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Zimbabwean currency basket (case)

A visit to Africa a few months ago produced many, many pictures of wild scenery and wilder animals – and this picture of civilisation after socialism.


In times of inflation, you carry your money to the shop in a basket and carry your purchase home in your wallet. In times of socialist inflation, each note in the basket is for tens of billions. There is a rumour that Zimbabwe will imitate Venezuela and remove some of the zeros. (There is another rumour that says that this had already happened.) The socialist Mugabe is gone but socialism lingers on. I fear Kipling’s poem is not quite right:

But though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said, “If you don’t work, you die.”

Socialism doesn’t work but it also doesn’t die. Socialism is the modern name of an ancient evil that in every generation resurrects and must be slain again.

25 comments to Zimbabwean currency basket (case)

  • Dom

    Rumor has it that in Venezuela baskets are woven out of their paper currency. Baskets sell for more in neighboring countries than the currency that makes it.

  • Julie near Chicago


    “Socialism is the modern name of an ancient evil that in every generation resurrects and must be slain again.”

    A thousand, million YESses!

    This is more important to grasp than all the psychologizing diagnoses that we disgruntled anti-Socialists have used to explain the character flaws of the lefties.

  • Mr Ecks

    Is that a pile of rocks on their money? For a second I thought it was some kind of Big-Mouth Bass type of alien but now I see not.

    Is it to show them that raw useless rock is more valuable than socialist promises to pay? Or is it a warning of all the rocks they will have to break once socialism jails them for some reason or none?

  • Mr Ed

    My NYR is to be an SJW, and I’m not taking lectures on the alleged evils of socialism from a dollar multi-billionaire thank you. 😆

  • Snag

    That money is not current. Zimbabwe does not actually have a currency at the moment, dollars and rand are the most used.

  • That money is not current. Zimbabwe does not actually have a currency at the moment, dollars and rand are the most used. (Snag, January 1, 2019 at 7:07 pm)

    I can well believe it; that picture is from a few months ago, and when a state reaches those sorts of numbers, its citizens are surely close to abandoning all pretence its currency has value. Perhaps it is good news the pretence is gone.

  • Mr Ed

    Thank you Snag for that, it is perhaps the obverse of Gresham’s Law, when bad money has driven out good money, (my childhood was punctuated by hopeless hope of a pre-1948 2 shilling coin with George VI’s head on it (i.e. some silver, they had all gone). Bad money eventually fails and is replaced as a medium of exchange by whatever is usable, after the ‘crack-up boom’ when there is a flight from the inflated currency, something else emerges as currency (or some other things), ‘Snag’s Law’.

  • Steve Brown

    Before the population of Zimbabwe abandoned their own currency in despair, there was issued by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe a bank-note bearing the words “One Hundred Trillion Dollars”. That’s One followed by FOURTEEN zeros!

  • Mr Ed

    Did the Hindu invention of the zero make inflation easier to ‘sell’? Would a (hypothetical) Roman numeral bank note, not necessarily in falling Rome, have been rather less absurd? It has been said that the zero came to the West via the Islamic World, and therefore that we owe ‘nothing’ to the Arabs, I don’t think that’s fair. AIUI, the Chinese banned paper money before the West re-invented it.

  • Snag

    I was in Zimbabwe for a few hours in August, having walked across the border with Zambia at Victoria Falls. The entrance to the falls National Park took every currency you can think of, but nothing Zimbabwean.

    Before the population of Zimbabwe abandoned their own currency in despair, there was issued by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe a bank-note bearing the words “One Hundred Trillion Dollars”. That’s One followed by FOURTEEN zeros!

    I have one of those notes, and a number of ‘smaller’ denominations in the billions and trillions.

    The author and comedian Dominic Frisby noted that because these notes were being sold by speculators and collectors at ever greater prices, the delicious irony is that these obsolete notes were the best performing currency of 2017.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mr Ed,

    You are kicking 2019 off to a good start, giggle-wise, in your various remarks above.

    Happy New Year! 😀

  • Runcie Balspune

    Socialism doesn’t work but it also doesn’t die. Socialism is the modern name of an ancient evil that in every generation resurrects and must be slain again.

    I don’t think Wikipedia is helping either; under its List of Socialist States it says, “This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.”

  • fcal

    A hard working and diligent friend of mine became an enterprising and wealthy Rhodesian in the 70s. Through shrewd investment an appropriate relationships he was soon an Zimbabwean millionaire in the 80s. And by 2008 he was a multi-trillionaire. Looking for investments in proper places, he switched to oil-rich Venezuela. This move into bolivares took him initially a few pegs down. But he soon recovered and reacquired his status of trillionaire. He is still looking for investments, but doesn’t want to be bothered with proposals smaller than a billion bolivares sobrano. Once one start figuring out plans at that level, it becomes clear that warehouses are more important than banks.

  • Mr Ed (January 1, 2019 at 8:25 pm), zero was a Hindu invention, the Arabs being merely transmitters of the idea to the west, so we owe ‘nothing’ to India – and nothing is quite something. Any pure mathematician will tell you that there are really only two numbers in the world, one and zero. (Any computer hardware engineer will tell you the same: my post and your comment are both just binary 1s and 0s under the hood.)

