Tag Archives: Price Controls

How a small third world country became the top economy in Latin America

South America Map
South America Map

So, I’ve been watching the Democrat debates, and I’ve noticed that all of their candidates are proposing economic policies that they say will improve the lives of Americans. But have the candidates ever been able to try out these policies, and proven that they work? One way to evaluate policies is to look at other countries that have tried them, to see if those policies are proven to work.

I’ve been reading a book called “Money, Greed and God” with my friend Carla, which talks about what does and does not work to alleviate poverty. The author basically outlined two approaches. In the first approach, the government 1) confiscates the wealth of the most productive workers, 2) nationalizes (takes control of) the businesses of the most successful entrepreneurs, 3) restricts trading between citizens and with other countries, with minimum wage, price controls and tariffs. In the second approach, the government does the opposite: 1) lowers taxes on the most productive workers, and 2) lets entrepreneurs compete to provide goods and services to consumers, and 3) lowers restrictions on internal trading and trading with other countries, e.g. – eliminating minimum wage, tariffs and price controls.

Let’s take a look at two Latin American countries that went in opposite directions. Venezuela and Chile. Then we can finally find out which policies actually achieve results for the people.

Here is how Chile started out in 1973.

PROBLEM: Price controls and tariffs:

Prices for the majority of basic goods were fixed by the government in 1973. Even though Chile was and still is a small economy, the level of protection­ism was high. By the end of 1973, the nominal average tariff for imports was 105 percent, with a maximum of 750 percent. Non-tariff barriers also impeded the import of more than 3,000 out of 5,125 registered goods. Just as economic theory predicts, large queues in front of stores were usual in Santiago and other cities in Chile as a result of the scarcity caused by price controls.

PROBLEM: Government taking over private businesses:

The decline in GDP during 1973 reflected a shrinking productive sector in which the main assets were gradually falling under government control or ownership through expropriations and other government interventions in the economy.

PROBLEM: Deficit spending and government printing money:

The fiscal situation was chaotic. The deficit reached 55 percent of expenditures and 20 percent of GDP and was the main cause of inflation because the Central Bank was issuing money to finance the government deficit.

SOLUTION: lower or eliminate restrictions on trade:

The most important economic reform in Chile was to open trade, primarily through a flat, low tar­iff on imports. Much of the credit for Chilean eco­nomic reforms in the following 30 years should be given to the decision to open our economy to the rest of the world. The strength of Chilean firms, productive sectors, and institutions grew up thanks to that fundamental change.

SOLUTION: let competing entrepreneurs in the private sector provide goods and services to consumers:

A second fundamental reform was to allow the private sector to recover, adding dynamism to the economy. In fact, important sectors such as elec­tricity generation and distribution and telecommu­nications were still managed by state companies. After we implemented a massive privatization plan that included more than 50,000 new direct share­holders and several million indirect (through pen­sion funds) shareholders, these companies were managed by private entrepreneurs that carried out important expansion plans.

SOLUTION: let people take responsibility for their own lives instead of depending on government:

The 1981 reform of the Chilean pension fund system deserves special mention. Under the leader­ship of Minister José Piñera, an individual capitali­zation account program was designed with specific contributions, administered by private institutions selected by the workers. The Chilean Administra­doras de Fondos de Pension (Pension Fund Administrators or AFP) has been replicated in more than 20 countries, and more than 100 million workers in different parts of the world use these accounts to save for retirement.

SOLUTION: allow parents to choose the school that fits their needs from competing education providers, and push school administration down from the federal government to the municipal level, where it would be more responsive to voter’s needs:

In 1981, Chile introduced a universal educational voucher system for students in both its elementary and secondary schools. At the same time, the central government transferred the administration of public schools to municipal governments…  The financial value of the voucher did not depend on family income.

RESULTS: And I was able to find a nice short, description of how all that worked out for them on the far-left Wikipedia, of all places:

The economy of Chile is a high-income economy as ranked by the World Bank, and is considered one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations, leading Latin American nations in competitiveness, income per capita, globalization, economic freedom, and low perception of corruption.

In 2006, Chile became the country with the highest nominal GDP per capita in Latin America. In May 2010 Chile became the first South American country to join the OECD. Tax revenues, all together 20.2% of GDP in 2013, were the second lowest among the 34 OECD countries, and the lowest in 2010. In 2017, only 0.7% of the population lived on less than US$1.90 a day.

