This is What $100 Trillion Looks Like!

A few weeks ago, international investment guru and libertarian activist Doug Casey of Casey Research came by the Reason HQ in Washington, D.C.

Look for an interview to go live in the next week or so. Casey is talking up a new documentary he's put together called Meltdown America, which warns that the United States could end up suffering fates similar to Greece, Argentina, and Zimbabwe if we don't get our fiscal house in order. Watch that online and look for a Reason TV interview with Casey to air here within a week or two.

Doug carries with him a $100 Trillion note from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Check it out above. Very official looking, packed with anti-counterfeiting technology, signed by a political appointee (just like U.S. dollars!), and even numbered in the lower-right-hand corner so that you know it's like totally legit, right?

Sadly, the purchasing power of the note above left a lot to be desired. In 2006, for instance, The New York Times reported that a roll of toilet paper in Harare would set you back about $145,000.

As Jimmy Carter (as played by Dan Aykroyd) once explained on Saturday Night Live, inflation doesn't have to be a drag. It can be our friend with the right attitude:

in the year 2000, if current trends continue, the average blue-collar annual wage in this country will be $568,000. Think what this inflated world of the future will mean - most Americans will be millionaires. Everyone will feel like a bigshot. Wouldn't you like to own a $4,000 suit, and smoke a $75 cigar, drive a $600,000 car? I know I would! But what about people on fixed incomes? They have always been the true victims of inflation. That's why I will present to Congress the "Inflation Maintenance Program", whereby the U.S. Treasury will make up any inflation-caused losses to direct tax rebates to the public in cash. Then you may say, "Won't that cost a lot of money? Won't that increase the deficit?" Sure it will! But so what? We'll just print more money! We have the papers, we have the mints.. I can just call up the Bureau of Engraving and say, "Hi! This is Jimmy. Roll out some of them twenties! Print up a couple thousand sheets of those Century Notes!" Sure, all these dollars will cause even more inflation, but who cares? Everyone will be a millionaire! 

In looking at the $100 trillion note from Zimbabwe and picking it up, never did I feel so good about our country's own fiat currency—and the wisdom of pulling bills worth $1000 and more out of circulation starting in 1969.

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  • Doctor Whom||

    The right-thinking people seem to believe that America operates under a reverse Stein's law: What cannot go on forever will do do anyway.

  • WDATPDIM?!||

    "do do" is right.

  • waffles||

  • WDATPDIM?!||

    Like when a couple of guys form a corporation to run a donut shop and authorize it to issue TWO MILLION SHARES! "Lookit all this stock we got!"

  • Drake||

    Do you really think they pulled the $1k bills to control inflation? I think they did it to control Americans and to make large cash transactions (that might not be subject to the ministrations of the IRS and state revenuers) more difficult.

  • Virginian||

    I think they did it to control Americans

    That's the real reason behind pretty much everything they do.

  • Almanian!||

    When a country's comparing itself to Zimbabwe....

  • Libertarian||

    Looking at the dolts we keep on electing, I don't see how we'll ever recover from the nose dive that we are in. But I consider it a good sign that there are people out there warning us, and comparing us to Zimbabwe.....

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...and the wisdom of pulling bills worth $1000 and more out of circulation starting in 1969.

    Wait a minute. Then these thousand dollar bills I've been lighting my cigars with are fakes? The smoke from them is probably toxic, too.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    I am reminded of this which I saw this some years ago:
    What One Trillion Dollars Looks Like

  • sarcasmic||

    That's disturbing.

  • WTF||

    And the US National debt is 17 times that amount.

  • sarcasmic||

    I know. There's a link to a visual for the debt from that page.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I've got that exact Zimbabwe bank note hanging above my office desk.

  • Doctor Whom||

    I got a $100T and a $50T on eBay.

  • ||

    i'd buy that for a dollar

  • Swiss Servator, CH yeah!||

    Then you have overpaid...

  • Mike M.||

    Reminds me a little of the $1,329,063 Alfred E. Neuman bill from the old Mad Magazine board game.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Goldbugs. A "solution" in search of a problem.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Actually, I'm liking virtual currencies more and more.

  • The Original Jason||

    That's what rainmakers at investment banks in the early 2000 said when other investors suggested moving out of mortgage-backed securities and into other, safer, investments.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Goldbugs. A "solution" in search of a problem.

  • WTF||

    Don't lock eyes with 'em, don't do it. Puts 'em on edge. They might go into berzerker mode; come at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and elbows. You might be screaming "No, no, no" and all they hear is "Who wants cake?" Let me tell you something: They all do. They all want cake.

  • Brandon||

    Problem: Food, fuel, electricity and almost everything else are becoming more expensive at alarming rates.

