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Young Space Cadet: Can I borrow a million, billion space credits until next Wednesday?

IQ High: Sure, just take it out of my wallet.


As everyone knows and grandparents are fond of reminding us, the value of money tends to decrease over time. It would be logical to assume that it will continue to do so, right? Well, Hollywood has caught on to this and, if The Future is depicted, goods will likely be (by the standards of The Present Day) highly overpriced. At this rate, a Zillion-Dollar Bill will just get you a cup of coffee and a newspaper.

In real life, many governments will simply revalue their currency, by creating "new" dollars or whatever, worth 1,000 or whatever of the old dollars. Weimar Germany had to do it a few times... in a couple of years. (That's really a whole other story.) The United States and Canada, to date, are notable exceptions - all coins and bills ever minted or printed remain legal tender at their face value (though sufficiently old currency is usually worth much more than face value as a collectible, or for its precious metal content). This doesn't mean they won't ever revamp their currency in the future, however. The US treasury did make tentative plans for currency replacement during the 1970s - they would have issued new notes printed in blue ink at a 10:1 exchange ratio with green money. The few test sheets printed are now valuable collector's items.

This revaluing is usually only for hyperinflation - they don't do much about "normal" inflation - for example, they aren't going to change things so that that newspaper in the 1980s that cost 40 cents and now costs $1.50 costs 40 cents again - ditto that 20-cent bag of candy that now costs about $2. Although, likely when numbers become ridiculously high for a chocolate bar, then new currencies will arise and gradually shift to their use for sake of convenience, with the older currencies likely kept in record (so that they're still valuable). In the future, realistically some major countries might have multiple active currencies with national exchange rates to exercise the 'gradual shift'.

A lesser change but still indicative of the effects of inflation is the removal of lower-denomination currency and increased circulation of higher denomination currency. Many countries (Canada included) have or are moving toward eliminating one-hundreth unit coins (pennies) since they are no longer economically relevant and are in some cases more valuable as metal than as currency. And some currencies, most notably the Japanese yen, have eliminated subdivisions of the base currency entirely after they were inflated out of relevance.

The portrayal of runaway cumulative inflation in fiction probably peaked in the 1980s. From 1973 through 1982, the annual inflation rate in the U.S. never fell below 6% and often reached double-digit percentages. To this day, there's been no consensus as to what caused this period of "stagflation." For all we knew at the time, this high inflation rate might continue indefinitely. Thus, many fiction writers painted a picture of the future with $15 cups of coffee by the year 2000. (Insert joke about Starbucks' prices here.)

As a rule of thumb, prices double every 23 years with an average inflation rate of 3 percent, and every 10 years if the average rate is 7 percent. When a show pulls out this trope, use this to compare what future prices are actually likely to be at that time.

Note that precious-metal currencies also experience inflation, but at a slower rate, due to mineral strikes rather than printing currency; precious-metal currencies can also deflate in value rather than inflate, depending on the rate of currency growth versus the rate of growth in the economy. The Middle Ages were an inflationary period, and the discovery of the New World meant a collapse in the value of silver, but the Industrial Revolution triggered deflation as the economy of the world expanded much faster than its precious-metal supply -- the buying power of a hard-currency US dollar (i.e., an ounce of silver) was higher in 1914 than it was in 1793. Also note that precious metal prices are now driven by reserve holdings much more than resource scarcity; abrupt price changes usually indicate market manipulation. Part of the effort to bail out Dubai in 2009 involved selling so much silver that international prices were severely depressed.

See also No-Paper Future. Compare Funny Money and Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit. May be the result of You Fail Economics Forever.


Examples of Ridiculous Future Inflation include:


Anime and Manga

  • One of Doraemon's Gadgets of the Week was a machine that allowed the user to buy things from different time periods (with that period's respective price), by choosing a date and object and inserting the corresponding amount of cash in the machine. Nobita manages to make a profit by buying things cheaply from the past and selling them in the present at an increased price. Unfortunately he decides to celebrate by ordering a bag of candy from the future...
    • Another time he used time travel to invest his parent's "secret" money stash, collecting a fantastic amount of interest in the far future...except the stack of bills he gets is in the future currency, so Doraemon has to find a collector to exchange it for modern bills. The result is that he only gets a modest increase (but enough for Nobita to get a bump in his allowance).
  • Lampshaded in a Hayate the Combat Butler chapter when Wataru angrily protests the price of travel, and Sakuya tells him it's based on the projected price of crude oil in 2008. In-universe, the year is still 2001.

