In socialist Venezuela, the price of a cup of coffee has doubled every few weeks. The annual inflation rate could hit 1,000,000 percent by years end. People can no longer afford food, but that’s okay because there isn’t any food to be found. South America’s once wealthy nation has spiraled from secure and stable into an unimaginable state of hyperinflation. Venezuela is experiencing the results of government mismanagement, corruption, and socialist ideology. President Maduro’s solution to the problem is to proudly lob three zeros off the hyperinflated Bolivar and call it a “miracle solution.”
At one time, Venezuela had the largest oil reserves in the world, which provided steady revenues for the country and a good living for its citizens. Oil accounted for most of Venezuela’s exports. Life in Venezuela was excellent. Then, in 1998, came President Hugo Chavez. Chavez used the abundant income stream to go on a spending spree as he instituted a large number of entitlement programs using the oil revenues. A strike in 2003 interrupted Chavez’s plans and caused the GDP to crash by 27 percent in just four months. Chavez began nationalizing industries and instituting price controls, which was the beginning on Venezuela’s inflationary spiral as Venezuelans developed a reliance on their government for products and services.
The price of crude oil plummeted in 2014, and the economy shrank by 30 percent. Oil revenues, in the form of U.S. dollars, were dwindling, and Venezuela was unable to continue importing necessary goods. These days, in 2018, stores are empty as people attempt to survive on dealing through the black market.
Venezuela is printing currency at the speed of a copy machine. The more money that is injected into circulation, the more it becomes devalued. The cup of coffee that could be bought for 140,000 bolivars rose to over 1,000,000 within weeks. Today, that cup costs 2,000,000 bolivars. Hyperinflation has placed the purchase of everyday items out of the reach of the average Venezuelan, although President Maduro has granted four wage hikes this year alone.
Venezuela has lost most of its imports as it remains in a state of unprecedented crisis. People are starving, and the average weight loss is 25 pounds due to lack of food. Still, Maduro continues to print worthless currency. For Venezuela to reach this low abyss has taken a combination of corruption and mismanagement on every level of its nationalized industries.
Hyperinflation in invariably the result of government mismanagement and the printing of fiat currency. Venezuela isn’t the only country experiencing inflation. According to Steve Hanke of the Cato Institute, the value of the Iranian rial decreased from 98,000 rials to the dollar to 112,000 rials in one day. That’s a one-day devaluation of 12.5 percent. As in Venezuela, the black market currency business in Iran is thriving. While the official exchange rate to the dollar is 44,030, the black market rate is 112,00, an increase of 154 percent over the official rate.
Professor Hanke has previously dealt with hyperinflation in Bulgaria as adviser to President Petar Stoyanov. At that time, Bulgaria’s rate of inflation was 242 percent a month. Professor Hanke instituted a fixed rate of exchange for Bulgaria’s currency linked to an anchor currency, the German Mark. This prevented manipulation of the country’s currency and allowed market forces to determine its value. This stabilized Bulgaria’s currently quite effectively. Taking the government out of the equation was the prime move to successfully halt the country’s inflation. Bulgaria’s debt has decreased because it was forced to stop printing valueless money and continue spending money it didn’t have.
Professor Hanke sees this as the solution to Iran’s current inflation problem. He suggests gold as the best “anchor currency” because the value of gold is dependent on market forces instead of government manipulation and whim.
In 2017, Zimbabwe was another country with a daily inflation rate of 98 percent and an annual rate of 79,600,000,000 percent. Unemployment in Zimbabwe reached 80 percent. The country’s economy had broken down entirely due to its printing of fiat money and extreme socialist policies. In the 1990s, the government began to redistribute land from white farmers to black farmers. The inexperienced black farmers failed to produce enough food and caused a massive shortage and production fell sharply.
Like other socialist countries, Zimbabwe began to print fiat money and flooding the economy with it. The worse the economic situation became, the more money was being printed. As government debt increased, the money machines continue to crank out currency that became more devalued, thus making it even harder to pay off any debt. As the economic output declined, shortages were on the rise. People had money, but few goods became available. The combination of increased money supply and a higher demand for goods forced up prices sharply. Foregoing all economic logic, President Mugabe blamed the greed of manufacturers for wanting to raise prices. It is the printing of worthless currency that causes inflation and price increase, not greed.
In a repeat of Chavez’s move in Venezuela, Zimbabwe imposed price controls. But production costs increased quicker than prices, leaving producers with no incentive to produce. This increased the shortages and raised prices even more. Inflation invariably becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There was money to go around, but even a million dollars become worthless if the price of bread is two million dollars. The fare for transportation increased between the morning and evening commutes.
The causes of hyperinflation are always the same, yet countries are refusing to learn from history.
When governments begin to print money to pay off their debts, the money supply increases, as do prices. When goods become unaffordable, their demand increases, sending prices even higher. People begin to hoard goods, creating even greater shortages and higher prices. And governments continue to print money that keeps losing value. The formula is tried and true. Still, it continues. Since any articulate eight-year-old can state why a commodity that is rarer will be more valuable, it is a puzzle why central banks and governments can’t seem to grasp that increasing the money supply makes it naturally less valuable.
1930s Germany, of course, is the standard example of hyperinflation. During WWI, the number of Deutschmarks being circulated rose from 13 million to 60 billion as the government kept the printing presses busy 24 hours a day. While the Deutschmark became valueless, the nation’s debt rose from 5 billion to 100 billion.
The identical scenario has been repeated in Zimbabwe, and now in Venezuela. Governments have instituted the same solutions and have been met with identical failures.
No country, if properly mismanaged, is immune to hyperinflation. Gold and silver are the best counterattack for individuals faced with fiat currency and spiraling costs. Hard assets are beyond the control of government manipulation and retain their value during the worst of time. Especially in the worst of times.