    Solution: A stable currency would help.

  • Rich||

    Never happen. The mission of the Federal Reserve involves pursuing stable prices and maintaining the stability of the financial system.

  • Jordan||

    Thank you. I really needed a hearty laugh this morning. *Wipes tear from eye*

  • WDATPDIM?!||

  • Mike M.||

    Heck of a job Bennie!

  • db||

    And NASA does things Faster, Better, Cheaper!

  • wwhorton||

    So, I'd point out three things.

    One, those are goals, not plans.

    Two, goal #3 was failed sixteen years after the formation of the Reserve.

    Three, as with most central banking systems, the Fed manipulates money supply in a Keynesian attempt to use inflation to outwit markets. By trying to smooth out the business cycle using outdated info, it aggravates it instead. Because of a fetish for stability, we get things like "Too Big to Fail."

    I like to think of central banking thusly:

  • wwhorton||

    Imagine if Adam Silver wanted to ensure that the Miami Heat won a playoff series (since we all know that the NBA is more rigged than professional wrestling).

    He has two options. He can allow the players on the Heat to play normally, making decisions in the moment based on fresh, relevant information and immediate feedback--this is analogous to a perfectly free market. Or, he can tell individual players what to do--whether to take a shot, whether to foul a particular player, etc.--via headsets--a bit like a central bank attempting to manipulate market behavior in order to achieve specific goals.

    Which strategy would be more likely to produce the desired outcome?

  • LynchPin1477||

    Why is TP the first thing to go whenever an economy goes to the shitter?

  • Eric Bana||

    I'd go for moistened baby wipes over TP. It's really a nice little luxury.

  • Libertarian||

    In a just world, Conan O'Brien would be polishing Dan Aykroyd's shoes.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    RIGHT WING PEANUT PARANOIA!

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I've got a bunch of these

    That said, the dollar is still the best looking turd in the punchbowl. And most nations that experienced hyper-inflation had a lack of industry and other serious economic issues. However, the Fed and the Federal government are hell-bent on inflating their economic woes away by diminishing the value of their outstanding debt obligations. Serious inflation is cooked into the federal budget.

  • Libertarian||

    What kills me is that the stated, official, documented GOAL of the USG is to devalue the dollar by 2% a year. ARGH!

  • Tony||

    Wake me when wages start going up--at all.

  • Jordan||

    Leftist can't be bothered by the fact that existing wages are being devalued by TOP MEN. News at 11.

  • WTF||

    See, this is why we need a $20/hour minimum wage!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • WTF||

    Oh, now you've gone and woken the moron!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    woken the moron!

    Is that anything like releasing a kraken?

  • UnCivilServant||

    Much more devastating.

  • WTF||

    I was picturing Tony more like Viserys Targaryan venting his childish anger in Game of Thrones: "Now you've done it! You've woken the dragon!"

  • Tony||

    Oh clearly hyperinflation is just around the corner. Must cut taxes for billionaires!

  • WTF||

    Derp de derpity DERP!

  • WTF||

    See, HM? See what happens when you've woken the moron!

  • sarcasmic||

    No, no, no! Obviously what we need is a wealth tax! Like 100% above some arbitrary level like a million dollars! Those damn wealthy people have too much capital! We need to force them to sell off their factories, hotels and restaurants in the name of fairness! Use that money to pay the government! Screw all those working stiffs employed by rich people! They're better off unemployed with the knowledge that their former employers are no longer wealthy! Power to the people!

  • WTF||

    That would work, sarc, if we also raised the minimum wage to $50/hour. Then everyone would be making six figures and everyone would be well-off!

    Derp de derpity do!

  • sarcasmic||

    That's not enough! We need a maximum wage as well! Those rich people will keep working, even though they'll be paying a 100% tax on their income after they exceed the maximum! That won't change their habits at all! Incentives inshmentives! Then we can use that bounty to help the poor! Maximum wage!

  • WTF||

    From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need! What could possibly go wrong? We just need the right Top Men in charge!

  • Seamus||

    They've got a maximum wage in Cuba. Seems to work pretty well for them. Except for the ungrateful worms who keep trying to come to the land of inequality.

  • tarran||

    Oh clearly hyperinflation is just around the corner. Must cut taxes for billionaires!

    Libertarians want to cut taxes for everyone.

    Tony is angry about the portion of cuts that go to billionaires.

    But remember, folks, Tony isn't animated by an all-consuming envy.

  • wwhorton||

    So, the Obamas are in quite an impressive tax bracket. Not quite George Soros impressive, but definitely up there. I wonder if Tony feels the same righteous class fury over the money the Holy Ones are pullin' in annually, or if he worries about Soros's funding operations as much as he does the Kochs'.

