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1/20/09

Bistromatics, Venezuelan edition

In my ongoing efforts to popularize the late Douglas Adams' stunningly perceptive concept of Bistromatics, my idea was to write a really long and wonky post about the problems Chávez&Co are unleashing upon themselves by tapping the country's international currency reserves to the tune of $12Bn, the money transfer coming up this month.

However there is good news: I've just been given a headsup that Quico over at Caracas Chronicles has just beaten me to it. And now the GREAT news; his post is much easier to understand on the subject than mine would have been, so please go over and have a look for yourself. Here's the link. But before I go, here are a couple of comments on his generally excellent article.

1) Quico is a raging Chávez hater and carries that message in everything he writes. So be it, I'm not my brother's keeper etc.

2) However, all the numbers and charts and stats he uses are, in my view at least, spot on. So Otto sez filter out the dogma, forget the politics on offer and concentrate on the fact that the numbers show Chávez is heading for an economic SNAFU. After all, Venezuela has always been totally addicted to oil and the same problems have shown themselves in any administration that lived through an oil price slump; this isn't something unique to Señor RedShirt.

3) I'd like to add this chart (which I cooked up yesterday) as this is just about the only chart relationship Quico didn't have that I would have used. It shows the Reserves-over-M2 rate compared to the real parallel exchange rate in Venezuela, January 2008 to date. It adds that final light blue spike to show where the reserves ratio predicts the parallel rate once the $12Bn is taken from Central Bank reserves.

You'll note that over the longer term the blue line has acted as a sort of anchor for the more volatile parallel rate. It's not an exact fit though, as other things affect the parallel market that live outside the world of theoretical economics and in the world of reality. For example in the April 2008 to July 2008 period the parallel rate was suppressed by bonds emissions that offered virtual free money for those lucky enough to be on board. Then when it became clear in August that there would be no more bonds delivered to market by Venezuela, the parallel popped back up (and overshot somewhat in my opinion). Then in the last few weeks we've seen extra pressure on the VEF due precisely to the recently announced policy of central bank reserves withdrawal. As the move was widely expected, the speculative pressure was already on the parallel VEF.

Really, this chart is just another way of presenting Quico's chart of the comparison to inflation data, but as the chart here is more pure monetary in nature it might be a better way to play. You be the judge. Anyway, all the above doesn't really stand on its own. To get the full idea of what's going on, check out Quico's really top class post. Here's the link again, just in case. now for that Bistromatics excerpt again.

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Bistromatics was created by Douglas Adams in the "Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" series. For those unacquainted with this important mathematical theory, here is the definition of the term as culled from the book:

The Bistromatics Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances without all that dangerous mucking about with Improbability Factors. Bistromatics Itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behaviour of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that time was not an absolute but depended on the observer’s movement in space, and that space was not an absolute but depended on the observer’s movement in time, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer’s movement in restaurants.

The first nonabsolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.

The second nonabsolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of the most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words the given time of arrival is the one moment in time at which is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Reciproverexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of maths, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else’s Problem field.

The third and most mysterious piece of nonabsoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the check, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table and what they are each prepared to pay for.

Numbers written on restaurant checks within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the Universe….