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Megan McArdle

Printing Money Goes Haywire in Venezuela

Flooding the country with cash seemed like a good idea, Now, it's courting disaster.
Bolivar of broken dreams.

Bolivar of broken dreams.

Photographer: FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuela seems to be hovering on the edge of tipping into hyperinflation. Or perhaps it has already fallen into the abyss. Given the paucity of official data -- the none-too-believable official figures were last published in February -- it's a little hard to tell. The best guess we have at the value of a Venezuelan bolivar comes from the Colombian village of Cucuta, where people go to buy currency so they can smuggle subsidized fuel and other price-controlled goods out of Venezuela. As The Economist notes: "Transactions are few; the dollar rate is calculated indirectly, from the value of the Colombian peso. The result is erratic, but more realistic than the three official rates."

Using those rates, economist Steve Hanke recently told Bloomberg that annual cost-of-living increases are running at about 722 percent. To put that in some perspective, it means that a $400 monthly grocery bill would climb to $2,888 in a year. That may not approach the legendary status of Hungary's postwar inflation, which reached 41.9 quadrillion percent in a single month, but it's devastating for savers, or for people like pensioners whose incomes consist of fixed payments. It's also pretty bad for the economy.