Zimbabwe hyperinflation inspired Thoughts

While there are few certainties in this life, outside of death and taxes… things are certainly more uncertain than they’ve been for a long time.  For those of us who write futures, who play through the plausible scenarios in imaginary worlds, it’s possibly a little worse than for those who just wait and see.

The problem in a way, is that good writers follow logical progressions so their readers can say ‘And how the hell did that happen?” and toss the book against the wall. When the book happens to be on their kindle, this can make the writer very unpopular. Because, logical progression + human nature it’s the writer’s fault.

Of course, in the real non-fiction world, things don’t have to be as logical. I mean take politicians (please, as far as possible). If what they did and said had to make sense… 

A part of this of course may be that we only see out part of what is going on.   As a writer, unless we don’t want the reader to know the entire picture, we often have several points of view, to fill in these gaps. You know, like mass media does, interviewing the different sides of everything… oh. Wait. These days they’re as much part of the problem.

Looking at financial affairs at the moment would certainly have me throwing the book at the wall if it were fiction. Logic says we should either already be in a depression deeper than the 1930’s , or conversely in hyperinflation to make Zimbabwe and Weimar look like pikers. Instead we’re sort of just bubbling along.  We pretend it’s OK, and the media and governments pretend it’s all under control. Who really knows? I have a personal belief that government and the ultra-wealthy who have a large degree of control over them (and somehow always come out just fine. If I wrote characters like that my book would end up against the wall) have decided there are just two choices and decided that inflation is better (for whom?) The debtors, which most governments are, and mysteriously many of the ultra wealthy will be just at the right time, leaving them with assets and their debtors with worthless money – probably digital, so not even toilet paper.

 It’s probably – outside of a sensible degree of prepping in case society comes apart at the seams – not something we can do much about, except ride it out.  Load up on debts and assets – and you’re bound to get sunk by a skyrocketing interest rate, instead of inflating your way out of debt. If  you save – chronic inflation (particularly of food and to slightly lesser extent, shelter) takes hold (especially without wage inflation) expect major social unrest and any savings you had providently put away destroyed. I saw the lives of careful, provident people, who had saved all their lives for a secure peaceful, happy retirement turned into paupers, desperate and struggling to eat in a few months, in Zimbabwe – while the rich and powerful and politically connected got very much richer.

Writers in general have to be somewhat better prepared than most – and those of us who have done it for a while are.  Our incomes are erratic, hard to predict, and often not great. No one is ever completely prepared of course.  The unexpected WILL happen, which is why though I try to be asset solid, debt free and have at least a cash cushion.  I’ve been caught a couple of times where payment was well overdue, and I had been assured it was on its way, and just HAD to pay someone else. The plumber, last time.  Of course payment took another three months.  The same was true when the exchange rate in South Africa went from ‘very much in my favor’ (late payments made me richer) to ‘worse by the day’ when of course the money I had budgeted for my kids school fees – which I could comfortably afford at the rate when I did that budget – was actually depreciated to less than needed by the time the check arrived. It made for very wary living. That wasn’t the same effect as hyperinflation – but my available money dropped to having 40% of the value it had had. That was crippling.  And that was far from hyper-inflation or even stagflation.

It’s hard to predict exactly how bad that future will be. But there are a number of aspects that writers in particular need to consider.  Most ordinary people, in ordinary jobs get paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly.  In Weimar Germany, workers wanted to be paid twice a day – so they could buy something at lunch time – because by knock off time, that money would no longer buy the same thing – or anything at all. At best, most writers get paid two months after the sales.  In worst case scenario, that can be nearer 18 months (A book, trad published, needs a full six month reporting period. 1 Jan-30 June, 1July-31 December. The publisher typically has 3 months to report. Being three months late on that is nothing but normal – so if reporting is due in March, you can expect the check in June – near the end of June. I had a book come out on 2 January. Which meant I saw the money (and sales figures for the first time) on the 26th of June – six days short of 18 months later. Contracts too are typically two or three stages of advance payment – so much on signing, so much on turn-in and sometimes so much on release. I’ve always had these in more or less equal splits. Which is all very well… until you are in an inflationary – or worse, hyperinflationary environment. Even two months can destroy the value of that payment.

