It’s been a shocking day: the image of people calmly lining up to buy forcibly discounted appliances was a lot to take on. The scene was repeated again and again in dozens of stores nationwide, and was quite distinct from the deeply deplorable – but apparently isolated – looting event in Valencia.
Alongside the fully justified revulsion at the looters, there’s been a strong note of disgust against people who decided to take advantage of the forced bargains on offer today, often queueing up around the block for hours – some, overnight – to do so. Personally, I’m not comfortable with that.
Standing up for economic rationality means avoiding the temptation to rail against those who are doing nothing more than trying to increase their well-being amid difficult circumstances. The government’s demonization of Daka for seeking to maximize profits through its pricing is just as morally bankrupt as our demonization of regular people trying to maximize their family’s well-being by taking the chance to buy appliances while there’s still something on offer.
We need to keep the long game in mind: from today, electronics join milk, apartments, wheat flour, harina pan, chicken and cars in the list of things that you can’t just walk up to a store and buy. TV sets and ACs and such will become the stuff of operativos, of tips shared sotto voce between friends who drop whatever they’re doing and rush out to try to score whatever scarce item it is that, exceptionally, has hit the market. That, really, will be the legacy of the day’s events.
This, I think, is a part of the consumer response today that people are missing. People aren’t fools. Years of living with mounting scarcity has taught them what happens when the government gets aggressive about controlling the cost of this or that good. You don’t need an economics degree to know what comes next, you just need an open pair of eyes and the experience of having lived through the last few years in Venezuela.
Reacting to the announcement that appliance prices are to be aggressively controlled from now on by rushing to buy what’s on the shelf just shows people are fully aware of the unworkability of controls. Reacting to the certainty of shortages tomorrow by moving up your consumption date is proof that the very kind of economic rationality Maduro would have to stamp out to “win the economic war” está vivita y coleando.
Venezuelans aren’t stupid. And we do ourselves no favors by attacking them for refusing to be stupid.