Our Inflation Hurts Zimbabwe

For the last 5 years before I retired, I made a point of adding a Zimbabwe million dollar bill to the card, with the sentiment “Everyone should retire a millionaire.”  I have seen 100 trillion dollar notes – though they quit printing them in 2009.  The thing about paper currency is that it doesn’t cost the government a whole lot more to print a million dollar note than a one dollar note. 

Finally, their currency was so worthless they quit using it.  Zimbabwe didn’t go exclusively to the US dollar – currency from China, South Africa, England, etc. was all circulating.  My knowledge of Zimbabwe comes from working with expatriate range scientists – we had two at SDSU whom I met.  They were more knowledgeable on range management than I, and I think their casual knowledge of exchange rates exceeded our econ profs.

Ecuador and El Salvador, facing rampant inflation, went over to the US dollar in 2000. It was not a painless shift:  “Dollarisation is not without its pitfalls. In March 2019, Anna Ivanova, IMF’s mission chief for Ecuador, said the dollar made Ecuador’s exports expensive. “Raising Ecuador’s competitiveness and raising productivity will require a concerted effort. Since Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency, it is not able to use exchange rates as a tool to make its exports more competitive in the global market. Therefore, the country will have to rely on policies that allow for internal devaluation instead,” she said.”

The Canadian dollar has been moving closer to parity with the US dollar.  I don’t believe this is due to Trudeau’s economic brilliance, but rather the even more lightweight understanding of economics in DC.  Based on that assumption, we might use the rising value of the Canadian dollar as an indicator of where the US inflation rate is.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spain, importing tons of silver and gold from American colonies, managed inflation without the printing press – basically the increased supplies of silver and gold just raised prices.  Rome developed it’s inflation by melting down the existing coins, adding lead, and then making new, more debased coinage.  Still, to really do a good job with inflation, nothing beats putting politicians in charge of the printing press.

It’s worth remembering that the Brits put Sir Isaac Newton in charge of their mint – and despite his brilliance in physics, Newton set the exchange rate – silver to gold – too low, and silver coins left the marketplace.  There’s a law that says bad money will drive good money out of circulation – but we tend to think of it in things we remember – the silver dimes, quarters, halves and dollars of my youth have been out of circulation for half a century.  It seems unreal that a math blunder by Isaac Newton could have made gold run silver out of circulation.  Simple point – if Isaac Newton could screw up with silver and gold, just think what a modern politician with a printing press can accomplish.

The other nations whose currency has been less stable have been hanging on to US bills – probably Franklins and Grants.  We’ve been here before in the Carter years – but the rest of the world wasn’t using the American dollar as a reserve currency.

This chart ( ) shows us at 6.22% inflation at the end of October.  You can work their data back to 1914 – a time when land in Trego was still available for homesteading.  It’s a lot easier to get information on inflation with the internet than it was when Jimmy Carter was a president.

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