Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has never met a price control he didn’t like. The latest news is that he will regulate the price of new and used cars in order to fight inflation, which hit 54% in October. This is a lot like using leeches to balance the four humours: It’s discredited nonsense that does more harm than good (and shame on Bloomberg.com for its uncritical report on the matter, though I’m sure many other news outlets are just as bad).
As Matt McCaffrey and Carmen Dorobat pointed out in the International Business Times last month, inflation in Venezuela (and elsewhere) is quite simply the result of monetary expansion. The government prints money like a lunatic, which makes each single unit of currency worth less (and eventually worthless). More units of the debased currency are therefore needed to purchase goods and services, which is just another way of saying that prices go up.
Imposing controls to stop nominal prices from rising therefore actually lowers real prices below market rates. This leads to shortages, something long-suffering Venezuelans know a thing or two about. Their country is tragically being gutted of its accumulated capital by disastrously wrongheaded economic policies.
Equally mistaken, though not quite as harmful, is the Quebec government’s plan to control the price of books in order to keep sellers from selling them too cheaply. Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois wants to cap discounts on new books at 10% to protect small booksellers from competition from online and big-box retailers. Whereas Maduro imposes price ceilings, Marois wants to impose a price floor, which will keep books above their market rate. As my Québécois Libre colleague Larry Deck quipped, “Surely nobody would buy fewer books just because they cost more, right?”
Ceilings or floors, fixing prices by diktat distorts market signals and makes most everyone worse off. Depending on their pervasiveness, price controls can lead to a little—or a lot—of hardship. Quebec’s politicians would do well to think twice before emulating an economic basket case like Venezuela.
Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.