March 10, 2014
More care with prices
As President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner correctly insists, nobody can be in favour of overpricing, whatever their political differences, but has it occurred to her administration that there is more than one way of running a consumer protection campaign than its current style of preaching to the converted? Calls for a consumer boycott by picket leaders or Mothers of Plaza de Mayo leader Hebe de Bonafini might strike a stridently leftist note but at the end of the day it is just another way of enforcing the laws of supply and demand so dear to the hearts of free market enthusiasts. If Shell jacks up petrol prices 12 percent, as at the start of the month (or if a supermarket seeks to sell cherry tomatoes at six times the price at a greengrocer, as exposed on the front page of this newspaper just over a fortnight ago), then howls of “destabilization” go up but might it not be equally valid to portray such price-gougers as not very smart businessmen who risk pricing themselves out of their markets — stupid rather than evil?
Some have recalled in the last few days the words spoken in 1989 by Radical Economy minister Juan Carlos Pugliese: “I spoke to them (businessmen) with my heart and they answered with their pocket-books.” But in the current price context there is absolutely no need to speak to the heart of the people by appeals to ideology or democratic loyalty — instead speak to them with the pocket-book and simple common sense will tell the consumer to avoid the supermarket charging six times the price for cherry tomatoes. And such appeals to basic common sense might go further towards reaching that mainstream of the general public which the CFK administration seems to have lost electorally in the last year or two than the class war tactics of the posters identifying (not always correctly) the company CEOs trying to “rob you of your wage.”
Explaining away inflation as unscrupulous speculators seeking to destabilize a democratic government does not really convince because businessmen are merciless pursuers of profit worldwide but only a handful of countries share Argentina’s inflation. Instead why not present consumer protection with specific courts and strong tools available for citizens as the defence of the market laws professed by the business community at large against those abusing prices?