“A tin of diced carrots was worth practically nothing”

by Daniel on July 1, 2004

If you have a coffee break today, why not spend it reading this wonderful piece. RA Radford was an economics don who ended up in a POW camp toward the back end of the second world war, and wrote this article in Economica describing the experience from the economic point of view. If you’ve already read it then congratulations; you clearly went to the right kind of university. Otherwise, it’s a treat.

While chasing up the Radford reference, I happened across this blog btw. I happen to know a couple of things about Chavez-era Venezuela, and this news source, pretty uniquely, checks out as honest on all the areas where I was able to check. The author is a bit less charitable toward Chavez than I am inclined to be (so hate me, I’m inclined to cut totalitarian socialist regimes a bit more slack when they’re faced with massive externally-funded subversion), but he gets the big picture right; Chavez, like modern Castro, is a narcissist and a very poor poster-child for Socialism indeed, but his opposition is woefully lacking in any positive policy prescriptions other than handing everything over to foreign vested interests. Rather a long coffee break if you decide to read both of these, I admit.



Kieran Healy 07.01.04 at 2:34 am

I remember reading this a few years ago. A lovely article. There are some tantalising hints of a comparative study, too, with the passing description of “the highly organised French trading centre, with its stalls and known prices.” I wonder whether there’s a comparable article in the French literature.

The fact that there was no production is worth thinking about more, too.


Maynard Handley 07.01.04 at 2:50 am

Reminds me of boarding school in my junior years (3rd yr through 7th yr of school). We had an elaborate agreed upon exchange system for meals. A slice of bread was worth a glass of milk. Certain meals or meal portions were worth two slices of bread/glasses of milk, while favorite meals and deserts were worth four.
(This was a South African govt school, and while we were not starving, it certainly wasn’t a US college cafeteria. Meals were served to us with no choice at each meal, and while we
could ask for seconds, Oliver Twist-like, it was unlikely that we would get anything.)

To add to the fun, we were forbidden to talk during meals (and I imagine swapping food would also have been forbidden had the teachers known what happened). Thus meals involved an elaborate pantomime of pointing and head-shaking/waving as bits of food were moved around the table and negotiated; ocasionally you’d swap with people in the table next door, but of course this became more and more difficult with tables further away.

Remarkably, since we were all keeping mutual accounts in our heads, I don’t ever remember disagreements over who owed what to whom, or anyone ever welshing on a debt. Maybe you have to get beyond a certain age before the idea occurs to you that you could simply lie about your status and perhaps get away with it.

Aah, the things you put up with and accept as normal when you’re a child.


david 07.01.04 at 3:00 am

I’ll trade a tin of diced carrots for a coffee break :)


godoggo 07.01.04 at 6:28 am

Maynard, I remember going to a cockfight in Manilla. Every fight was preceded by a few minutes of manic (and mysterious) hand-gesturing between crowd members and the men in the ring, and was followed by wads of cash being tossed up and down. Presumably breaking the rules would have been unwise.


Carlos 07.01.04 at 8:43 am

As interesting as the Radford paper is (it’s taught at the USMA by the way), that Caracas blog is even more so. You need a chainsaw to cut through all the cant surrounding Venezuela in the US, and that guy has one.

PS where’s the Surowiecki review? You know you want to.


Henry 07.01.04 at 3:25 pm

Just being pernickety here, but according to the usual pol-sci definitions, Venezuala doesn’t come close to being totalitarian (i.e. a one party state which tries to monopolize all forms of political and civic organization). It does have authoritarian tendencies (authoritarianism being more strong-man caudillo type of stuff and a fair bit milder).


dsquared 07.01.04 at 5:11 pm

Henry is of course quite right.


Giles 07.01.04 at 6:30 pm

“the highly organised French trading centre, with its stalls and known prices.”

More interestingly it then mentions that trade with the French had to be regulated – as ever.


alena 07.05.04 at 1:32 am

I’ll trade a tin of diced carrots for a coffee break :)

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