the Humanitarian Consequences of Bad Money
A similar story is playing out right before our eyes in Venezuela, where Maduro’s socialist state is falling to pieces. Named “the worst economy of 2016” by the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela’s annual inflation rate recently hit 1,300,000% and is expected to grow to 10,000,000% next year.
It’s easy to get lost in the zeros. Simply put, if you bought $1million USD worth of Bolivars in 2013, you would have less than $0.37 today. In an ironic metaphor for the meaninglessness of the currency, gold from the online game World of Warcraft is worth more than 62 times the value of the Bolivar.
A Venezuelan making the median salary will only take home enough money at the end of the day to buy 900 calories of the cheapest food available. To put that in context, without spending a dime on rent, clothing, or medication, at the end of their day, a worker could only afford two eggs. This, combined with food shortages, has lead 15% of Venezuelans to eat garbage as a regular part of their diet. In July of 2018, six children were dying each week of starvation.
The Venezuelan military is now controlling distribution of scarce stocks of food as desperation increases — and those who support Maduro get better access to goods. The government is using hunger as a mechanism of political control.
Citizens are reverting to gold as store of value. Many have even gone back to the mines to work, which brings its own challenges. Sleeping in the mines has caused many to get infected with malaria. This year, rates have already jumped over 60% over 2017 — which grew 69% more than the year before. Medicine is free, but shortages mean it is virtually impossible to get treatment — even after waiting for hours or days at clinics.
Shortages have also impacted the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, which was once virtually eradicated. Of particular concern, measles, a disease that infected only one single individual across 2008–2015, has now spread to over 5,300 people. Hospitals simply have nothing to work with — no medicine, no supplies, and a decreasing number of staff. Often they can’t perform surgeries because they don’t have electricity. Even if they can, there are no antibiotics and no cleaning supplies to prevent and treat infections. 79% of hospitals don’t even have regular access to water.
People are dying at such alarming rates that coffins are hard to find and impossible to afford.