Odd Moments in Political Economy

I’m beginning to think that our neighborhood grocery store here in Tbilisi could be an interesting source of stories about the politics and economics in the Second World. The tastiest corn chips come from Turkey, the cooking oil brands are almost all Russian (though with relations being what they are, I don’t know if the products themselves come directly from the neighbor to the north), the peanut butter from China looks too suspect to buy, and a fair amount of the pasta is Italian Barilla. Stocks sometimes still seem a question of what the store can get, rather than what the customers want. There are a whole bunch of fancy-looking Dutch cheeses just now, but they seem to be going for about EUR 16 a kilo, which is an awful lot for here. Particularly as I think behind the nice packaging they’re probably pretty ordinary, rather than actual super-artisan stuff that might command the price. And some of the choices are just odd: of the main shelving (the display area in the middle of the store) fully one-twelfth is given over to nothing but ketchup. Ketchup is the perfect condiment, but still. Further, the 750-ml Heinz regular in a squeezable plastic bottle with a label in Dutch is about 7.50 lari, while the the 750-ml Heinz regular in a squeezable plastic bottle with a label in French is about 9.50 lari. This does not look like a rational market. Maybe someone in management speaks English and I can find out why.

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

4 thoughts on “Odd Moments in Political Economy

  1. Is it visibly different from other markets around? If yes, maybe it survives exactly because of this fact. And if no, there is nothing odd.

    In general, rationality may have quite different forms. And even if the decision is economically wrong, it could still be rationally taken.

    In the end, it is exactly this kind of specifics that are most interesting to discover abroad…

  2. On closer examination, I can see that the last sentence isn’t completely clear. What I meant to say was that the 25% difference between two ketchups that were identical except for the presumed place of origin did not seem very rational.

    The supermarket itself is no more peculiar than any of the others I’ve seen here.

  3. In a very, very mild sense, Holland is like this. When you go shopping, you can never be sure if the item you want will be in stock and if it is not, you can never be sure when it will come back in stock.

    For the real basics – meat, bread, milk – it’s not so bad, usually, but for other items, it’s a problem.

    (This is in one of the largest supermarkets in Amsterdam).

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