What will this do to books? Will anyone buy them? What happens to publishers and authors in this? (What happens to all of us?)

So: keep your powder dry and don’t bet on money until you’ve spent it on something solid.

Image by K. H. J. / MCI from Pixabay

45 comments

  1. Here, they want to artificially inflate wages to add too the inflation, because of some kid working a part time job is going to HAVE to be paid the same starting wage usually reserved for an experienced assistant manager or starting out manager, why certainly everyone will have scads more money and nothing will ever rise in price ever again. Oh, and lets print more money because that always works, right?
    On a totally unrelated note, I’m sure, the local grocery chain (all of 4 stores in total, 2 in Michigan, and 2 in Wisconsin) are installing self checkouts in their Michigan stores (MI was due to raise state mandated minimum wage, again).

    1. You’re not cynical enough. One big reason for raising the US minimum wage is that a lot of union contracts are tied to it.

    2. I do not ever use the self-checkout whether at the supermarket, library, bank, or any other place. I do my best to avoid online options, preferring to wade through voicemail hell.
      Why?
      Because using self-checkout (shadow work) sends a message to corporate headquarters to get rid of another job.
      Increasing population + decreasing jobs = social unrest.

      1. I use self checkout as much as possible. My time is precious, and not waiting around for another 15 minutes is important to me. Though not as important as making sure my bread and eggs aren’t crushed under the canned goods and milk.

        1. Same grocer is now all self bag. both sides, though the bigger WI store still occasionally has baggers (busiest days at the busiest times to move things along) and the MI store here will have Boosters or other youth orgs bag in a drive for donations. Don’t know about the other MI location, it’s up in Manistique.

        2. Half and half, approximately. If it’s a “regular” run (maximum of six bags, since the carousel only has four), I’ll do self checking. But if I have heavy / bulky items, am going to be using an old fashioned paper coupon, or (rarely) am buying booze – I go through a human line. The person running the self-check is responsible for a dozen registers, and the fool computer tells me “help is on the way” several times. Takes longer than waiting for the human.

      2. > shadow work

        I think I first saw that when fast food places began wanting customers to bus their own tables. I can see where some businesses would be thrilled to offload part of their labor overhead onto their customers.

        So, the “barter economy”, and “untaxed sales” (the Brits in particular have a hatred of “boot sales” (unlicensed vendors selling from the trunk of their car or the back of a truck), companies making their customers do labor, the de facto use of children as forced labor by some school systems, the “intern” system run by some colleges, and the state-owned businesses that compete in the open market using prison labor (Florida’s auto parts rebuilder program, for example.)

        I knew about barter, and prison labor, and boot sales, but I just came across the school labor thing recently, and now ‘shadow labor’… the “off-the-books” economy is larger and more complicated than I realized.

        1. There’s a lot of shadow work.

          Bagging your own groceries instead of the store hiring baggers is one of them. So is waiting forever in the phone queue to make a doctor’s appointment because the physician’s group won’t hire a few more receptionists. Pumping your own gas is shadow work. That used to be a job too and now we all pump our own gas, performing our own labor.

          1. Largely, the labor is the same. The only difference is how much of that labor is represented by currency at some point in the process.

            The majority of us go to the grocery store to exchange currency (which, again for most of us, represents our labor at something) for food and other things. Those things are made by other people’s labor. Time was, we exchanged some of that currency (our previous labor) to obtain the current labor of others to bag the groceries – and, when I was a youngster on my second (well, maybe third) job, taking them out to the parking lot and loading them into the customer’s car.

            The thing about currency – the usually good thing, from the government’s point of view – is that there is the friction of government in every transaction made with it. Somewhere in the chain. It will be in taxes on labor, both yours and the bagger’s, for the law abiding; in higher prices for illegal goods and/or services where the extra is expended in measures to avoid the tax man.

