The number on this banknote is Five Hundred Billion.
That is 500 x 1000 x 1000 x 1000; that is, 500, 000, 000, 000.
It is one half trillion, a number I never even heard of in relation to money in the United States until the Crash of 2008.
But this was Yugoslavia, and it was 1993.
My daughter’s language tutor who lived in Yugoslavia at the time, related the following story. Inflation was so bad that she would run to the store to cash her paycheck and buy groceries as by the morning the value would be so much less.
An article by Thayer Watkins, PHD, relates many stories of the people who lived through, what he calls, the worst episode of Hyperinflation in history. I wish he was correct on this. Follow the tags in this website and consider some of the other episodes of hyperinflation our world has suffered.
The banknote on the left was issued in late 2013. The banknote on the right was issued in late 2017. The denominations, bolivares, are the same.
The front and back images are the same. The left banknote is more beige in color and the right banknote is more yellow in color.
Both banknotes have the numeral 100 displayed prominently. The banknote on the right, however, adds the word “mil”, thousand, after the word “cien”, hundred. The banknote on the left is 100 Bolivares. The banknote on the right is 100,000 Bolivares.
At the time of issuance of the 100 bolivares banknote in 2013, it was equivalent to approximately 10 US dollars. So that means that, at that time, 100,000 bolivares would buy pretty much the same thing as would 10,000 US dollars.
At the time of issuance of the 100,000 bolivares banknote in 2017, it was equivalent to about 1 US dollar.
That means that, in December 2017, it takes ten times 100,000 bolivares, or 1 million bolivares, to buy what could be bought for 100 bolivares just 4 years ago, in 2013. Another way of saying this that the value of the bolivares has been divided by 10,000; or, yet another way of saying this, is that, the price of things to buy in Venezuela have gone up by a factor of 10,000, in 4 years. Life today is ten thousand times more expensive then it was 4 years ago. And, think of this, Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves in the world. Why then, is it not among the richest nations of the world?
Said a man of old: “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” This is natural Law. Hyperinflation occurs when men make a mess of things.
The birds illustrated on the back of our banknotes are Cardenalitos. They are native to Venezuela in Parque Nacional El Avila and found also in verly limited surrounding areas.
This stacked configuration of rocks is a common trail marker for hikers in North America, and, I’d guess, the rest of the world. Two stones stacked might be a coincidence. But three stones stacked, or more, isn’t considered natural. Such stacking is an evidence of intent, and therefore, a signal, or signpost. And so, such hand stacked stones are commonly used for trail markers in the wilderness.
But these rocks in Zimbabwe are massive. They weigh tons. For a sense of scale, note in the image, the treetops surrounding the stones.
What giants stacked such stones?
And what sign did they wish to leave for us? What trail did they intend to mark?
They are signposts of the constructing powers nature. These stones congealed from molten lavas, as plutonic granites, within massive volcanic flows, just beneath the surface of the earth. As subsequent ages of erosion by wind and water lowered the surface of the land, and scoured the soils between the stones, these giants of the past were left, revealed.
The travel brochures tell us that the stones symbolize a need for balance between development and ecological preservation. That’s nice sentiment, and I am sure it is true. But it’s a sentiment that feels somehow imposed, rather than derived; and more contrived to sell postcards rather than to communicate a wisdom learned.
Especially considering this simple 3 stone signpost of nature appears beside the number One Hundred Trillion on a Zimbabwe banknote. “Trillion” is a word that was almost never heard a decade ago. It was used for measurements in science but almost never for money. A trillion is a thousand, thousand, thousand, thousand. It’s a number that we really cannot imagine. A thousand, thousand, thousand, thousand dollar bills, stacked on top of each other, would reach over 60 miles high. That number on a banknote indicates something seriously out of balance.
In the 1990s, president Robert Mugabe used monetary policy to rebalance the country’s culture after the serious racial imbalance of the past. The adjustments created serious imbalances in other ways. and the national economy was impoverished. The relation between a day’s labor, and the money received, became entirely out of balance. An imbalance of money was printed to offset the other imbalances; and the self-perpetuating cycle of hyperinflation took off, until the dollar was meaningless. This 100 trillion dollar banknote, in just a short time, became equal to zero.
Imagine placing 100 trillion dollars on one side of a balance scale and nothing on the other side, and the scale showing a perfect balance.
But those three stacked stones remain, balanced, an eternal signpost.
This is a Szazmillio B.-Pengo banknote. “Szazmillio” is Hungarian for one hundred million, so, this is a hundred million B.-Pengos. “B.-Pengo” means a billion pengo. But Hungary used the “long scale” as did much of eastern Europe at that time. Thus “billion” means a million million, or a trillion. (“Short scale” billion means a thousand million. See here and see below). Thus our banknote is the equivalent of 100 million million million pengos, or one hundred million trillion pengos, or one hundred quintillion pengos.
How much is one hundred quintillion? If in individual pengo banknote was 2″ wide x 4″ long, 100 quintillion banknotes would completely cover our planet, 2000 layers deep!
If those individual banknotes were laid end to end, 100 quintillion banknotes would reach to our nearest star Alpha Centari and back again to Earth, 90 times!
Here is someone’s illustration of what just one quintillion pennies would look like……… 1 quintillion pennies.Envision that multiplied by one hundred!
But a pengo was worth far less than a penny in those days.
What did hyperinflation feel like? The worst year was from August 1945 through July 1946 during which prices increased an average of 19% per day. On the worst days, prices would triple from one day to the next. A loaf of bread that cost a dollar yesterday costs 3 dollars today and nine dollars tomorrow and 27 dollars the day after tomorrow.
Says the Technical People: “Hyperinflations are caused by extremely rapid growth in the supply of “paper” money. They occur when the monetary and fiscal authorities of a nation regularly issue large quantities of money to pay for a large stream of government expenditures. In effect, inflation is a form of taxation in which the government gains at the expense of those who hold money while its value is declining. Hyperinflations are very large taxation schemes.” http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Hyperinflation.html
How fast did they grow the money supply during that fateful year? How fast did they print more paper money? From what I’ve read, the money supply in July 1945 was 25 billion pengo, and then in January 1946 1,646 trillion pengo, and then in May 1946 65 quadrillion pengo and then in July 1946 47 septillion pengo. They were printing money like it was going out of style. They were printing money so fast that halfway through they stopped collecting taxes (now That had to be Fast!), because the tax value of collections one day late had lost so much value.
It stopped in August 1946 when a new currency was introduced, the florint, at the rate of 1 florint equal to one octillion pengos. And of course, they unplugged the printing presses too.
“The long and short scales are two of several large-number naming systems for integer powers of ten that use the same words with different meanings. The long scale is based on powers of one million, whereas the short scale is based on powers of one thousand.
Every new term greater than million is one thousand times larger than the previous term. Thus, billion means a thousand millions (109), trillion means a thousand billions (1012), and so on. Thus, an n-illion equals 103n + 3.
Every new term greater than million is one million times larger than the previous term. Thus, billion means a million millions (1012), trillion means a million billions (1018), and so on. Thus, an n-illion equals 106n. ”
As always, if you have something to add to this story, or a recommended landmark for visiting, I welcome your comments!
For more stories from Central Europe on this website, click here.