According to the Heritage Foundation, Chile is ranked as the 18th freest economy in the world. The World Bank ranked Chile as the 50th highest GDP per capita for 2018, just below Hungary and above Poland.

Now, you can contrast those results with Venezuela. I have been blogging about Venezuela for years on this blog, and documenting how they raised taxes, banned guns, nationalized private sector companies, raised tariffs, and increased regulations. They are now ranked JUST ABOVE NORTH KOREA for economic freedom – #179 out of 180 countries measured. Basically, they did the opposite of everything that Chile did – transferring power away from parents, workers, business owners, churches and municipal governments to the powerful centralized federal government.

Wikipedia explains how Hugo Chavez took over in 1999 and enacted a communist revolution.

More:

Since the Bolivarian Revolution half-dismantled its PDVSA oil giant corporation in 2002 by firing most of its 20,000-strong dissident professional human capital and imposed stringent currency controls in 2003 in an attempt to prevent capital flight, there has been a steady decline in oil production and exports. Further yet, price controls, expropriation of numerous farmlands and various industries, among other government authoritarian policies… have resulted in severe shortages in Venezuela and steep price rises of all common goods, including food, water, household products, spare parts, tools and medical supplies; forcing many manufacturers to either cut production or close down, with many ultimately abandoning the country as has been the case with several technological firms and most automobile makers.

They confiscated private property, took over private sector businesses, implemented tariffs and price controls, redistributed wealth via massive welfare programs, and pushed all decision-making out of families and municipal governments up to the federal government. By depriving the producers of their earnings, the country caused massive shortages of goods and services, to the point where people are fleeing the country, consuming zoo animals, and selling their bodies as prostitutes in order to get food and water.

Application

In the next election, we are not picking a tribe because of how they make us feel about ourselves. We are not choosing in order to see ourselves as “nice” and “not nice”. We need to look at specific policies being proposed, and see what works and what doesn’t work. The examples of Chile (rags-to-riches) and Venezuela (riches-to-rags) are helpful for voters who want to get RESULTS instead of FEELINGS.

I’ll leave you with a list of links from previous posts so you can see how communism worked out for Venezuela.

Related posts

 

My conversation with a leftist friend about basic economics and rent control

My conversation with a leftist friend about “Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy, 4th Edition“, by Thomas Sowell.

Him: I remember why I stopped reading that book when you asked me to read it.

Me: Why did you stop reading it?

Him: Because of the chapter on rent control.

Me: Chapter 3 is the chapter on price controls. It talks about rent control.

Him: I expect an economist to present both sides of rent control. He has to present the arguments for and against rent control.

Me: There are not two sides to rent control. There is only one side to rent control. He chose that because it is a clear cut example of the problems caused by price controls. Economists universally condemn rent control, across the ideological spectrum.

Him: No they don’t.

Me: The chair of the Department of Economics at Harvard University, Greg Mankiw, reports in his economics textbook that 93% of professional economists agree that rent control reduces housing supply and housing quality. It is the most agreed upon position among economists across the ideological spectrum, number one in his list of facts on which professional economists agree. And obviously they have reasons for agreeing on that, specifically the experience of trying rent control policies in different times and places. It has always failed.

Him: Somebody must like rent control, because they have it in New York city.

Me: Politicians and low-information voters support rent control. It makes politicians feel good, and it gets them elected, too – if the voters are economically illiterate enough, as they are in New York city.

Him: But what about global warming then? Isn’t the consensus against you there?

Me: There has been no global warming in the last 17 years, according to the New York Times. They were reporting on findings by the UN IPCC in 2013.

Him: The UN never said that. The New York Times never wrote that.

Me: Yes, they did. And I have the sources I can send them to you.

Him: I’ll bet you do. (walks away in a huff)

This is the relevant quote from the Greg Mankiw post from his survey of economists that appears in his textbook:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

And this is the relevant quote from the New York Times article, dated September 2013:

The global warming crowd has a problem. For all of its warnings, and despite a steady escalation of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, the planet’s average surface temperature has remained pretty much the same for the last 15 years.