  • Brandon||

    The Obamas are in the same tax bracket as Soros.

  • Tony||

    The less money you have the less a tax cut is going to benefit you. Especially if the people doing the tax cutting ever got around to dismantling the social services the taxes were paying for.

    I just don't believe in wasting my life making my politics almost entirely about the interests of the wealthy few. They are doing OK, by definition.

  • LynchPin1477||

    At best, I would think taxes are only tangentially related to inflation, in that when government spends more than it receives in taxes it can make up the difference at least in part by printing more money.

    But since even a 100% confiscatory wealth tax on all billionaires wouldn't balance the U.S. budget, then you should really be advocating for less spending. That is, if you care about inflation. Given statements you have made in the past, and the fact that inflation has a greater relative impact on the poor and middle class than on the wealthy, it seems like you should care about it.

  • sasob||

    They care about inflation just about as much as a hot check artist cares how many bad checks he (or she) passes.

  • Tony||

    Deflation is not better for the poor, middle class, or anyone else. The standard view is that a little inflation is good (and inflation means wages are rising in addition to prices). The nutball goldbug fringe obsession is, well, what all you guys believe.

  • AdamJ||

    Deflation is better for everyone, assuming they don't live in a debt-based society/economy. But since we DO live in a debt-fueled economy that functions solely to benefit the banks, we need inflation just to stay afloat. So it depends on your starting conditions. They have convinced you that we need inflation so you will take on more debt, that is all.

  • Hyperion||

    Why, are you going to leave the basement and look for a job?

    They just went up to $15 in WA. There you go.

  • kbolino||

    Wake me when wages start going up--at all.

    Why would wages need to increase if not for inflation?

  • wwhorton||

    Remember, it's just like Keynes said. These yokel workin' stiffs don't understand the concept of value, they just get excited when they see big numbers. All you have to do is print off some funny money and the useful idiots will run out and buy new TVs, thus buttressing the economy and creating jobs.

    Did I get that about right, Tony?

  • Tony||

    Makes a hell of a lot more sense than "cutting taxes for billionaires will create jobs."

  • sarcasmic||

    My yearly income has dropped by several thousand dollars since the Unaffordable Care Act was passed. But the price of a flat screen television has halved.

  • WTF||

    Yeah, but the price of slaves never went down in the antebellum South! Derpity!

  • Mike M.||

    So rich, coming from one of the shitheads cheerleading the demise of the coal industry.

    But of course you don't give a fucking crap about them, because they're the wrong kind of people. Let them go on disability, right asshole?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Serious inflation is cooked into the federal budget.

    Our Top Men are quite explicit in their deep desire to stoke the inflationary furnace. Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't see why increased purchasing power (deflation) is bad.

  • WDATPDIM?!||

    Because Great Depression, deflationary spiral, stagnation!!!!!11!

  • robc||

    I know you arent being serious, but I will say it again, just because:

    The deflationary spiral myth can easily be disproven -- we had many periods of deflation pre FedRes era and they all ended.

  • WhatAboutBob||

    The federal government hates deflation because it makes the debt more expensive and they can't tax deflation. They want inflation so they can pay off the debt with cheaper dollars and and as wages go up so do people's taxes.

  • Jordan||

    I'm crazy, but I don't see why increased purchasing power (deflation) is bad.

    Because it doesn't allow politicians to run up eye-watering debts, and it doesn't allow politicians to funnel wealth from the lower and middle class to the financial sector and the wealthy. Those are the sole reasons that central banks exist, and they don't even pretend otherwise.

  • sarcasmic||

    Inflation benefits debtors. And what greater debtor is there than government?

  • Eric Bana||

    but I don't see why increased purchasing power (deflation) is bad.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong, which I very easily probably am. If there's, say, 2% deflation, people automatically get what is basically a 2% return on their money with absolutely no risk just by literally stuffing money under their mattresses (or in some secure place). While that's great for savers, savers have an incentive to not take any risk lending their money to people looking to borrow and instead enjoy the returns through deflation. Funds would then be difficult to come by for borrowers. As more people start taking advantage of the risk-free deflationary return rather than any lending returns, people would take even more money out of circulation to put under their mattresses, further exacerbating the shortage of loanable funds. The rate of deflation would in that case spiral down as more people would prefer the risk-free deflationary returns going steadily from 2% to 3% to 4%... (all the while enticing more people), instead of lending money (albeit at high interest rates). In short, it's a credit shortage people worry about with a deflationary spiral.