  2. We have a country with an economy racing towards disaster that’s being taken over by a race-obsessed totalitarian movement. What could possibly go right?

    1. Possibly a better grade of race obsessed murderous lunatic will win the boog.

      The thing is, these morons are all about manipulation of formal systems. They are lacking some of the fighting and in-fighting skills.

  3. Load up on debts and assets – and you’re bound to get sunk by a skyrocketing interest rate, instead of inflating your way out of debt.

    We recently refinanced our home mortgage to pay off credit card debt (and get a lower interest rate on the home mortgage itself). Fixed interest rate loans aren’t going to kill you with inflation – variable interest rate loans are.

    BTW, this probably explains why Ethereum jumped by a factor of nine since November (https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/ETH-USD/?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAKLaLaaSqDy7fFwfjGJPDnvZYw_LXoplcZN9DjeFI8YVAaSUHLC4CkR-taAAmx7wyzkGNze6ckKtg80JZLF5gTJK_A4XLq6rNd7Ha0iP7qeZG4Ilt_Y-osNCC06OLhb8QYl927rtKiLHpxww_SFZ_unJ98Xfa9f_W17AX5k2oxNF). It is an alternative currency.

    1. Since most mortgage payers are limited by “how much a month”, when interest rates go up, house prices go down (and vice versa, which is one reason house prices have been going up). Also note that most countries do not have 30 year fixed mortgages.

        1. Or you may have to pay 50% down and get a very short mortgage for the remaining cost. There’s a lot of variations, I’m sure!

  4. During the Carter years I made a collection of Weimar currency, finding the largest bill available from June 1919 to April 1923. They ranged from a nicely printed 100 Mark note in color on solid paper to a 20 Trillion Mark note on poor quality paper that looked like it was printed from a linoleum block with black ink.
    In 1910, a successful doctor would have had a 10 room house, a live in servant, and 50,000 Marks in the bank. Thirteen years later, all gone.
    The general loos of confidence in government was one of the conditions that allowed Hitler to rise to power.
    I think that I see our chickens coming home to roost.
    John in Indy

    1. Germany had never had a democratic government, had one imposed from without, and pretty much sucked at making it work. Which is why nobody really objected when the National Socialist German Workers’ Party adopted the Italian Fascist system. “At last! Someone is in charge again!” Though the Germans pretty much sucked at implementing Fascism as well, as the gau leaders wound up all doing pretty much their own thing.

      West Germany did okay, for values of “European government”, but parts started falling off after the reunification, and it’s starting to look a lot like Weimar again…

  5. I look at the wholly imaginary numbers being flung around by the Biden-Cabal Spending Bills, and note that 200 billion here, 400 billion there… is curiously nonspecific. There’s no real budget per se, just the biggest numbers they thought they could get away with. While this is partly to enrich associated cronies (infrastructure projects are like that) I now believe it is mostly intended as Collapse The Economy 2.0 (an upgrade, since American inertia is too great and the pandemic failed to do the job), for the benefit of China, as directed by Chinese influence. (See Gordon Chang on that. He says Eric Swalwell and Fang Fang were not an anomaly, but rather tip of the iceberg — for a relatively-routine infiltration that starts when the ambitious politician first gains local office.)

    But I have a solution! Borrow all the money from China, then renege on the debt (and while we’re at it, nationalize all CCP-owned properties in the U.S.) Problem solved, and culprit hoist by their own petard. And if no one will lend to the U.S. government after that… well, it might just have to shrink back to its original form of what little can be supported by export tariffs (ie. solid motivation to encourage surplus prosperity).

  6. I have two Weimar 20,000 Mark notes that I pass around when I teach German (and Austrian and Hungarian) hyperinflation. They had an excuse – no one had seen hyperinflation of a fiat currency before. The US government doesn’t have that excuse.

