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back to article Desperate Venezuelans wiped clean of bog roll

Where in the world would you need a smartphone app to be able to buy toilet paper? Why in the world would you need such high tech in order to be able to manage something so fundamental as bog roll? You don't have to be quite such a froth-mouthed free marketeer as I am to think that perhaps this is a result of government fucking …

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Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

Question asked of the economist Paul Seabright by a visiting Russian official shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union - quoted in his "The Company of Strangers".

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Joke

Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

Reminds me of an old gag:

In the '70s a Soviet trade delegation is getting a tour of a tractor factory in the north of England.

The Soviet Trade Minister looks at the assembly lines and asks: "Your workers, how do you organise their shift patterns?"

The foreman replies: "We run three shifts of eight hours each. Ten minutes to clock on and ten minutes washing up time at the end of each shift. They get two tea breaks of fifteen minutes each and an hour for lunch."

"Hah!", says the Russian, "Is very inefficient. In Soviet Tractor collective number 14 we run two shifts of twelve hours each. No clocking on, no washing up, no tea break, half an hour for lunch."

The foreman looks aghast: "Eh? You'd never get this lot to stand for that, they're all bloody communists!".

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Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

Indeed. And they really didn't get the idea that the answer was "no one".

Amusingly I was living in Moscow when that happened: and it was reported back to Moscow as well. All the foreigners fell about laughing and then were gobsmacked when all the Russians we were trying to do business with didn't get it either.

It's one of the things that convinced me that it was going to be a really hard slog getting the place sorted out. They didn't belive in communist planning because they were communists, or believers in planning, they quite literally had no conception that there was another way.

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Unhappy

Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

Totally beside the point, but à propos:

Being a German expatriate in England I can, unfortunately, only state that there is no bread supply in this country.

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Boffin

Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

Bread is not something that is supplied. The Chorleywood process claims to do it, but if you look carefully, you'll see (as you have discovered) that what is produced is not bread.

The only way to get decent bread in this country is to be on good terms with a decent baker, or to make it yourself. I find the second option cheaper... and simpler.

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Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

@andreas koch, I agree. That's why we toast our otherwise inedible "bread". Or deep-fry it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

> Being a German expatriate in England

Try somewhere that caters to the Irish community. Good Irish wheaten bread is closer to German bread than any of that poncy white sliced stuff could ever be.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

Adding 2p of a war story: back in the late 80ies I was working at one of the earliest private companies in one of the largest cities in Russia (still USSR then). Doing, eh, software. Some customers come in for a demo of a new, not yet released, version, are very happy with what they see. The following dialogue is an approximation from memory, and cannot reproduce intonation, body language, or specifically Soviet-style secondary signalling that would be lost on Westerners anyway.

Customer: So, when will we be able to get this new version?

Us: We will release it on Jan 1.

Customer: Oh, OK. And when will we be able to get it?

Us: Well... On Jan 1, if you wish.

Customer: Yeeesss... But when will we be able to *really* get it?...

Us: You *really* will be able to get it on Jan 1...

Customer: No, that's not what we are asking... When will *we* be able to get the new version?

This disconnect was, at the time, amusing, but not entirely surprising, given the life history of us newly minted capitalists/entrepreneurs. We were completely serious about the release date, the demoed version was practically final, the release schedule included all the reasonable padding for unforeseen contingencies, etc. The customers, however, being functionaries of state organizations, were absolutely unprepared to the idea that the stated release date was, in fact, real.

So much for Soviet planning.

P.S.: A few months ago I spent 2 days in Moscow on a business trip, visiting a client - a very large *private* company. Some of the exchanges with my counterparts were disappointingly similar to the above. Hmmm...

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Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

@andreas koch

Try Lidl - very nice sliced Rye bread and Vollkornsbrot(?spelling?)

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Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

@Andreas Koch:

Sorry to hear that. On the other hand, if you ever go to Tokyo, you will find Roggenmischbrot by the running mile (and even labelled as such!)

Third aisle on the left, second shelf, behind the fridge with the 5-litre kegs of Paulaner in. :)

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Unhappy

Worst jobs in the world: no 53

Thanks to the miracle of centrally-planned production, the Warsaw Pact armies also suffered from a shortage of bog roll. Apparently an important source of intelligence for the West were the "recycled" secret documents that could be found all over the countryside after a military, er, exercises.

"Your mission, 007, is to wander round fields in East Germany collecting up the used bog paper."

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Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

Irish soda bread recipe:

500g flour, any kind --- doesn't need to be bread flour. (Half brown, half white works well.)

0.5 tsp salt.

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda.

1.5 tsp cream of tartar.

about 300ml of milk.

