If you haven’t paid much attention to the disaster that is slowly unfolding in Venezuela, here’s an indicator: the economic disruption and hyperinflation is so bad that people can’t even afford to use toothpaste to brush their teeth at night, because a single tube of toothpaste costs half a week’s wages.
It’s a classic example of the failure of a government-controlled economy. Venezuela has a socialist government, but it’s a bastardized version that has a lot of Latin American “strong man” elements thrown in, too. Dating from the days of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s government has so interfered with normal economic functioning that the country can’t even take advantage of having the largest proven oil reserves in the world. Chavez expropriated industries, used oil revenues to pay for many social welfare benefits, and discouraged private enterprise. After years of such mismanagement, Venezuela faces chronic shortages of food, medicine, and electricity, skyrocketing crime, and mounting social disorder — to say nothing of hyperinflation, now running at about 700 percent annually, that cuts into the buying power of workers’ wages and makes even a single tube of toothpaste a luxury item to be used sparingly.
The Washington Post story about the toothpaste tells the tale of Venezuela’s downward spiral from the standpoint of the working people of the country, and it is a sad tale, indeed. The average worker’s income is about $33 a month — which is less than a quarter of the average wage in Haiti, which is one of the most impoverished countries in the western hemisphere. People have to stand in line for hours to buy staples like pasta, rice, and flour, and the products they purchase are of poor quality — such as broken-grain rice that normally would be used as chicken feed. Since 2014, the portion of people living in poverty has increased from 48 percent to 82 percent. People are down to eating two poor meals a day, and many are starving.
The government’s only response is to dictate increases in the minimum wage, which was just raised for this third this year, this time by 20 percent, to 250,000 “strong bolivars.” (When you have to name your currency “strong,” it tells you something about how the value of that currency is perceived, doesn’t it?) Of course, the constant increases do nothing to address, and instead only promote, the hyperinflation that is ravaging the country.
We should all think about Venezuela the next time some politician starts talking about how well off we all would be if the government just took a firmer hand in managing the economy.
This morning I woke up with “morning breath.” That’s what we call it these days, where we promptly take steps to try to get rid of that hot, coated, somewhat slimy feeling on our teeth and tongue that comes from keeping your mouth closed during a good night’s sleep.
When you think about it, “morning breath” is really just the absence of minty freshness that we all expect to achieve as a result of our time standing at the bathroom sink, brushing and flossing and gargling and swishing. We want to feel that frosty sensation and experience the rush of cool air when we inhale after a vigorous encounter with toothbrush and toothpaste. And, thanks to the effective advocacy of toothpaste commercials, we are vaguely embarrassed to have “morning breath,” and we wouldn’t dream of walking outside and inflicting it upon people we encounter in the unsuspecting world.
Yesterday I went to the grocery store and needed to pick up some toothpaste. Although there are the dozens of different toothpaste offerings, purportedly geared toward sensitive teeth and teeth whitening and plaque prevention, virtually all of them involve flavoring with spearmint, or peppermint, or some combination of the two. The same is true of mouthwashes, and even dental floss is offered with mint flavoring. Yes, mint is what we want, and mint is what we must have. Have you ever gone to the dentist’s office for a tooth cleaning and had the oral hygienist offer you a choice of mint versus, say, cherry toothpaste? Cherry? Yeah, right! Nobody wants their mouth to taste like a cough drop when they rise from the dentist’s chair!
Mint is supposed to have lots of health benefits, from aiding digestion to pain relief. That all may be the case, but it’s that blast of arctic chill that we crave. We must have mint in the morning!
When I was tailgating at an Ohio State game recently, a fellow fan handed me a “ReadyBrush” packet from her purse.
Not familiar with this groundbreaking product, you say? A “ReadyBrush” is a “toothbrush with toothpaste bonded to the bristles.” You just wet the bristles, and you are ready to attack the plaque. The packet — which is “sealed in freshness” — says the ReadyBrush can be used “before date,” while traveling, after lunch, after cocktails, and “school/camp.” (Camp? Seriously?!? Perhaps camp has changed significantly since the ’60s, but I suspect that even today any fastidious boy who broke out a ReadyBrush after a few ‘smores around the campfire would immediately be pantsed and securely trussed to the flagpole.)
The great unanswered question about this product is why you would ever need a ReadyBrush. If you constantly crave that minty fresh taste, why not just carry a toothbrush and a travel-sized tube of AquaFresh? Under what circumstances would the ReadyBrush be your only viable option to achieve maximum breath freshness?
And what does it tell you about the friendly individual who carries a supply of ReadyBrush packets sufficient to distribute to apparently dragon-breathed fellow tailgaters? What other handy items might be in her Purse of Preparedness, aside from the inevitable Swiss army knife? Water purification tablets? Gas mask? One week’s supply of freeze-dried food? $3,000 in Krugerrands?