App Locates Scarce Toilet Paper Supplies in Venezuela


Toilet-Paper-Wikicommons ||| Credit: Max Power
Credit: Max Power

A new Android app offers a novel solution to Venezuelans affected by a shortage of an important necessity—toilet paper, which has been scarce in the country due to heavy price controls instituted by the government on many commodities. Venezuela ranks 174 of 177 in the Heritage Foundation's 2013 economic freedom rankings, so it's not surprising that their markets are in trouble.

One supermarket visited by the Associated Press in the capital on Wednesday was out of toilet paper. Another had just received a fresh batch, and it quickly filled up with shoppers as the word spread.

Try not to think too hard about what most folks are using as alternatives. Instead, take comfort in that at least some residents suffering from the redistributionist bungle can now locate recently stocked stores with a new Android application

Called Abasteceme—"Supply Me" in English—the free Android app has already been downloaded more than 12,000 times.

Creator Jose Augusto Montiel said most downloads have been made by residents from the capital Caracas.

He said: "Lots of things are in short supply, but what people are most worried about is finding toilet paper. People never knew how much they needed it until it started running out."

As Venezuelans continue their search for TP, not-so legitimate President Nicolas Maduro has blamed the scarcity of the important commodity on dissenters and the private sector, "anti-government" forces he claims are buying up important commodities to undermine the regime. Outside observers are skeptical.

Economists say Venezuela's shortages stem from price controls meant to make basic goods available to the poorest parts of society and the government's controls on foreign currency.

"State-controlled prices—prices that are set below market-clearing price—always result in shortages. The shortage problem will only get worse, as it did over the years in the Soviet Union," said Steve Hanke, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University.

While Maduro promised "the revolution" would import 50 million rolls, that emergency shipment won't improve Venezuela's systemic problems with scarcity. For now, the leftist government could learn from the "Supply Me" app's release, in which a private actor moved swiftly to meet a need without any dictates from on high.