Monday, July 18, 2016

Venezuela Where Hyperinflation Meets Socialism and Price Controls: A 30-Day Hunt for Food in a Starving Land

By Fabiola Zerpa

Bloomberg Editor’s note: The looting, the blackouts, the mob lynchings, the hospitals with no supplies. Venezuela’s collapse into disarray is of a scale unseen in the Western Hemisphere in decades. In an effort to illustrate what day-to-day life is like on the ground, Bloomberg reporter Fabiola Zerpa documented her efforts to secure food for her middle-class family. This is a selection of entries from her month-long chronicle.

Thursday. My one chance in the week to buy staples—cooking oil, rice, laundry detergent—at state-set prices. All Venezuelan adults are assigned days of the week to shop for regulated goods based on the numbers on our national ID cards. My days are Sundays and Thursdays. Sundays are useless, though. Stores stopped selling regulated goods over the weekend a long time ago. Thursdays are only marginally more useful. For the past several months, the lines at the two supermarkets near my house in eastern Caracas have been so long, stretching out for two blocks, that it’d take hours to get a chance to shop. And then there’s no guarantee I’ll find anything once inside.

Still, I drive by the supermarkets in the morning to give them a quick look. No chance. They’re so jam-packed, there isn’t even a spot to park. I keep going. My reporting assignment on this day will take me to several parts of the city, so, of course, I’ll be on the prowl for something, anything I can take back to my two kids—an eight-year-old boy and ten-year-old girl—and husband Isaac.

I step into a pharmacy. Isaac is running low on his cholesterol medication. His doctor has prescribed him Vytorin or Hiperlipen. The store has neither. But wait, the pharmacist says: there’s a lab in India that just cut a deal with the government to supply medicine here; they produce an anti-cholesterol pill. I don’t like the idea at all—who knows what this stuff is?—but it’s better, I figure, than taking the risk that he’ll run out of medicine. I grab four boxes.

Around midday, I swing by a bakery in search of bread. I’m greeted, impatiently, by a young woman. “We only sell bread at 5 p.m., seƱora.” On my way out, I notice a sign on the front door that I somehow missed on my way in: “NO BREAD.” As I get back in my car, I realize I’m low on cash. I head to a nearby ATM. It’s out of money.

But later, as my day’s winding down, I stumble upon a little treasure. At a local kiosk, I spot a generic, lactose-based product. It isn’t quite milk—that’s almost impossible to find—but it’s worth a try. Maybe the kids will like it. I walk away with two bottles in my hand and a huge smile on my face.

Read the rest here.


  1. M2 is over the moon in Venezuela. BOOM!! This is not what a recession looks like.

  2. I survived worse in the USSR. That's why I'm firmly convinced that the only good socialist is a dead socialist.

  3. Major takeaway: get healthier while you can. Leaner so you can move faster for longer; stronger so that you can carry more and mitigate injury; better nourished with lower toxic load so that you can survive without pharmaceuticals and stay functional during the inevitable food interruptions.

    Paper wealth is a start, and physical wealth is durable. But ultimately, the only asset never to be lost or stolen is your own physique. I hope all Austrian cognoscenti will prioritize accordingly while we may. Our survival depends on it.

    1. Actually, during starvation muscular and fit people die first - they need more calories. While being healthy is good, the reality is that fat accumulation is here for a reason, such as getting through lean times.

      (Oh, and how do I know it... one survival tactic in GULAG was to avoid hard labor(and accept punishment by reduced food - those who were deemed unfit for hard labor didn't get the full food allowance), those who were smart enough to do that were called "pridurki" (fools); father of one of my friends wrote a memoir ("58 and 1/2: Tales of a labor camp's fool") about his life as a GULAG prisoner.)

    2. You are correct regarding gulag survival, where the winning strategy was to be physically useless, produce tukhta instead of real goods, minimize activity and maximize calories through political intrigue.

      But urban collapse survival is very different. Think of it as closer to what the zeks called "the green prosecutor": surviving nature's trials rather than the state's. Drawing an example from RW's article, the man who can source two sacks of corn flour and bring them home quickly and unnoticed, avoiding kidnappers and thieves, is better off than the fat man who sits at home and waits for Thursdays. Or for an example not in this article, the man who can catch and kill vicious stray dogs feeds not just himself but his family and comrades, and such coalitions are vital to collapse survival.

      In collapse survival, challenges are more athletic than the passive, calorie-conserving, political type we've been conditioned to expect by our lives under a strong state. If you want a historical parallel, the siege of Sarajevo is a place to start. But this is a drastically underserved and misunderstood topic. It is a pity we don't have a better forum in which to discuss.