Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

The futility of trying to put a number to Zimbabwe’s hyper-inflation

Posted by CM on December 10, 2008

Zimbabwe’s current astronomical and rising inflation rate will provide years, decades worth of study for scholars. But the over-riding concern now is the way an inflation rate said to be in the millions percent makes hour-to-hour survival a huge struggle for ordinary Zimbabweans.

But it can also be examined as a sort of sad but fascinating, incomprehensible game. And The Zimbabwe Crisis provides all sorts of opportunities for people of all types to sell their ‘expertise.’

A case in point is the silly game of trying to pin down what exactly Zimbabwe’s rate of inflation is. Obviously if an ‘expert’ is asked, s/he can not give the most honest answer and say, “Prices are changing so rapidly, so variably and so unpredictably it is impossible to say what Zimbabwe’s inflation rate is with any certitude.” Or even merely reliably, even with a very large standard deviation. I might add that it is a mostly meaningless exercise anyway.

But that doesn’t stop some people from trying. Newspapers need copy every day and today’s Zimbabwe provides some of the most colourful. And there is no shortage of “experts” who are happy to be quoted by the media. Builds up the consulting CV.

The Guardian (UK) had a story recently about the present cholera epidemic. The report wandered over from discussing hospitals and disease to tackling inflation.

Excerpts:

Money is a complicated business in Zimbabwe even if most people do not have much. Cash has been in desperately short supply because the government cannot print fast enough to keep up with hyperinflation. Officially inflation stands at 231m percent, but that was in July. Since then the central bank has regarded economic statistics as a state secret.

John Robertson, one of Zimbabwe’s most respected economists, has accurately estimated the rate of inflation in the past. He says it shot through the billions, trillions and quadrillions between August and October until it reached 1.6 sextillion percent last month. A sextillion has 21 noughts.

Robertson says the number is almost meaningless. “Inflation at the present rate is academic. Nobody says they’ll increase salaries on this figure. It’s impossible to work with it.”

An interesting piece of  diversion from the reality of what the levels of hyper-inflation mean for Zimbabweans just trying to get by from day to day.

I grinned at the reporter’s judgment that his quoted source had “accurately estimated the rate of inflation in the past.” If it was an estimate, how then could it also be accurate? Besides that nit-picking detail, who adjudged the ‘accuracy’ of the source’s previous guess? On what basis?

Despite the reporters awkward attempt to put a plug in for his source’s reliability, at least the source was honest enough to admit that Zimbabwe’s rate of inflation is so high that the numbers being bandied about, likely including his, are completely meaningless.

Besides knowing that price increases have astonishingly got out of control in Zimbabwe, no one has the slightest clue what the rate of the change is. People like John Robertson might just protect their reputations if they learned that sometimes when reporters come calling it is better to just say, “no comment.”  


Advertisements

One Response to “The futility of trying to put a number to Zimbabwe’s hyper-inflation”

  1. johnwilpers said

    Hello, Mr. Makunike,

    My name is John Wilpers. I am the Global Blog Coordinator for GlobalPost, a new international news organization set to launch on Jan. 12 (see http://www.globalpost.com).

    My job is to build a list of blogs that will appear on GlobalPost where we will have approximately 65 correspondents in some 46 countries. We are looking for enlightening, informative posts from bloggers writing (in English) in those countries.

    I am pleased to extend an invitation to you to have the most recent post of “The Zimbabwe Review” included on the Zimbabwe page of GlobalPost.com as part of our “Global Blogs” service.

    After reviewing thousands of blogs worldwide, we have found “The Zimbabwe Review” to be one that is thought provoking and gives readers a true sense of what life is really like in Zimbabwe.

    The way it would work if you accept our invitation is that we would use your RSS feed to place your most recent post on your personal page on GlobalPost.com. We would point back to your actual blog for comments and for archives, hopefully driving lots of traffic to your site. Each time you write a new post, it would replace the older one so only one post would appear on GlobalPost.com.

    By appearing on Global Post’s exciting new international news website, your words, viewpoints, and pictures would gain worldwide exposure. Your posts would not only appear instantly on globalpost.com but also possibly on the sites of our partners, including the Huffington Post (7.8 million U.S. and 9.7 million global monthly unique visitors) and other news and information websites.

    You don’t need to do anything differently. We do request that you consider pointing back to us from your blog (we will send out logos shortly for your consideration).

    You should know that we have a few guidelines that we observe here at Global Post:

    1) We do not publish racist, sexist, or misogynist comments (unless those comments are the subject of the post).
    2) We do not publish obscene language or photos. While we recognize that obscenity can be difficult to define, we know it when we see it and we will let you know if we think you have crossed our line.
    3) We do not permit plagiarism. Any work taken from another source must be attributed to that source.
    4) We do not publish libelous or slanderous language.
    5) We do not tolerate repeated errors of fact or misrepresentations of facts or quotes.
    6) We do not publish work inciting violence.

    Failure to observe these guidelines would result in the removal of your blog from GlobalPost. We would contact you, of course, to discuss the post in question.

    Because we have a broad multicultural audience holding every conceivable political and religious viewpoint, we want to respect their views while also possibly challenging them. We will host controversial work. We will encourage robust debate of the hottest topics. We will not stifle discussion, only abuse of people, belief systems, and laws.

    We hope these guidelines are acceptable to you.

    I look forward getting your permission to put your RSS feed on our site. Please respond to: jwilpers@globalpost.com. Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    John Wilpers

    PS If you choose to accept our invitation and would like a photo and a short biography to appear on GlobalPost, please send both to me with your confirmation e-mail or at some time shortly thereafter.

    JOHN WILPERS
    Global Blog Coordinator
    The Pilot House
    Lewis Wharf
    Boston, MA 02110
    617-688-0137
    jwilpers@globalpost.com

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: