Zimbabwe is infamous for its hyperinflated currency, with its citizens carting wheelbarrows full of money to the market just to buy a loaf of bread. The country’s hyperinflation hit a peak in 2008, reaching 5 billion percent, making the Zimbabwean dollar virtually worthless. After that, citizens began using foreign currencies, such as the U.S. dollar and the South African rand.
Now, the Zimbabwean government is finally ditching the currency, offering a deal to citizens in which they can convert their bank account balances to USD. Accounts with balances up to 175 quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars will receive USD$5; accounts in excess of 175 quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars can convert their money to USD at an exchange rate of USD$1 for 35 quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars. People who still hold old Zimbabwean dollar notes can exchange 250 trillion old notes for USD$1.
Zimbabwe’s disastrous hyperinflation is a textbook example of the dangers involved with using fiat currency. Granted, Zimbabwe’s monetary horror story occurred because of extremely irresponsible policies that are not present in the developed world. However, strong currencies like the US dollar are not very different from the Zimbabwe dollar in terms of fundamentals. Both currencies are managed by a central bank and can be printed at will, with no restriction on supply. The only real differences between the two currencies are that the Federal Reserve is better at managing its money supply, and the political climate in the U.S. is much more stable than in Zimbabwe. But those two things could change at any time, placing the U.S. in a similar situation to Zimbabwe.
The only way to guarantee a reliable currency is to completely get rid of central control over money. Arguably, the best way to accomplish this goal is by adopting a currency with a limited supply, as well as preventing banks from issuing money substitutes in excess of real cash. That way, the money supply cannot grow beyond the amount of cash the banks have in reserves. Under such a system, not only would it be impossible for banks and government to create destructive inflation, but volatile business cycles would likely be prevented as well.
Historically, “sound money” has been synonymous with gold. However, as modern technology progresses, the market has produced potential alternatives to gold. Zimbabwe’s move to the United States dollar will undoubtedly be a welcome change for the country’s economy. However, Zimbabweans should understand that the USD is not fundamentally different from their own failed experiment with fiat currency. In the future, they should seriously consider a sound money alternative to fiat currency.