As you might guess, skeptics of warming were in full attack mode as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gathered in Sweden this week to approve its latest findings about our warming planet. The skeptics argue that this recent plateau illustrates what they always knew — that complex global climate models have no predictive capability and that, therefore, there is no proof of global warming, human-caused or not.

The author of the NYT article (a leftist) goes on to attempt to explain he is not concerned by the 17 year period of no significant warming, but the point is that the 17 year (not 15 year) period of no significant warming is A FACT acknowledged by the UN IPCC that has to be explained by those who believe in catastrophic man-made global warming. The IPCC may not like the temperature measurements, but those facts are not in doubt. The global warming crowd might make predictions about the future, but they made predictions about the past before, and we now know for a fact that those predictions (polar ice caps melting, Himalayans melting, significant global warming, etc.) were FALSE. They have been falsified by evidence, and that’s not in doubt.

Economic illiteracy is the problem

When people on the left voted for Barack Obama in 2012, they did not know based on evidence that they could keep their doctors and keep their health plans and that insurance premiums would drop $2500. They did not know it because the economic studies contradicted Obama’s words. They even believed Obama when he said that the Benghazi incident was caused by a Youtube video. Obama-supporters had a sincere belief in the words of his passionate speeches. They were impressed by the visuals of him talking to large crowds of young people. They believed him because they had feelings about him. And voting for him made them have good feelings about themselves. They felt that they were going to achieve good things by voting for this good man. They meant well, but they did not know. They did not have evidence.

Before the 2012 election, people on the right pointed to evidence from studies (like this one) showing that Obama was lying, but his supporters were apparently not interested in economic studies. They want to preserve the feelings of being good people. They want to preserve the belief that you can embrace policies that sound good, and that words that sound good will necessarily lead to good results for people who are at a disadvantage. I don’t question the motives of people on the left – they mean well. But meaning well doesn’t produce good results without knowledge of economics. In economics, policies that sound appealing to well-meaning liberals (rent control, tariffs, protectionism, minimum wage, trillion-dollar deficits) actually produce bad results for poor people. And we know this for a fact from our experience across different times and places.

If we can get people to accept the authority of our observations of policy experimentation in different times and places over and above their feelings and intuitions, then we can save this country.

Socialist Argentina follows-up runaway inflation with price controls on groceries

Take a look at this article from the leftist Washington Post, which reports on how the socialists in Argentina have imposed price controls in order to minimize the impact of runaway inflation caused by money printing.

Excerpt:

Argentina announced a two-month price freeze on supermarket products Monday in an effort to stop spiraling inflation.

The price freeze applies to every product in all of the nation’s largest supermarkets — a group including Walmart, Carrefour, Coto, Jumbo, Disco and other large chains. The companies’ trade group, representing 70 percent of the Argentine supermarket sector, reached the accord with Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno, the government’s news agency Telam reported.

[…]Economist Soledad Perez Duhalde of the abeceb.com consulting firm predicted on Monday that the price freeze will have only a very short term effect, and noted that similar moves in Argentina had failed to control inflation. Consumers shouldn’t be surprised if the supermarkets are slow to restock their shelves and offer fewer products for sale, she added.

A more effective way to contain inflation would be to “reduce government spending, which is financing an expansion of the money supply, and to have a credible price index.”

Isn’t ironic that the United States is pursuing the exact same policy of printing money and overspending as Argentina has? Excerpt we are a little further along.

So what happens next in Argentina? Zero Hedge explains:

What consumers will certainly do is scramble into local stores to take advantage of artificially-controlled prices knowing very well they have two short months to stock up on perishable goods at today’s prices, before the country’s inflation comes soaring back, only this time many of the local stores will not be around as their profit margins implode and as owners, especially of foreign-based chains, make the prudent decision to get out of Dodge while the getting’s good and before the next steps, including such measures as nationalization, in the escalation into a full out hyperinflationary collapse, are taken by Argentina’s female ruler.

[…]So to summarize: first capital controls, then a currency crisis, then expectations of sovereign default, then a rise in military tensions, and finally – price controls, after which all out chaos usually follows.

Study this sequence well: it is coming to every “developed” country near you in the months and years ahead.

