As countries around the world struggle to cope with rising prices, perhaps no major economy understands how to live with inflation better than Argentina.
The country has struggled with rapidly rising prices for much of the past 50 years. During a chaotic trend in the late 1980s, inflation reached a staggering 3,000 percent, and residents rushed to grab groceries before clerks with price guns could circle them. Now high inflation has returned, exceeding 30% every year since 2018.
To understand how Argentines cope, we spent two weeks in and around Buenos Aires, talking to economists, politicians, farmers, restaurateurs, brokers, barbers, taxi drivers, moneychangers, street performers, street vendors and the unemployed.
The economy isn’t always the best talking point, but in Argentina, it moved just about everyone, prompting curses, deep sighs and informed opinions on monetary policy. One woman happily showed off her stash for a pile of US dollars (an old ski jacket), another explained how she stuffed cash in her bra to buy an apartment, and a Venezuelan waitress wondered if she had immigrated to the right country.
One thing became strikingly clear: Argentinians have developed a highly unusual relationship with their money.
They spend their pesos as fast as they get them. They buy everything from televisions to potato peelers in installments. They don’t trust banks. They use almost no credit. And after years of constant price increases, they have no idea how much things should cost.
Argentina shows that people will find a way to adapt to years of high inflation, living in an economy that is impossible to understand almost anywhere else in the world. Life is especially manageable for those with the means to make the upside down system work. But all these impressive solutions mean that the few who held political power during years of economic hardship have found themselves paying a real price.