    1. If I recall correctly, my school textbook had a picture of a (presumably) later note that had a face value of x “Milliarden” marks, which needed a footnote to note that milliard meant 1000 million – the germans defined a billion to be a million-squared, which is mostly an obsolete definition amongst current English speakers, most of whom think that a billion and a milliard are the same number (so never need the latter).

      1. Yes. Mine are from the half-way point in the process. And yes on the German vs. US vs. a few others on milliard or a thousand million.

        1. Some of my engineering books are British, and old enough that when they say “billion” I have to determine whether they mean “one thousand million” or “one million million.”

          “To nations, divided by a common language…”

    2. Perhaps not in living memory, but a little over a century earlier, France had experienced a hyperinflation during the French Revolution. They got out of it by confiscating church-owned lands and using it to back the new currency. Also, I believe the Ottoman Turks experienced a hyperinflation at some point during their slide into decadence, and the hyperinflation of the Mongol paper currency, combined with the Black Death, was what brought their empire down. And long before that, the Romans under Diocletian experienced one of the worst hyperinflations in history, which ultimately led to the establishment of the feudal system in Europe… Point is, students of history had no shortage of hyperinflationary episodes to point to, even in 1922. Unfortunately, economists and policy wonks are rarely students of history.

      (As another minor correction, hyperinflations always occur in fiat currencies. In fact, severe inflation is the final stage in the life cycle of every fiat currency, since they depend on public confidence in order to maintain value. Once the public loses confidence, the currency loses all its value regardless of government decree.)

  7. As a science fiction writer, all I can logically figure is that there’s a huge natural disaster looming that no one is telling the serfs about. The rich are building their bunkers/starships and leaving the rest of us to our fates. The money doesn’t matter as the clock ticks down . . .

    Because no one could be this stupid, and even maliciousness has its limits . . . Right? Right?

        1. Yellowstone, meteor . . . Sudden onset Ice Age . . . and if it fails to appear as they get desperate, there’s always the nuclear option . . .

          *Fortunately* it’s just stupidity. Just unbelievable, blinkered, self-serving, shortsighted . . . stupidity.

          1. “Unless you give us complete dictatorial power over every facet of your lives, you’re all going to DIE!”

    1. The thing is, and I found this really hard to believe, there are people who think the claims about global warming are credible. Some of them are in very bad emotional places as a result.

      1. I suppose, subconsciously, it feels less bad to fear AGW or Covid19, than to fear your government and realize the news media are their supporters, not the bearers of truth.

        1. I think it might be more complex. If you’ve always believed that this is all there is AND you’ve been told you’re the master of your fate, learning that the universe is indifferent and unconcerned is … upsetting.
          You don’t have the control or power you think you do. At the same time, you don’t accept higher powers (i.e. God) as a guiding, caring deity who makes his own demands but also offers hope and salvation.

          Cold, indifferent universe, no control or power like you thought you had, and this is all there is = craziness.

  8. Having spent some of my time at local municipal meetings plus my time in the Navy, “they” are not that smart. They muddle along and eventually events catch up with them and “they” fail, sometimes rather spectacularly involving lampposts and Praetorian guard revolts.

    It’s absolutely true that from the outside, you don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes. Here in Hershey, the entities ALWAYS have to be taken into account, simply because they’re the largest landowners and employers in the area.
    Do the entities make mistakes? Despite being supposedly run by the smartest people around?

    Oh. My. God, but the Trust fails spectacularly and on a regular basis. Only inertia and the worldwide desire for cheap chocolate keeps them solvent.

  9. They’re evil anti-Keynesians.
    Keynes’ central insights were that uncertainty freezes liquidity (creating a self-fulfilling prophecy), the health of the economy is largely based on the confidence the participants have in it, and that economic indicators lag significantly behind the actual economy and comprise significant chunks of time.
    Therefore, if a government makes an effort to appear confidently proactive, they can increase confidence and certainty, “fixing” the economy and forestalling the indicators from registering much of the downturn.

    When I said that it was like Obama was going through Keynes’ writings, and doing everything he argued against, I was hardly exaggerating.
    And at this point, I’ve come to believe that this was deliberate, rather than the overconfident ignorance I ascribed it to at the time.