Mix dry ingredients together. Add milk and form a dough. Knead briefly. Place on a baking try in a sort of flattened splat shape. Cut a cross into the top with a sharp knife. Bake at about 200°C for 40 minutes. Eat in thick slices with salted butter, sharp cheddar and marmalade (although not all at the same time).

With a bit of practice and a mixer with dough hooks you can get the preparation time down to about five minutes. This gives you a loaf of fresh, delicious bread in well under an hour end-to-end. And the recipe's practically impossible to get wrong.

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Devil

Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

"Eat in thick slices with salted butter, sharp cheddar and marmalade (although not all at the same time)."

Alternatively, leave out the butter, cheese and maramalade, cut the crusts off, and use as a gloriously soft substitute for unavailable bog roll.

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Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

Only one answer - do as I do, bake your own. The stuff sold packaged as bread is disgusting - though I admit that some supermarkets rather revolting offerings are better than the truly repulsive offerings from the leading manufactures of white/brown/wholemeal mush in various forms - baps, rolls, sliced... all of which are singularly so disgusting I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would give money for them

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Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

"Eat in thick slices with salted butter, sharp cheddar and marmalade (although not all at the same time)."

I disagree. Cheddar and marmalade go great together. The only thing better is cheddar, marmalade and peanut butter

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Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

Peanut butter? Worse than Marmite, that stuff.

Good sharp cheddar with strawberry jam, now that is a good combination.

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Devil

Re: Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?

You must move out of London, we have plenty of bread here in the countryside, but of a shortage of good soft toilet rolls which is why we have a good use for cheap white sliced.

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Happy

Re: Worst jobs in the world: no 53

There was an intelligence cell in Rheindahlen with it's own room dedicated to studying such paperwork. Brixmis were the guys digging it up for the men and women in the smallest room of JHQ.

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"...specialist investigators..."

That must go down well at parties:

"What do you do for a living?"

"I hunt down supplies of bog paper for the government."

"Ah......right...... Hey, is that Jim over there? Excuse me I need to go and talk to him...."

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Coat

I've heard of the paperless office...

Coat

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Seems straight forward to me

Obviously, it's a plot by the Venezuelan newspapers to boost circulation!

(Can't wipe your butt with a browser, can you, amigo?)

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"a cache of 2,500 rolls of the stuff"

Wow is that even a container full? Wouldn't keep my family of 5 going for more than a couple of weeks. What the hell do teenagers do with toilet roll? And, funnily enough, I recall my dad asking the same question about 30 years ago.

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Re: "a cache of 2,500 rolls of the stuff"

"What the hell do teenagers do with toilet roll?"

Male teenagers? Well......

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Unhappy

Re: "a cache of 2,500 rolls of the stuff"

"What the hell do teenagers do with toilet roll? "

Buy medicated Izal for their bathroom, and watch usage stop. Of course, you'll need a proper mortice lock on your bathroom door (or the cabinet with the soft stuff).

As for the poor Venezuelans, its notable that the Soviet Union had similar problems in its final years, and I think Cuba did - a failed bog roll supply chain is clearly the hallmark of a failed economy. In which case, rather than poking fun at the Venezuelans, we'd better start filling our lofts for the few years hence when the British economy collapses under the weight of its unpayable debts.

Maybe I can make my fortune with an appropriately shaped, washable, ultra soft silicone squeegee. The modern equivalent of the Roman sponge on a stick.

For 1% of my profits, would anybody care to suggest a name for my device?

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Re: "a cache of 2,500 rolls of the stuff"

'For 1% of my profits, would anybody care to suggest a name for my device?'

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the new hypoallegenic R-Swipe.

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Re: "a cache of 2,500 rolls of the stuff"

why, it's the iWipe of course

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Happy

Re: "a cache of 2,500 rolls of the stuff"

Some fine market-ready suggestions.

Perhaps R-swype gives it a degree of hip-yoof appeal. If the company is Hog's, then Hog's iWipe would certainly appeal to the iDevice wielding chav masses. So that's two segments of the market covered. Half a percent each do you?

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Re: "a cache of 2,500 rolls of the stuff"

iMuck

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DESPERATE VENEZUELANS WIPED CLEAN OF BOG ROLL....

Then underneath:

"Free whitepaper".

Come on Reg, if it's free help the Venezuelans out!

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Re: DESPERATE VENEZUELANS WIPED CLEAN OF BOG ROLL....

"turn to smartphones"

Wipe to unlock?

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Re: DESPERATE VENEZUELANS WIPED CLEAN OF BOG ROLL....