Just to be clear, price controls are a clear signal to suppliers to stop supplying, since they cannot make any money if prices are held low by government decree. Price controls lead to shortages, necessarily.  And that’s what’s in store for Argentina once the private sector food suppliers (and other companies) pull out of there when they can’t make a profit. There are other places they need to be.

Imagine if America elected a charismatic, incompetent fool to run our country like socialist dictators do in Argentina or Venezuela. Imagine if the mainstream media, with their non-quantitative degrees and lack of real-world experience, covered for his every blunder. Where would we be then?

California: Obamacare exchanges will raise health insurance premiums up to 25%

The radically leftist Los Angeles Times reports on it. (H/T The Cato Institute)

Excerpt:

California’s health insurance exchange said more than 30 plans are expected to vie with one another for spots in the state-run marketplace opening next fall.

State officials, and those in other states, are eager to flex their purchasing power under the federal healthcare law by selecting only certain individual and small-business health plans for 19 different regions across California.

The exchange, branded Tuesday as Covered California, will negotiate with insurers for the best rates and will assist consumers and small businesses in choosing a plan by separating them into five categories based on cost and level of benefits.

[…]The ability of the exchange to lower healthcare costs remains unclear. Experts said average premiums could rise in the exchange because the Affordable Care Act requires improved benefits, but consumers’ out-of-pocket medical costs could decrease under those same changes.

California insurance officials have expressed concern about substantial rate hikes for some existing policyholders going into the exchange.

Under a new rating map approved by state lawmakers, the Department of lnsurance estimated that premiums for similar coverage could increase as much as 25% in West Los Angeles, 22% in the Sacramento area and nearly 13% in Orange County.

Do you want to pay higher medical insurance premiums? Can you afford it? We’ve already seen massive drops in average household incomes under this President.

According to Forbes magazine:

New income data from the Census Bureau reveal what a great job Barack Obama has done for the middle class as President. During his entire tenure in the oval office, median household income has declined by 7.3%.

In January, 2009, the month he entered office, median household income was $54,983. By June, 2012, it had spiraled down to $50,964. That’s a loss of $4,019 per family, the equivalent of losing a little less than one month’s income a year, every year. And on our current course that is only going to get worse not better…

[…]Three years into the Obama recovery, median family income had declined nearly 5% by June, 2012 as compared to June, 2009. That is nearly twice the decline of 2.6% that occurred during the recession from December, 2007 until June, 2009. As the Wall Street Journal summarized in its August 25-26 weekend edition, “For household income, in other words, the Obama recovery has been worse than the Bush recession.”

[…]Obama has failed the poor as well as the middle class. Last year, the Census Bureau reported more Americans in poverty than ever before in the more than 50 years that Census has been tracking poverty. Now The Huffington Post reports that the poverty rate is on track to rise to the highest level since 1965, before the War on Poverty began. A July 22 story by Hope Yen reports that when the new poverty rates are released in September, “even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest level since 1965.”

Additionally, medical insurance premiums, which Obama promised to lower, are actually up.

From Investors Business Daily.

Excerpt:

During his first run for president, Barack Obama made one very specific promise to voters: He would cut health insurance premiums for families by $2,500, and do so in his first term.

But it turns out that family premiums have increased by more than $3,000 since Obama’s vow, according to the latest annual Kaiser Family Foundation employee health benefits survey.

Premiums for employer-provided family coverage rose $3,065 — 24% — from 2008 to 2012, the Kaiser survey found. Even if you start counting in 2009, premiums have climbed $2,370.

Why should we go forward with Obamacare, which requires the construction of these exchanges? Obama already broke his promise to cut health insurance premiums, and the full implementation of these exchanges would raise the premiums even higher. This is nothing but a ploy to justify the imposition of price controls on private health insurers so that they go out of business, and we are left with a fully government-controlled system. Then there will be no choice, no competition, waiting lists, a shortage of doctors and rationing of health care by un-elected bureaucrats. Do not give this man a second term.

Here are a few articles that I have been using lately to inform people about the problems with Obamacare:

It’s important to understand that people who oppose this law don’t oppose because we are just being contrary.  We have reasons.

What economic policies do left-wing and right-wing economists agree on?

This article is from Harvard economist Greg Mankiw. (H/T Michael)

Excerpt:

Here is the list, together with the percentage of economists who agree:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

I wonder which political party believes in most or all of these positions?

Hmmmmn.