As countries around the world grapple with rising prices, perhaps no major economy understands how to deal with inflation better than Argentina.
The country has struggled with rapidly rising prices for much of the past 50 years. During a chaotic period in the late 1980s, inflation reached an almost unbelievable 3,000 percent, and residents rushed to grab groceries before clerks with price guns could circle them. Now high inflation has returned, which has been exceeding 30 percent annually since 2018.
To understand how Argentines cope, we spent two weeks in and around Buenos Aires talking to economists, politicians, farmers, restaurateurs, realtors, hairdressers, taxi drivers, money changers, street performers, street vendors and the unemployed.
The economy isn’t always the best thing to talk about, but in Argentina it has galvanized almost everyone, drawing curses, deep sighs, and informed opinions about monetary policy. One woman happily pointed out where she had hidden a wad of US dollars (an old ski jacket), another told how she stuffed money into her bra to buy an apartment, and a waitress from Venezuela asked if she immigrated to the right country.
One thing has become startlingly clear: Argentines have a very unusual relationship with their money.
They spend their pesos as fast as they get them. They buy everything on installments, from TVs to potato peelers. They don’t trust banks. Almost no credit is used. And after years of constant price increases, they have little idea of how much things should cost.
Argentina shows that people will find a way to adjust to years of high inflation while living in an economy that is incomprehensible almost anywhere else in the world. Life is especially convenient for those who have the means to make the inverted system work. But all these astonishing workarounds mean that few of those who held political power during the years of the economic crisis paid the real price.