Thursday, December 11, 2008

Moneda Crisis

Josh's mom Shelley, his brother Jacob, and last but not least his sister Hannah know all about what I'm going to share with you today. When they visited it was difficult for them to accept. We had to train them. We had to scold them when they did wrong. But in the end there was no way any of them would give up their precious monedas (coins) and they proudly boasted when they were given a shiny new peso to be tucked into their pockets.
The moneda crisis is one familiar to those who live in Buenos Aires where the buses or collectivos only take change. "No problem," an ignorant US citizen might reply to a person lacking in the necessary monedas for their bus trip. "Just go to a convenience store, or as you call them in Buenos Aires a kiosko, and ask for some change." "Hah!" I would reply. Because here is Buenos Aires there are signs in all the windows saying "No hay monedas." This literally means: there are no monedas. At a kiosko i was flatly told "No hay monedas" when I needed to get on the bus for an interview and the banks were not open yet. But of course when I bought a nasty pack of want to be gusher Halloween candy I was given my needed peso for the trip. Lying boludo...but then I really can't blame him because how many times have I lied through my teeth while fluttering my eyelashes and saying as innocently as possible "oh, no tengo monedos," or "no tengo cambio, disculpe me." Often this will result in a shiny new peso, or ten tiny ten centavo coins, but frequently the cost will just go down to ignore the change, or as has happened to me on occasion the fed up store clerk will grab the item I am trying to buy off the counter and make it clear if I'm not going to give some coins up then I'm not a welcome customer. Shocking, I know. Now why the bizarre shortage of coins? An article my friend Erin sent me explains all:

Yes, We Have No Monedas!Inside the world's most annoying economic crisis.

By Joe KeohanePosted Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008, at 6:58 AM ET

It was no surprise that the cab driver tried to rip us off. We're in
Buenos Aires, Argentina, after all, and we'd made the rookie error of
requesting a vague destination instead of giving a precise
address—naturally he interpreted this as a license to take us from La
Boca to the Plaza de Mayo by way of southern Nicaragua. What we hadn't
expected was the predicament the driver found himself in when it came
time to pay. The fare had come to 14 pesos and 6 centavos. I proffered
a 20-peso note (worth about $6.70), and he handed back 50 centavos,
suggesting that I was going to be shorted 44 centavos. Then he
realized that continuing on this course would require him to give me
two 2-peso notes and a 1-peso coin. He sighed dramatically and gave me
three 2-peso notes instead. Factoring in the 50 centavos he had
already handed over, this effectively reduced the fare to 13.50 pesos,
which, for reasons I'll get to in a moment, is actually more than
14.50 pesos.

Welcome to the world's strangest economic crisis. Argentina in
general—and Buenos Aires in particular—is presently in the grip of a
moneda, or coin, shortage. Everywhere you look, there are signs
reading, "NO HAY MONEDAS." As a result, vendors here are more likely
to decline to sell you something than to cough up any of their
increasingly precious coins in change. I've tried to buy a 2-peso
candy bar with a 5-peso note only to be refused, suggesting that the
2-peso sale is worth less to the vendor than the 1-peso coin he would
be forced to give me in change. When my wife went to buy a 10-trip
subway pass, which retails for 9 pesos, she offered a 20-peso note and
received 12 pesos in bills as change. This is commonplace—a daily, if
not hourly, occurrence. It's taken for granted that the peso coin is
more valuable than the 2-peso note.

No one can say what's causing this absurd situation. The government
accuses Argentines of hoarding coins, which is true, at least to some
extent. When even the most insignificant purchase requires the same
order of planning and precision as a long-range missile strike, you
can hardly blame people for keeping a jar of monedas safe at home. The
people, in turn, fault the government for not minting enough coins. In
fact, the nation's central bank has produced a record number of
monedas this year, and the problem has gotten even worse. Everyone
blames the bus companies, whose buses accept only monedas. (Buenos
Aires' 140-plus bus routes are run by a number of separate, private
companies.) These companies, exploiting a loophole in the law, run
side businesses that will exchange clients' bills for monedas for a 3
percent service fee. This is legal, but the business community also
routinely complains of being forced into the clutches of a thriving
moneda black market—run by the local mob, or the bus companies, or
both—in which coins sell for a premium of between 5 percent and 10
percent. The bus companies steadfastly deny any involvement in this
racket, but their claims were undercut by the discovery of a hoard of
13 million coins, amounting to 5 million pesos, in one company's
warehouse this October.

Now us international Frisbee tournament players know the real answer. Want to stock up on coins simply go to the beach where no one takes the bus and they give those coins away at Kioskos. When getting on the bus to go home Nick proclaimed "Man, this place is awesome, I'm swimming in monedas!!" Its the little things in life...especially when my local bank refuses to give more than three to four away at a time...So the next time you buy your roll of quarters for laundry, just give a little sigh of thanks that doing battle with store clerks has not become part of your daily routine in your search for cambio (change).

1 comment:

Shelley Rolf said...

i actually thought i found a stray moneda in my bag...but alas, it was not. you'll have visitors soon, who can be hoarding monedas for you :-)