Venezuela was once a country with a robust oil economy and a population that, while predominantly poor, was beginning to crawl out of the abyss of poverty. Then came the economic policies of Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, who spent the fortunes of the country on ill-advised social programs that didn’t help the abjectly poor and ruined the rest of the economy. Now it’s a country where you can — if you can find one — buy an iPhone 6 for $47,678.
Bloomberg Business had a piece about how the combination of high levels of criminal violence, chronic scarcity of basic goods, and high inflation have conspired to make a common staple for many around the world — a smartphone — just a dream in Venezuela. If you are lucky enough to have enough money to get an iPhone 6 (you’ll probably need to be a government official or crony), you can then look forward to getting robbed of it a gunpoint if you’re careless enough to use it in public.
That’s what happened to Maria Veronica Fernandez, a Caracas resident who used to have a nice Samsung Galaxy S4… until she was relieved of it. She then had to put her name in at eight stores for the “opportunity” of buying a much less impressive Samsung Galaxy Fame, a phone she really didn’t want.
Falling oil prices are further damaging the Venezuelan economy, but policies like carriers being forced to go through government “middleman” Telecom Venezuela for phone inventory rather than importing directly from manufacturers also create a false scarcity that causes smartphone prices to skyrocket.
It’s a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks that an overburdening federal bureaucracy, a poor economy, and reckless spending — exacerbated by corruption and cronyism — is a good idea. Just remember that a fairly free market economy has made it possible for you to purchase an iPhone 6 for less than $1,000, and that’s something you should cherish.