    That's at least in part why some economists, like Milton Friedman I believe, argued for a Federal Reserve that was basically a computer that simply increased the money supply at some small, fixed arbitrary number.

  • Jordan||

    So credit will become more expensive. There's nothing inherently bad about that.

  • Eric Bana||

    I believe the concern is that in a deflationary spiral there is a severe decrease in loanable funds and interest rates that are very high which means lower production since businesses are almost unable to borrow capital in order to expand their operations. With this view, a deflationary spiral contributes to depressed economic activity.

  • kbolino||

    In a deflationary scenario, your customers are your lenders. They are giving you money that will be worth more to you by the time you spend it than it was when they spent it.

  • kbolino||

    The word "lenders" should have been in quotes, to emphasize the metaphorical rather than literal meaning.

  • tarran||

    You are wrong. :)

    The simple fact is that people have needs that they want met. In a deflationary regime, they may wait longer to make a purchase where in an inflationary regime they would do it ASAP.

    But... they will at some point decide that they want to meet the need now and make the purchase.

    If the superstitious fears about people not buying stuff while prices are dropping were true, nobody would have a computer.

  • Eric Bana||

    Consumer purchases in specific sectors that have been able to lower their prices through innovation doesn't seem to be the same as a credit crunch in a deflationary spiral though. As I replied to Jordan, I believe the concern is that in a deflationary spiral there is a severe decrease in loanable funds (since people increasingly stop lending loanable funds in order to enjoy the risk-free returns through deflation) and interest rates that are very high which means lower production since businesses are almost unable to borrow capital in order to expand their operations. With this view, a deflationary spiral contributes to depressed economic activity because of a sever credit crunch since people prefer the risk-free deflationary returns rather than taking on risk lending money.

  • tarran||

    That doesn't take into account people's reaction to the changes in the economy.

    Just because the capital structure is disrupted by an absence of capital, and there is a short term reduction in production, there isn't an impact on consumer demand.

    People still have needs that can only be met through economic production. And they will seek to produce what they desire to consume, or to produce things that they trade to other people in exchange for the stuff they consume.

    And on the margins, there will always be some people with an unusually low time preference willing to lend money to people who can make a case that they can make a killing satisfying those unmet demands.

    Over time a new capital structure would arise, one that serviced the new production regime as lenders and borrowers worked toward a new market-clearing interest rate.

    History is replete with episodes inflationary crack-up booms, hyperinflationary collapses or inflation-induced collapses.

    I would love to see an example of the dreaded deflation trap that is supposed to be such a devastatingly powerful attractor that we must penalize anyone who tries to save to avoid it. I haven't ever encountered an example of one ever occurring. Funny thing that.

  • Eric Bana||

    I think, like you and others said, some important points are falling prices (encouraging consumer spending/allowing businesses to purchase inputs for production either through more consumer dollars or reduced prices, or both), restructuring (realigning capital and lending/borrowing needs to reflect any changing consumer preferences), and simply reaching a floor since prices couldn't just keep falling forever.

    And, although it wouldn't happen with a pre-determined monetary policy of, say, increasing M0 by 1% annually, it is a good point that there are many easily identifiable inflationary disasters in history; whereas deflationary disasters are debatable at best (since some people point to Japan or the Great Depression--but again, those are highly debated whereas inflationary collapses are not).

  • The Heresiarch||

    How do you explain 1921?

  • The Last American Hero||

    1921 - the Great Depression of the 1920's that never happened because government slashed spending by 2/3.

    How anyone can look at what happened in the 1920's and what happened in the 1930's and think government spending bonanza's work is beyond me.

  • WDATPDIM?!||

    Yes, but the point is not that deflation is necessarily beneficial. It's that deflation is not some earth-shattering catastrophe that central banks should prevent at all costs. Allowing booms and busts to play themselves out is better in the long run.

  • WDATPDIM?!||

    That was a reply to Eric, needless to say.

  • Eric Bana||

    Allowing booms and busts to play themselves out is better in the long run.

    That's what I'd like to support, and I generally like the Austrian explanation of the business cycle (I don't know if you do or not). But I have trouble seeing the problem in what I wrote above: deflation steadily encourages more and more people to enjoy risk-free deflationary returns rather than lending money at risk, which speeds up into a deflationary spiral with a severe lack of loanable funds for businesses who cannot borrow to expand their operations, resulting in depressed economic production.

    I'd like an explanation as to what's wrong with the above. Perhaps it's related in part to overlooking a decrease in prices, which would allow businesses to purchase inputs for investment rather than borrowing money, but I can't quite grasp it.

  • Eric Bana||

    Whoops. Blockquote didn't work for "Allowing booms and busts to play themselves out is better in the long run."

