Podpultovy Tovar

Tovar translates to English as goods and pod (under) + pult (counter) – this phrase literally means “under the counter goods” and refers to the practice during communism of a shopkeeper removing the best products from the showroom or keeping the best products not out on the shelf where a customer could see them, but under the counter next to the cash register, where only the shopkeeper knew about them.  Safely hidden there, they would only be offered to select customers.

During communism in Czechoslovakia a market system was not legally permitted for goods sold domestically, so shopkeepers made the system more market like with the practice of putting aside podpultovy tovar. In place of a market system, groups of government clerks decided what production rates of certain goods should be set at.  Regularly this led to scarcity.  Goods that are scarce in a market would command a higher price and the people who want those items the most end up getting them.  In communist Czechoslovakia, one was not allowed to charge a higher price than the officially established price, so the shopkeeper who obtained scarce goods wouldn’t make money for the effort he or she may have gone through in getting them.  This would often mean, instead of the goods being sold to the highest bidder (an illegal practice) the person who was closest to a shopkeeper would end up getting the scarce goods.

Stealing from work when no one was looking also seems to have been a common practice during communism.  Many times, I have been told a Slovak phrase that translates approximately as “He who does not steal from the state steals from his family.” The phrase was used to justify such theft, under the idea that 1. the state steals, 2. despite it’s stated intent, the state unevenly redistributes what it steals, 3. everyone is already stealing from the state so that they can get what they consider to be their just amount and fend for their family, 4. this is the practice of the system, if you don’t realize that this is how it works, you are simply being foolish, 5. if you do not steal from the state, you are being negligent in caring for your family.

Podpultovy tovar was another example of how communism divided communities and made people fend for themselves in tiny tribes surrounded only by those they considered most trustworthy.  If you cheated the system openly you might go to jail or a uranium mine.  If you didn’t cheat the system you would fall behind, like a chump.  You needed to cheat, you needed to provide for your family, so you’ll figure out a way to manipulate the system.  In a non-free market economy there will always be podpultovy tovar as people exchange favors with friends and family (using favors as currency) in black market situations where it is illegal to use legal currency as the medium of exchange.

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