    Roman numerals do indeed take more space on inflating banknotes, but the hundred trillion banknote that Steve Brown (January 1, 2019 at 7:44 pm) mentioned could be written very succinctly as 10 to the power 14, and I think we should concede to socialists their ability to make their worthless trash look superficially plausible – including on a banknote.

  • Dom

    Niall, actually zero was a Chinese invention. The Hindus picked up zero and much of its mathematics, from China, then transmitted everything to the Arabs, who then sent it to the Europeans.

    Oddly, even the reference you gave states that zero appeared in China in the first century, and in India in the fifth century. I think the difficulty is that the Chinese used only an empty space, not an actual symbol, like the Hindus did.

  • Julie near Chicago


    By 1770 BC, the Egyptians had a symbol for zero in accounting texts.


    By the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the Babylonian mathematics had a sophisticated sexagesimal positional numeral system. The lack of a positional value (or zero) was indicated by a space between sexagesimal numerals. By 300 BC, a punctuation symbol (two slanted wedges) was co-opted as a placeholder in the same Babylonian system. In a tablet unearthed at Kish (dating from about 700 BC), the scribe Bêl-bân-aplu wrote his zeros with three hooks, rather than two slanted wedges.[13]

    The Babylonian placeholder was not a true zero because it was not used alone. Nor was it used at the end of a number.


    …[I]t is generally believed that the use of zero in the Americas predated the Maya and was possibly the invention of the Olmecs.[15] Many of the earliest Long Count dates were found within the Olmec heartland, although the Olmec civilization ended by the 4th century BC, several centuries before the earliest known Long Count dates.

    Although zero became an integral part of Maya numerals, with a different, empty tortoise-like “shell shape” used for many depictions of the “zero” numeral, it is assumed to have not influenced Old World numeral systems.

  • Mr Ed

    There is clearly some variance on the origin of ‘0’, perhaps to establish the source, we need to zero in a bit.

    I’ll get my coat.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Now Mr Ed, in this Brave New Year of 2019, we are in need of all the wit we can get.

    (Just as we did last year, and the year before, and….) 😀

  • Mr Ed is certainly providing a non-zero amount of humour in this thread. 🙂

    As for the serious mathematical issue, I hold with Julie-from-Chicago’s quoted point that the ‘invention’ or ‘discovery’ of zero means precisely the moment of realising that it is an actual thing, not a mere absence – not a mere space in a column – and so I credit the Hindu contribution, not the Chinese, as the moment when nothing became something – when nothing became a thing.

    As always when describing this kind of (no)thing, I write a wholly serious explanation – and then re-read it wondering if I’m channelling Mr Ed. 🙂

  • Mr Ed

    The excellent Numberphile channel on YT has a short video on zero, focusing on ‘evenesss’ (or not) someone attributes the ‘space’ concept which was the precursor to the Babylonians.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Perhaps some credit should be given to the Greek atomists, for proposing that all what exists are atoms (1s) and the void (0s).

    A question for Niall, or anybody else who has looked at the book at the last link in the OP: what is that book like? is it more a history book, or a book on the history of ideas, or more of a philosophy book, or what? I ask because i cannot find the table of contents either at the link or at Amazon.

  • Snorri Godhi,

    My husband and I have a copy of We and They… somewhere. It is quite a while since I read it, but from memory it is a collection of separate essays with a linking theme of how the socialist ideal presents itself as modern but is actually just another iteration of the age-old pattern of a society where there is a unified community because no one dares be anything else. I see from Niall Kilmartin’s link that it was published in 1980, and I do seem to recall that the book has a very Cold War feel.

  • Paul Marks

    Technically the inflation has nothing to with Marxism (with Karl Marx and the other 19th century socialists) – it is Keynesianism, the idea that increasing the money supply can not create rising prices if there are “unemployed resources”. As W.H. Hutt and Henry Hazlitt showed many decades ago – Keynes was just wrong. The latest refutation is (I believe) “Where Keynes Went Wrong” by Hunter Lewis.

    However, there has been over the last 70 years or so a connection with Marxism – P. Straffa (an Italian Marxist) and his colleagues at Cambridge combined Marxism and Keynesianism (much like other Marxists were combining Marxism and the ideas of Sigmund Freud – cross-overs were very fashionable), and it STUCK.

    There are very few hard money Classical Marxists now – nearly all of them have accepted the mixture with Keynesian ideas (especially in Latin America and Africa).

    Mixing one set of fallacies (Marxism) with another set of fallacies (Keynesianism) – mixing the two sets of errors does not negate the errors, it compounds them.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Thank you Natalie for the feedback. The book seems worth looking into.

    BTW i was not aware of the Marxist-Keynesian synthesis. I thought that it was loose speech, if not lazy thinking, to conflate the 2. Of course, orthodox Marxism died a long time ago: even Leninism has been called a Marxist heresy.

  • Paul Marks

    There a few “hard money Marxists” still about Snorri – for example Putin’s boy Max Keiser has a pet hard money Marxist is always pushing, Professor Hudson (an American).

    At least Professor Hudson presents himself as a hard money Marxist (always denouncing the “banksters”, “fiat money”, “the Credit Bubble” and so on) – but I suspect his real interest is in creating a massive “legal” default-on-debts – with the hard money stuff being just a pose, a means-to-an-end.

    However, I have been accused of being somewhat cynical (in the same way the sea is somewhat wet) – so Professor Hudson may be entirely sincere.