prices in 1989, the riots nearly toppled him. The Venezuelans feel it is their oil; why should they have to pay for it? But the subsidies are much deeper and the quantities greater today. A gallon of gasoline costs 6.3 cents at the pump at the unofficial exchange rate. And Venezuela is now gorging on gas. Venezuela will add 450,000 new cars this year — about four times the number of four years ago. Six Hummer dealerships are set to open early next year.....
Inflation is officially at 16 percent but is most likely higher, according to Orlando Ochoa, the economist, who is usually critical of Chávez. He says that in the basket of goods and services used to measure inflation, just under half the items are sold at government-controlled prices. Many goods simply can’t be bought at those prices, and consumers must pay double the price in a street market. Or the goods can’t be found at all, their producers forced out of business by price controls. Beans and sugar were hard to find cheaply when I visited Caracas in September; fresh milk and eggs hard to find at all. Recently, people had to line up for five hours to get a liter of milk. One proposal in Chávez’s constitutional referendum could increase inflation much further by abolishing the autonomy of the Central Bank and giving the president power over Venezuela’s international reserves. The proposal would also essentially allow Chávez to print money.
The major threat to the economy comes from the exchange rate. Oil caused the bolívar to be overvalued. Farms and factories are in trouble. They can’t export and must compete at home with products imported at the official exchange rate, which is now about a third of the market rate. And so the country is awash in artificially cheap imported products, from basic foodstuffs, like Brazilian cooking oil, to fancy cars. “Our productive capacity is too weak to create jobs,” Petkoff says. “But we consume like a rich country.”The disparity between the official exchange rate (2,150 bolívars to the dollar) and the black-market rate (6,200 bolívars at press time) has created a new class known as the Boliburgesía. Bankers, traders, anyone who works in finance or commerce, can get very rich manipulating the exchange rates. Buy all the imported whiskey and Hummers you want, is the message. Live a life of wild excess. Just don’t try to produce anything.
Hmm..... maybe paying $2.85 a gallon ain't so bad after all.