Russ Roberts: I want to thank those who participated in EconTalk's Annual Survey, which is now closed. I'll discuss the results and your favorite episodes of the year, next week. Now for today's guest. Writer, reporter, and film producer Jim Epstein of , whose recent crazy article on what is happening in Venezuela really fascinated me. And that's our topic for today. Jim, welcome to EconTalk.
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Assume one trillion possible indicators to sift through: that's about ten events -- e-mails, phone calls, purchases, web surfings, whatever -- per person in the U.S. per day. Also assume that 10 of them are actually terrorists plotting.
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Russ Roberts: And, there's debate about how bad it is. I just want to--and as well as, what are the nature of the policies exactly--the price controls situation is quite complicated; there's been some relaxation of price controls, evidently, outside of Caracas, in the outside regions, in other parts of the country. But I just want to read a quote from , a Left-leaning publication, an article by Gabriel Hetland, who just gives some facts as well as his own take as to what's gone wrong. He blames it partly on government mistakes, partly on U.S. policy. But that's, again, not our purview in this conversation. I just wonder about his summary of what's happening there. This was written in August of last year (1916):
The main features are the following: runaway but not (yet) hyper-inflation, which government sources unofficially put at 370 percent for the past 12 months, and which the IMF estimates will top 700 percent for 2016; multiple years of low and negative economic growth (1.3 percent in 2013, -3.9 percent in 2014, -5.7 percent in 2015, and an estimated -10.1 percent in 2016, according to the IMF, with the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean forecasting -8.0 percent growth in 2016); a 40 percent drop in imports this year, and a 60 percent drop since 2012; chronic scarcities of food, basic goods, and medicines....And you may have seen videos of people rioting in the streets over possible opportunity to get food, empty shelves, people in lines for hundreds and hundreds of yards hoping to get basic supplies like sugar, rice, flour, water, toilet paper, etc. It's not a good situation. Crime is a huge problem. There is a lot of corruption in the government, as you've mentioned. And so, what's interesting is in this situation people have come up with some pretty creative stuff. And so, talk about what some of those activities are that you write about in your article.
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Russ Roberts: So, some creative people have gone out, acquired computing equipment, taken advantage of the cheap electricity price, and produced bitcoin--a currency that is inflating at 300% or 700% a year. What are they doing with it? What's the thrill? A lot of people would say, 'Well, what can you do with bitcoin? What good is that? You can't use that in the grocery store?' In Venezuela, it's true that the shelves are empty; but there black market opportunities where you could make, acquire stuff. But those people don't take bitcoins. So, what are they doing that's--um--with the Bitcoin?