February 6, 2023

As countries around the world try to deal with rising prices, perhaps no major economy understands how to live with inflation better than Argentina.

The country has suffered from a rapid rise in prices over the past fifty years. During the chaotic period of the late 1980s, inflation reached an almost unbelievable 3,000 percent and residents rushed to grab groceries before employees with price guns could make their rounds. Now, high inflation is back, having topped 30 percent every year since 2018.

To understand how Argentines cope, we spent two weeks in and around Buenos Aires, talking to economists, politicians, farmers, restaurateurs, realtors, barbers, taxi drivers, cashiers, street representatives, street vendors and the unemployed.

The economy isn’t always the best conversation starter, but in Argentina, the economy has been moving around everyone, prompting insults, deep sighs, and informed opinions about monetary policy. One woman happily showed her where she was hiding for a stack of US dollars (an old ski jacket), another explained how she had put cash in her bra for an apartment, and a Venezuelan waitress wondered if she had emigrated to the right country.

One thing has become strikingly clear: Argentines have developed a very unusual relationship with their money.

They spend the peso as fast as they get. They buy everything from TVs to potato peelers in installments. They do not trust the banks. They hardly use credit. And after years of constantly rising prices, they are left with little idea how much things cost.

Argentina shows that people will find a way to adapt to years of high inflation, and live in an economy almost impossible to comprehend anywhere else in the world. Life can be managed especially for those who have the means to make the inverted system work. But all these surprising solutions mean that few who have retained political power during years of economic hardship have found themselves paying a real price.

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