The news from Zimbabwe is incredible but true: In the last month, annual inflation has risen to more than 1-million percent.

A loaf of bread now costs about 200 million Zimbabwean dollars, according to news reports. Ten years ago, that would have bought a dozen cars.

A small package of coffee beans runs Z$1 billion. A chicken will set you back Z$2 billion. The problem will get worse, massa: If current trends continue, the countrys annual rate of inflation will hit 5-million percent by October.

In such a crazy situation, whats a rational person to do?

One strategy would be to buy consumer goods in advance of when theyre needed, so they may be obtained before prices float upward or supplies dwindle.

By one definition, thats just sensible planning. By another, malgrat això, its hoarding.

With the cost of food and fuel reaching new heights, were beginning to hear that word more frequently. Earlier this year, Costco limited the amount of certain types of rice it would sell to individual customers. Some groups have called upon the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to crack down on speculators who want to purchase goods at relatively low prices today and sell them at higher prices later on.

In reality, hoarding simply isnt a problem in the United States. Perhaps some people are choosing to buy items before they really need themstashing a few extra bags of rice on pantry shelves, for instance. Or maybe theyre picking up an extra bag of lawn fertilizer at the garden store. But theyre just planning ahead.

We often criticize people for taking a short-term viewpoliticians who dont think past the next election, CEOs who wont look beyond the next earnings statement, and teenagers who behave like theres no tomorrow.

Now were supposed to frown on folks who take a long-term view? Thats ridiculous, unless the goal is to condemn everyone, no matter what they do.

Yet hoarding can be a genuine problemnot when individuals plan ahead, but when governments enact policies that restrict trade and limit consumer choice. Thats what happens when countries slap export tariffs on their agricultural products. Sobre 40 countries do it right now, including China, Índia, Kazakhstan, Russia, i Vietnam.

On first glance, its a strange policy. Nations usually want to increase their exports, not depress them. With food costs shooting upward, malgrat això, political leaders face pressure to respond. Some think that if they cut off export markets, theyll guarantee a hoard of supplies at home and thereby keep a lid on prices.

This may work for a little while, but it almost always backfires. Export tariffs are a classic example of short-term thinking.

As the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, they failed miserably for the United States in the 1970s. To fight domestic inflation, Washington outlawed soybean exports. The global demand for soybeans didnt magically disappear. Nor did other nations sit around and wait for America to change its policies. en comptes, farmers in Argentina and Brazil stepped in and filled the vacuum.

avui, the United States is once again a global supplier of soybeans. But so are Argentina and Braziland nowadays they give us a run for our money, especially because theyve welcomed the same biotech tools that have improved production.

Export tariffs on soybeans didnt whip inflation. But because U.S. policymakers thought it was wise to hoard soybeans, they ultimately encouraged two of Americas biggest competitors in soybean production and export.

When people plan ahead, theyre taking a close look at their individual circumstances and trying to prepare for what may come. When governments try to do the same thing, they tend to let the central planners take over with inappropriate, one-size-fits-all approaches. These often wind up delivering unintended consequences, hurting the very people theyre supposed to help.

The lesson for public-policy makers who want to address the current food crisis is easy enough: First, do no harm.

Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & tecnologia. http://www.truthabouttrade.org