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Taste Price-Control Goodness, Fight Inflation with Argentina’s Dollar Menu

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Jun 17, 2014, 9:30 am

EspañolWithin the framework of a price control program called “Careful Prices,” the Argentinean Ministry of Health announced on Friday the launch of an online recipe book, aimed at mitigating the impact of inflation and helping citizens maintain a healthy and varied diet, despite rapidly rising food prices. The so-called “Careful Recipes” proposed by the government are based on products that fall under a price control agreement among suppliers, supermarkets, and the government. On Thursday, June 12, local media first reported the new policy and the news caused a lively discussion on social networks.

The government’s initiative explains that there are at least nine meals that can be prepared with less than AR$9 (US$0.77), and the ministry’s statement includes photos along with each recipe. The “noodles with vegetables” dish costs only AR$4.94 (US$0.42), and the hot rice pudding and tuna can be prepared for the modest sum of AR$8.11 (US$0.7). The most expensive recipe is milanesa with tomato and carrot salad, totaling approximately AR$8.67 (US$0.74).

Each recipe lists the nutritional value of each serving, health tips, and the reference price per serving based on the “Careful Prices” program.

According to Juan Manzur from the “Healthy Argentina National Plan,” this latest program aims at “improving the nutrition of Argentinians and to protect their pockets,” and plans to launch new recipes gradually over time.

The “Careful Prices” program is an agreement established by the government of Cristina Kirchner with supermarkets, distributors, and major suppliers to control the price of 250 basic goods. “The reference prices of goods in the basket are based on an analysis of the value chains. The objective is to ensure competitive conditions in the economy, help Argentinean pocketbooks, and ensure the right of each consumer to be well informed,” states the program’s official website.

Manzur, a medical doctor and deputy governor of the province of Tucumán, explained that “integrating health care with the protection of Argentinean pockets is yet another expression of the public policies promoted by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.”

The recipes’ recommended portion sizes became the source of jokes on social media, and among journalists and economic analysts. Many social network users questioned whether these same meals were being prepared in the dining halls of Congress, and asked rhetorically in which supermarkets could such low prices be found, especially considering the elevated price of tuna. “No seconds,” many users sarcastically remarked.

Renowned Argentinean economist José Luis Espert told the PanAm Post that “Cristina [Kirchner] is sick in the head, completely detached from reality. The government hides poverty figures and uses a distorted price index. Now that poverty is back into the political agenda, it is understandable that they publish these figures ​​[in the recipes]. They are figures consistent with the poverty and inflation figures published by the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC). And these policies are consistent with the official story.”

Iván Carrino, economic analyst for the Freedom and Progress Foundation, also argued that interventionist public policies cause negative side effects.

“What is really at play here is the political calculus of the government: they don’t want to appear as the bad guys that deliberately destroyed the purchasing power of the peso, so they blame companies and appear as the good guys, ‘healthy meals’ plans in hand. I would prefer a system where the government would not have to worry about these things. That is, a system where prices fall due to competition between companies, which is the normal process in successful countries without poverty. In our latitudes, the government is the one who impoverishes people, but then wants to appear as the cure for poverty,” said the economist.

Secretary of Commerce Augusto Costa and Undersecretary of Domestic Trade Ariel Langer visited three Walmart stores on Thursday to check whether they carried sufficient inventory of the goods listed in the “Careful Prices” program and are being sold at government-approved prices.

Costa said that the objective of these visits was to “allow consumers to verify, through their shopping experience, that prices are taken care of by all of us together.”

Translated by Alan Furth.

Belén Marty Belén Marty

Belén Marty is the Libertarian Latina, a journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has lived in Guatemala, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States and is a former candidate for local office with Argentina's Libertarian Party. Follow @BelenMarty.