Monday, August 04, 2008

A Country Where Everyone’s A Billionaire!!

Warning : The following article may not be suitable for children below 7 years of age due to its mature content. The kids may permanently be traumatized by the flood of zeroes and may never be able to cope up with normal number systems. Parental Discretion is advised.

We’re talking about Zimbabwe.

Ruled by Robert Mugabe since independence in 1980, this country is going through the nastiest ever economic meltdown. Once an exporter of foodgrains, the land is grappling with chronic shortages of nearly everything : ranging from food to fuel, medicines to machines, thanks to a blatantly corrupt system and short-sighted policies of a quasi-dictatorial regime. Western sanctions add insult to injury.

Elections were held in this nation a few months back. The mandate was clear – the people wanted the dictator to go. Quite hilariously, it was the ruling government that complained of biased vote counting resulting in the nullity of the elections. And we thought Musharraf was the most shameless man on earth!

Official inflation figures stand at – hold your breath – 2.2 million or 2,200,000% while unauthorized figures hint at a figure between 9,000,000 to 12,500,000 percent! A supersaver king-size loaf of bread costs as much as 200-billion Zimbabwean Dollars. The extent of monetary chaos can be gauged from the fact that The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe issued a banknote worth Zimbabwean $100,000,000,000, that is, 100 billion bucks two weeks ago!!!

A $250,000,000 bill issued in May 2008

A 50-million bill

Zimbabwe's $100 billion banknote with the number of eggs it could purchase on its release date

To do away with the noughts, the government came up with a new currency this week. The newfangled currency has the same name but it slashed 10 zeroes away. This means, according to newly issued banknotes, a Z$1 is equivalent to 10 billion Zimbabwean Dollars(old currency). The government re-issued the coins that had once become obsolete owing to their microscopic denomination. The electronic calculators must have heaved a sigh of relief, finally getting rid of the billions and trillions in the basic calculations. But for the humans, it has led to farcical times in the country. People who had preserved a collection of old coins are out of the blue finding themselves to be super rich!

This is not the first time everything is zero-fied. Yugoslavia under Tito witnessed its highest ever rate of inflation 15 years back. The government was bound to issue banknotes with a 500-billion denomination. Weimar Republic Of Germany, in the aftermath of the World War issued a 100-trillion note!!!

A German woman feeding a stove with currency notes, which burn longer than the amount of firewood they can buy.

Be ready to drop your lower jaw a tad more. Hungarian National Bank holds the world record in dealing with zillions. The bank issued a banknote with a 100-quintillion denomination in 1946. For the blissfully ignorant, 100 quintillion is written as 100,000,000,000,000,000,000. That’s a total of 20 zeroes!!! The nation also holds the world record for the utmost monthly inflation ever. Just for the record, the inflation was as sky-scraping as 41,900,000,000,000,000 percent!!!

Back home, I sympathize with Mr. Chidambaram who’s spending sleepless nights when the inflation in our country is a miniscule 12% !!!!