  • kbolino||

    I'd like an explanation as to what's wrong with the above. Perhaps it's related in part to overlooking a decrease in prices, which would allow businesses to purchase inputs for investment rather than borrowing money, but I can't quite grasp it.

    I don't think there's anything more to it than that.

    The same tendency which inclines people to seek credit in inflationary times, i.e. a desire to consume, will persist in deflationary times. While some people will stuff their mattresses, plenty of people will want to enjoy the fruit of their money's newfound value sooner rather than later.

    I think people overestimate the shock of whatever circumstance lead to the deflation in the first place, and seem to think that it will depress consumption indefinitely. People get over shit, even really bad shit, and go on about their lives again pretty quickly.

  • WDATPDIM?!||

    I don't think what you said is wrong as far as it goes. I think it was incomplete in that it seemed to imply the spiral will continue forever.

  • Eric Bana||

    I guess that's really it, isn't it? Prices couldn't keep falling forever even in the case of a deflationary correction. At some point, there has to be a floor. That makes sense.

  • The Original Jason||

    Deflation occurs (or occurred) during recessions/depressions so naïve economists concluded that deflation can cause recessions/depressions.

  • Brandon||

    Deflation is bad for debtors. The US government is a debtor. Many of Krugman's friends are dependent on the US government protecting their businesses from competition. Therefore, eminent economist Krugman concludes that deflation is bad. Tony, being the authoritarian cock-gobbler that he is, removes his head from Krugman's crotch long enough to repeat talking points.

  • Raston Bot||

    Finally got around to watching Mugabe and the White African about "land reform" aka farm seizures. ONE. BIG. NUT. PUNCH.

  • antisocial-ist||

    I never knew Dan Aykroyd invented MMT.

  • Jordan||

    Well, central bankers are all clowns, so it does make sense.

  • creech||

    I wonder what the Dow and S&P500; look like on an inflation adjusted basis to, say, 1964?

  • WDATPDIM?!||

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I'm liking virtual currencies more and more.

    Every time I hear some crony capitalist come on the teevee to badmouth the bitcoins, I smile. Why are they so afraid?

  • SweatingGin||

    Zimbabwe lunch, complete with price of beer increasing during the meal. (during the inflation, pre-100T note, obviously)

  • The Late P Brooks||

    How are you coming on The Little Red Hen, Tony? I know it's filled with complex economic concepts, but the pictures should help.

  • Tony||

    This from people who think the only bad economic phenomenon that happens is hyperinflation.

  • sarcasmic||

    You've got the straw man on the ropes! Give it another left!

  • Brandon||

    The only? Do your handlers just skip over the complaints about overregulation, taxation, cronyism, barriers to entry, protectionism, etc.?

  • John||

    Looks like the nuts who shot the cops in Nevada might actually be right wing nuts. That is depressing on a lot of levels. In the short term, I am sure the media are having orgasms right now over their long dreamed of dead bodies to slime their opponents with.

  • tarran||

    My guess is that they will turn out to be like that guy who flew a plane into the IRS building a few years back.

    Proponents of an inconsistent and incoherent idealogy.

  • sarcasmic||

    Libertarians?

  • WDATPDIM?!||

    If anything, libertarians are consistent and coherent to a fault.

  • sarcasmic||

    The mainstream media I'm sure would insist otherwise.

  • John||

    It is never a bad guess to think a homicidal lunatic will have an incoherent ideology.

    The problem for the media is that far left and far right wing ideology are just two sides of the same coin. Neither of them are for small government and both believe in similarly loopy things. The media of course is too ignorant to understand that and wouldn't admit it even if they did. So every time they think they have a real "right wing terrorist" they can use to slander their opponents, the guy turns out to hold the usual stew of nutty far left and far right wing views and the narrative of him being just another dangerous tea party type never quite fits.

  • The Last American Hero||

    It's always right wing nut jobs. Even when the nut job's manifesto skews left, it's a right wing nut job.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I believe the concern is that in a deflationary spiral there is a severe decrease in loanable funds and interest rates that are very high which means lower production since businesses are almost unable to borrow capital in order to expand their operations. With this view, a deflationary spiral contributes to depressed economic activity.

    The "market" is nothing more (or less) than the aggregation of billions of individual decisions. Attempting to apply a blanket explanation of what happens is fruitless. Individuals have widely disparate appetite for return and tolerance or risk. Some people will always be willing to lend money in an attempt to get a better return. On the consumption side, there will always be demand. Innovation will continue.

    The government is currently actively attempting to destroy savings in a futile attempt to "stimulate" the economy.

  • Tony||

    Macroeconomics is the study of nothing!

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