Joburg Expat: We Are Rich!

January 18, 2012

We Are Rich!

Who knew that we'd have to come to Africa to finally be rich. And I don't mean just normal rich, I mean super rich. Fifty trillion dollars and counting. You know how they keep talking about the super-rich in the U.S., the 1% of the population who have like 20% of the wealth? Well, I bet you they don't have fifty trillion dollars like we do.

That must make us something like the 0.01%. The 0.01% who are actually dumb enough to pay 5 Euros for a pile of worthless bills. But I love the feeling to have handled that much money just once in my life. I mean, did you see how many zeroes that is? I don't think I've ever seen a number that big in print, anywhere.

Read any book about Zimbabwe, and you will learn that the above bill was not an unusual sight just a few years ago. It might have bought you a drink at some point in time, but only if you were quick enough to spend it before it was even more worthless. People would walk around with briefcases full of money and use entire stacks of bills with rubber bands around them to pay for simple transactions. I think their reserve bank took it up to the 100 trillion dollar note before the cost of the paper it was printed on became prohibitive and the entire currency was scrapped. If you travel to Zimbabwe nowadays, you have to bring US dollars or Euros, even Rands.

If you look at these bills closely, you will see that their issue dates just span a few short months. Some actually have expiration dates on them. Imagine having to look at your dollars, to see if any of them don't expire anytime soon, like that gallon of milk you've had in the fridge too long. Whoopsie, guess I've gotta throw that one out!

History always repeats itself. I remember my grandmother telling stories of pushing wheelbarrows full of cash at the end of each week after payday, rushing to the bakery to get a loaf of bread while it was still only a million mark. If you waited too long, you'd only get a half a loaf of bread because the price had gone up. This, of course, was during the Weimar Republic, a dark chapter in Germany's history but not nearly as dark as what was to follow.

That is what it has come to in Zimbabwe today.


Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

Interesting to see that money. (We could have been living in Zimbabwe, but the project didn't go through, so we ended up in Armenia.)

I read a fascinating book not long ago, a tragic-comic story by a white Zim man who lives in England, and regularly visits his parents in Zimbabwe who own a resort property, not a farm. It's all about their amazing struggles to stay afloat and what they had to resort to to survive. Some of it is quite hilarious.

It's called The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers.

Sine said...

Oh no, not another book! I've been on a Zim book reading rampage and need to stop:-) But it does sound like a good book. Especially if it has comic parts, as it can get quite depressing to read about what's going on there.

Land of Nams said...

sine i just posted this on your FB but it's funny my hubs wrote an article about this a few months ago!

Sine said...

Yes, I had read that, my husband reads the WSJ religiously and tends to forward stuff to me which I then read about 3 weeks later:-). It was well-written!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

If you are ever interested in learning more about runaway inflation and how places like Zim get to such a point you might want to check out When Money Dies by Adam Ferguson.

Sine said...

I know quite a bit of anecdotal history on this topic. My grandmother lost all her money twice due to hyperinflation in Germany. My mother tells stories of her parents running with washtubs full of money to the bakery to buy bread because by next morning the prices were going to double. It's something we who haven't gone through it cannot even fathom.