Caracas Chronicles Summit in Guaroristan

Would you buy a used washing machine from these men?

Finally had a chance to meet Gustavo Hernández Acevedo, our Barquisimeto Bureau Chief, in person. We went off on a bit of an appliance bargain hunt, looking for Mi Casa Bien Equipada washing machines.

They’re still around, even with the election over, but we finally understood the catch.

You can buy them cash, of course, and they’re a little bit cheaper than you could get at the Calle de los Arabes, who stereotypically own almost all the appliance shops downtown. In the private sector, we saw a Samsung 7 kg. for Bs.2,590, a Whirlpool Bs.3,000, and a 7.5 kg. Electrolux went for Bs.2,970. Inside Bicentenario itself, a non-Mi Casa Bien Equipada 6 kg. MagicQueen Bs.2,600. And the subsidized Haier branded 6.5 kg. washer went for Bs.1,472, cash.

Not bad! But to really get a bargain what you need is to a subsidized Mi Casa Bien Equipada credit, with interest fixed at 15%, well under the rate of inflation. And to get that credit, you need to have a Cuenta Nómina – a payroll account where your boss deposits your salary each month – at one of the two big state banks, Banco de Venezuela and Banco Bicentenario.

Of course most people who get their salaries paid directly to an account at one of these two banks are public employees! In fact, then, Mi Casa Bien Equipada works amounts to a fringe benefit for public sector workers – one more reason to worry about losing your job and the benefits that come with it.

Gustavo added one other thing I found extremely perceptive. When you think back to the misiones in 2004-2006, they focused on things like health (Barrio Adentro) and education (Misión Ribas, Misión Robinson, etc.) – core state functions with strong positive externalities.

Fast-forward to 2012, and the key government missions – Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela, Mercal, PDVAL, Abasto Bicentenario, Mi Casa Bien Equipada, En Amor Mayor, Hijos de Venezuela – all focus on financing purely private consumption goods: food, housing, appliances, or just straight out cash transfers.

Once upon a time, misiones had a plausible public policy component…but more and more, they’re just free money.

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