I do like their open source mobile operating system though: Hemorrhoid

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Re: DESPERATE VENEZUELANS WIPED CLEAN OF BOG ROLL....

there's a (c)rapp for that

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Re "don't screw up a functioning market"

You should have told that Chavez in 1999. Not that it would have made any difference to this populist crook.

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Do they still have tissues? Or if they're that desperate, newspaper?

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I bought a four pack of aloe vera enriched bog roll from Aldi the other day for less than the price of a four pack of poor lager. I gained no joy from the purchase, but can't imagine what life would be like if there was no bog roll.

Venezuela has fast become a laughing stock. Perhaps Cezar Chavez was a US secret agent, whose mission was to discredit socialism?

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It doesn't need a secret agent to discredit socialism. It does it perfectly well, all by itself...

It's also sad looking at Argentina. They started to recover really well from their debt-crisis a decade ago. And then the politicians buggered it all up. Not that it would have been easy anyway. They set the price of beef below that of production. Because it's apparently immoral to export food when poor people are struggling to eat beef at home. Well that's all fine and dandy, but how are poor people going to afford food, if all the jobs dry up, because the exporters have been put out of business? I think the soya export trade is still going well, but I read that they've now introduced the same idea to the grain farmers, so that export industry will be going the same way.

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Part of the problem is that (some) people are bulk-buying bog-roll and other goods, and then exporting them to Columbia/Brazil where it's more expensive. This causing an artificial shortage back home.

Price equalization at its finest.

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That's fun

"Price equalization at its finest."

A demonstration of Ricardo's Iron Law of One Price all over again.

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Alternative theory

Another news story I read had an alternative theory - the problem is that the government subsidise bog-roll (and a few other essentials) so it's very cheap, and people are buying it up and shipping it across the border into Columbia where they can sell it at a hefty profit. A triumph of capitalism! Government plan is to introduce rationing (only one purchase a day etc)

Same old story - a few greedy capitalist bastards spoil it for everyone else (definition of capitalism really)

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Re: Alternative theory

Who says it's a few - and not everyone who lives on the border? Like you can't buy baby milk in Hong Kong. Because any Chinese person who goes there, runs to the supermarket and hoovers it all up. Either for profit, or for themselves and friends. Because no-one trusts the locally available stuff after all the recent food scandals.

But anyway, that's why capitalism works. Don't have the government telling people what price things should be and what to buy, they'll invariable screw it up. Don't subsidise stuff. Give people the money to buy it, then they can make their own decisions on what they want. If something's in short supply, then more will magically appear, because the price will go up. At least if the economy works well. If stuff isn't turning up, it's probably because you've regulated your businesses so much, that they can't change production without filling in forms, in triplicate, then burying them in soft peat for 3 months, and re-cycling them as fire lighters.

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Re: Alternative theory

I ain't Spartacus, a little correction: Give people the means to earn the money to buy it...

Anyway, filling in forms, in triplicate... You're a hopeless optimist, aren't you? ;-)

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Re: Alternative theory

Evil Auditor,

I agree. I was going to say use the cash saved on subsidies to raise benefits for those on them, and lower taxes for those not on them - then let them choose what to spend their cash on. But got side-tracked onto forms and fire lighters...

Economies are just too complicated for governments to plan. They don't even have enough information or knowledge to get interest rates right, because the data takes 3 to 6 months to collect and the effects of changes can take 2-3 years to finish percolating through the system. So even if economists had a perfect understanding of cause and effect in economics (and they don't...), it would still be impossible to manage an economy perfectly. How people can expect a government to be able to balance demand for bread, toilet rolls, healthcare and all the myriad other things is beyond me.

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JC_

Re: Alternative theory

I have fond memories of filling up the 23 litre tank of my motorbike in Venezuela and getting change from $1. It wasn't so fun close to the Brasilian border where there were massive queues of Brasileros at the petrol stations.

You weren't allowed to fill containers, which made sense, so exporters would simply build external petrol tanks into their car boots. It took a lot of arguing in Spanish to get my 500ml stove bottle filled up, which was a bit ridiculous when the Brasilian next to me was filling his car up with 200 litres...

Personally, I'd rather have loo paper than cheap petrol.

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Re: Alternative theory

@I ain't Spartacus:

"Like you can't buy baby milk in Hong Kong....But anyway, that's why capitalism works."

I'm not sure what you're trying to argue here... Is this a "breast is best" angle, and you're praising the market shortage of totally unnecessary formula feed as the "invisible hand" promoting child health?

The meer existence of baby milk is proof that capitalism is all about conning people into buying stuff they don't need.

