Saturday, August 8, 2009



Cristina was given a 100 dong note this week as a gift. The spirit of the gift lay not in its monetary value (.0056 U.S. dollars) but in its relative rarity, as 100 dong notes haven't been printed for some time in Viet Nam.

So I was going to post a blog about how weird it is to have an exchange rate of 17,800 dong to 1 U.S. dollar, and the experience of holding a note that has the number 500,000 printed on it (that's ~30 dollars U.S. for those of you who don't want to do the math).

Even worse, I was going to write about having a 500,000 dong note and it being useless because I wanted to buy a bowl of bahn da cua, which costs 10,000 dong, and not being able to because no bahn da cua stand would be willing to figure out how to make 490,000 in change.

So given the fact that during my life I've proven myself to be an asshole in about 99 different ways (make it an even 100 after writing this blog) and given the current economic climate, I will not whine about having 500,000 when I needed 10,000, or anything to that effect (at least, not any more than I already have, indirectly as it may have been).

Instead I'll geek out for a moment on the Zimbabwean dollar...

This is a 100 trillion dollar note, printed this year by the central bank of Zimbabwe. It is the result of a monthly inflation rate estimated to have topped out around 220 million per cent. That's an annual inflation rate over 89 sextillion percent, meaning that the price of goods doubled every 24 hours. You paid 50 billion for that loaf of bread yesterday? Well, now it's 100 billion.

Mind you, this 100 trillion dollars is only 100 trillion after the government of Zimbabwe revalued their currency several times. Which is to say that they would chop 10 zeros of their denomination and announce that 10 billion dollars would equal 1 dollar. If they hadn't revalued their currency this 100 trillion dollar note would actually be a 10 septillion dollar note, that's 10 with 25 zeros following it.

How the fuck does this happen? The academic answer is that hyperinflation occurs when a government straddled with debt begins printing money at a much faster rate than the growth of its gross national production. Still, a 10 septillion dollar note? This is madness.

But then I've heard the reports that Fannie Mae is requesting another 10 billion dollars from the U.S. taxpayers. Since 850 billion has been spread around, what's 10 more? And even if a huge sector of the global economic interest lies in the strength of the U.S. dollar, everything is O.K., yes?

After all, the Federal Reserve can always print more money.

1 comment:

  1. Who was it that said that it is now more apt to say "economical" rather "astronomical" when describing incredibly large amounts?

    On a side note, one of the coolest safeguards against counterfeiting is used by the EU. When held under a black light, UV sensitive inks make euros turn funky colors.