    In any case, at this point, uncertainty is making people loathe to take risks, not to mention the past year’s impact on people’s savings.
    So money velocity is low.
    Meanwhile, truly mind-boggling amounts of money are being dumped into the money supply.
    So there is inflation. A lot of it. But not nearly as much as there should be.
    Meanwhile, the politically-connected are enjoying the benefits of seigniorage.
    And it’ll be mostly hidden in most economic indicators. Corrupt and leveraged economic activity is still economic activity. And government spending is also economic activity.

    The GameStop fiasco has demonstrated that the stock market is a house of cards propped up with incredible amounts of fraud.
    The bond market is leveraged with derivatives to a much more absurd extent than mortgage meltdown of the late oughts/early teens.
    Government debt was unsustainable long ago.
    The only thing holding things together is inertia, and a rapidly declining level of trust in our institutions.

    I’m fighting the suspicion that those who really know the score, know that the gig is up.
    And the blatant fraud, critical race theory, civil unrest, tearing the heart out of the military, devaluing the dollar, mountains of debt, etc. is mainly to cripple us in an attempt to prevent reprisals.

  10. I can only think that our inept ruling class is looking at all the indicators and saying to each other, “But this time it will be different – we have the right people in charge!”

    1. It’s always different! Right up until the moment when reality comes crashing through and our inept rulers discover that no, it’s not different and bubbles always pop.

  11. Meh. I’ve been preparing for this since the 1970s. When It All Stops Working. Long ago came to the conclusion that worrying about it is pointless. You can’t predict when or what will happen.

    All you can do is have your schlitz together and be nimble enough to get out of the way when the gigantic poo tsunami rolls through. Same as always.

    Maybe buy some nails. Those are always good.

  12. Lessee… I have maybe a hundred pounds of recovered lead. At 7000 grains per pound, how many bullets can I sell??

    1. 1 pound = 7,000 grains
      7,000 grains / 500 grains per bullet = 14 bullets per pound
      14 bullets per pound * 100 pounds = 1,400 .45-70-500 bullets.

      The same amount of lead would make 15,217 .22 Hornet bullets.

      Your typical 12 gauge slug is around 440 grains, though most are loaded hot enough the muzzle energy is similar to the .45-70-500.

      The 12 Gauge From Hell guys typically shoot bullets from 1,000 to 1,100 grains. The 12gaFH is what happens when you have internet, testosterone, and access to machine tools. “First we take an empty .50 BMG case, then we blow it out straight, and then we load it with a .720 caliber bullet.” Ballistics vary according to what individual is going the handloading; unlike BMG rifles, 12gaFH are mostly fired from the shoulder, not a bench or bipod. Recoil is typically “this is going to hurt me almost as much as it will you.”

      > how many bullets can I sell

      None, unless you do the regulatory dance and purchase the correct Federal Firearms License (only $10, though) and pay your $2,250 *per year* ITAR registration fee. Or do the usual thing, “I’m just reselling some bullets I bought at a gun show a while back” or “what do you mean ‘bullets’, can’t you see these are fishing sinkers?!”

    2. Actually pure lead is too soft. You need to add a bit of tin and antimony to the mix for an alloy proper for hard cast boolits. Half a pound of plumber’s solder to ten of lead should be about right. Test with your thumbnail, if you can leave a dent it’s too soft, shallow scratch is about right.
      Cast boolits are best used in revolver cartridges or straight walled rifle shells.
      Standard weight in grains would be 115 in 9mm, 158 in .38/.357, and 230 in .45.
      So assuming no waste you can make anywhere from 6,000 of the lighter, to 3000 of the heavier.
      Selling boolits isn’t as restricted as loaded ammo, but I’d still only sell to folks you trusted. Cash and no records kept.

    3. find some wheel weights to harden things up a bit, the faster you need them to go, the harder they need to be, or they need jackets or Sabots. Remember, Lead and its alloys are best in slow loads, but will still poke nice holes even.

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