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Meh

Re: Alternative theory

no, he was correctly pointing out that uncontrolled markets encourage cheating, like creating false protein levels in baby milk by adding toxic chemicals as reported in China for over two years because the companies are unregulated effectively. Management was the local Party. The point that all should have made is that politicians damage economies in at least two ways.

(a) crude interference with pricing mechanisms such as arbitary price controls

(b) allowing the companies and politicians to become interdependent or the same thing, as in the ruins of the USA, Australia and maybe Exgreat Britain.

<rant>Big corporations are most western governments effectively because they own the pollies via election funding.

Perhaps it is time for wannabe pollies to emulate the old monks and take vows of poverty. At least it maintained learning in Europe while the usually unlearned pollies crashed the Empire and fumbled their way into barbarian invasions. No political funding from anyone unless it is from party members private funds, with a limit. Might reduce the amount of $$ the media types get, but who cares. </rant>

Lastly, R-swipe, you nearly owed me a new keyboard

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Stop

Re: Alternative theory

Downvoted you because that's not what I Ain't Spartacus was saying. There was a scare a while ago where highly dangerous levels of melamine were found in milk supplies in China. These could kill babies who were fed it. So there is now a view that *all* milk in China is suspect and those Chinese citizens who can do so now hop across the border to buy their milk from Hong Kong supermarkets (and generally clear out the shelves when they do so). Those who clean out the shelves generally do so to resell the bottles back across the border at a profit. Hence the "capitalism at work" comment.

Oh, and also downvoted for mispelling "mere". ^_^

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Re: Alternative theory

The meer existence of baby milk is proof that capitalism is all about conning people into buying stuff they don't need.

The Indomitable Gall,

Really? Are you seriously saying that no-one wants that stuff, and only because 'evil capitalists' produce it are people suckered into buying it? Because that's a pretty silly argument, if so.

Breast milk may be best, but I'm not sure how long that's been known, as in demonstrated by multiple studies. But even if everyone who could breastfeed did so, there would still be a place for formula milk. Unless you want to go for the evolutionary argument, that the genes of mothers who aren't (for various reasons) able to successfully breastfeed shouldn't be passed on - and that a few dead babies is a reasonable price to pay for this. And I really doubt that's what you meant.

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Re: Alternative theory

My comment about baby formula in Hong Kong was an answer to the point that people may have been selling their toilet paper into Brasil, in order to profit from government subsidised paper. Although I'm not sure if that's true. I was under the impression that there's no subsidy, but a price control. So the government aren't actually paying out to make it cheaper, they're controlling prices to gain popularity. If you do this to the extent that price falls below cost of production, then the obvious will happen. No more production. Although that will take time.

A business should continue to produce goods and sell below cost of production, so long as they've already got the machinery in place and they're still making enough money to pay ongoing costs like labour, transport and power. i.e. if you can cover all marginal costs and at least some of your fixed costs, and there's no alternative (i.e. producing something profitable on the same machines), you may as well do so. In hopes that the business can keep running, and things improve in future. Obviously though, you won't invest any more.

My point I guess, though I didn't make it, is that people are the problem. If people have an incentive to do something, even something harmful, some of them will probably do it. That is the problem with both socialism and capitalism. In the case of capitalism, greedy bastards will do stupid things to make cash, that harm other people. And that's why you need a government, with a big stick, to regulate them - and try to keep things fair.

However the socialists can't get too smug here either. Because the problem with socialism is that if people don't get incentives then they also don't do good stuff. Or at least not everyone. So some people might work for the greater good, but a lot of people also want a nice telly or car or house. And if that's not on offer, they may not want to work more than what puts food on the table. And if society is giving to each according to his needs, from each according to his means, then there'll turn out to be a lot more people with needs than those with means, unless the ones with means are also getting something out of it. Freeloading is then a logical choice.

In China, neither is working. You're almost getting unfettered capitalism. Certainly in the case of the baby formula. There may be food standards regulations, but they're not enforced. And there's no incentive for the party to enforce them, because they have special party suppliers, that bring in foreign food. So they're all right Jack. And fuck everyone else. Sections of the Chinese economy are a total free-for-all, with all the downsides of unregulated capitalism. But other sectors are almost totally state run and/or state owned. Such as the banking sector, which is even worse than ours was in 2007 at the height of the madness. They've got the corrupt links between local government and local banks to make the problems with the Spanish Cajas look like a picnic. Although $3 trillion of foreign reserves solves many problems.

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Anonymous Coward

Venezuela, the place where all ideological experiments are proven to fail

A country literally floating on enormous oil reserves is full of contradictions, like having unfulfilled basic necessities. They are the poster child of failed capitalism, failed communism, and everything in between.

Still, someone has done something right on that country, because they have one of the longest democratic traditions of South America.

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