Nothing represents a failed country better than a worthless currency. So I give you a Zimbabwe bank note.
Back in early 2009, you could get 300,000,000,000,000 (that’s 300 trillion) Zimbabwe dollars for 1 U.S. dollar. But its value actually fell to well below that number. If you printed out this note on your computer, a blank piece of paper would be worth more.
Inflation in Zimbabwe ran at an annual rate of 231,000,000 — that’s 23.1 × 107 percent the summer of 2008 — and ended the year at 6.5 × 10108 percent. As you all know, the number 10100 is a googol. So in 2009, the Zimbabwe government said “Our currency is worthless” and made it legal to use foreign currencies, that actually were worth something, to buy stuff in Zimbabwe.
Things appear to be turning around. Zimbabwe’s GDP grew at an annual rate of 9 percent in 2010, making it the 10th fastest growing economy in the world (the U.S. growth was 2.8%, ranking America at 128). We haven’t heard much about how things seem to have stabilized since opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was installed as prime minister in a power sharing agreement with the President/dictator Robert Mugabe, but the key here is the reference to “president/dictator.” International investors can look at 9 percent GDP growth and think, “this is a place to put our money,” but the reality is this is Zimbabwe, this is what its currency disintegrated into and Mugabe is still around. Lots of bad things happen in Zimbabwe. It just recently dealt with a lot of politically motivated violence, tied to Mugabe’s supporters. But no one pays attention.
American presidential candidate Herman Cain must have gotten some of his ideas on immigration from Zimbabwe’s neighbors (from the CIA Factbook):
Botswana built electric fences and South Africa has placed military along the border to stem the flow of thousands of Zimbabweans fleeing to find work and escape political persecution.
Given recent global interventions, one way to determine the country’s global importance would be to ask how many oil wells does it have? No wells, no importance.
Zimbabwe was once the breadbasket of southern Africa. It’s been a basket case for years.