Comic Books

  • Early on in the history of the Legion of Super-Heroes, 30th-century teenager Chuck Taine pays fifty cents for a bottle of soda pop. A reader asked about such a high price in the letter column, and the editor explained about Ridiculous Future Inflation. (Chuck didn't even get to enjoy his insanely expensive soft drink, as he accidentally swallows a Super Serum, that turns him into Bouncing Boy.)
    • 50 cents, 1000 years in the future, they must have revalued the dollar a few times.
  • Subverted in a Blinky comic strip in The Dandy where a front cover of the comic in the future (far enough to the point it's now on sale on Jupiter with the characters living in Zeerusted homes) and shows it being priced as "still 50p".
  • The Mad Magazine spoof of Star Wars had Han Solo wondering what he was going to buy with the immense reward he'll get for rescuing Princess Leia. Leia says for that money he can buy a cup of tea on Earth, as "the inflation isn't as bad there."
  • In an episode of The Freak Brothers set in the future, an overdue parking bill is in the millions, Phineas tries to pay it with a billion dollar bill from his tiny change purse, but drops the bill which is too small to see.
  • In a Filipino comic strip, were the protagonists entered in the year 2078, one of them claimed 10 million pesos after selling his necklace that dated during the 1970s. So when he tried to buy shoes, the shoes cost 8 million pesos.

Film

  • Strawberries are five hundred bucks a jar in Soylent Green. Guess what they usually eat instead?
    • This is actually more due to scarcity than inflation, since it's mentioned that almost all traditional forms of agriculture have gone to shit.
  • In Back to The Future Part II, Doc Brown gives Marty $50 to buy a Pepsi with in the year 2015. Similarly, Marty is asked by a charity collector to contribute $100 for the town hall clock.
    • Oddly, the 2015 Pepsi cost less than the soliciter requested. Contrast this with the '80s version of the scene, in which Marty gave a soliciter a quarter - probably less than a Pepsi would cost in a restaurant.
    • According to the wiki, Marty sold his 80s pocket money as antique currency to pay for Gray's Sports Almanac.
    • Subverted by old Biff's taxi ride; a cross-town ride from Hill Valley Square to Hilldale is $174.50 -- expensive relative to the time of the movie's release, but ridiculously cheap compared to the Pepsi and the clock tower donation.
    • In case you're wondering, a Pepsi in 2015 will likely cost around $2.00, possibly less as a result of deflation from the Great Recession.
      • Funnily enough 600mls of Pepsi cost more than that in Australia now -- often about AU$3.50 and up -- and an Australian dollar is worth more than a U.S. dollar at present.
  • In Idiocracy, which takes place in the year 2505, everything costs several billion dollars. Of course, the ridiculously bad economy is actually a plot point in the film. Assuming 3% inflation, prices should only be in the millions.
    • It might not necessarily even be due to the poor economy -- it's entirely possible they inflated everything into the billions in the first place on purpose so the local stupid people could be amazed that they had billions of dollars.
  • Inverted and parodied in the first Austin Powers movie, wherein Dr. Evil, who is from The Sixties, attempts to ransom the Earth for one million dollars. Cue the Chirping Crickets...
    • And in the second movie, he demands One Hundred Billion Dollars from the government in The Sixties. They tell him that amount of money doesn't even exist.
    • The GDP of the United States in 1967 was about $850 billion and the Federal Budget was just over $150 billion. The amount "existed", but even the US Government couldn't write him a check.
    • And again, in Goldmember, Dr. Evil requests "One billion, gajillion, fafillion... shabadylu...mil...shabady......uh, yen." The U.N. representives calculate it in their heads and determine that it is a reasonable claim.
  • In the I, Robot movie this is used, but not to absurdity - beers are shown to cost considerably more than they do now - US$48 for three bottles of beer in 2035.
    • Current year? 2011. Three bottled beers in a local Los Angeles bar? Between $18 and $24. Given that inflation is expected to double every 23 years at 3%, then 24 years from now in 2035, those three beers would cost between...$36 and $48. Hm.
    • There might actually be some contemporary sense of fact to this, considering there are places in large cities where you lay down an obscene amount for a single beer even today. In the more tourist-heavy reaches of Paris for instance, a single glass of beer can set you back 5 to 10 (!) euros, depending on the type of bar you go to. Note that this may have gotten even worse, as this was roughly five years ago.
  • In The Running Man, a cost of a single can of pop from a pop machine is $5. Which you had to pay for in quarters, because they didn't have automatic dollar-bill reading machines.
  • Another Arnold movie, The 6th Day, taking place in the near future, Arnold's clone pays $447.16 for a cab ride which shouldn't have been a long trip for him. You can see the base cab fare at $200.
  • 2007's I Am Legend shows the price of gas (at the time New York was evacuated) as well over 5 dollars a gallon.
    • So it's set sometime in 2013?
    • This is likely less a result of inflation so much as how hard it would be to move fuel around, what with the disease and all going around.
  • Inverted in Cherry 2000, which depicts a near-future which has undergone massive deflation. For example, mixed drinks in a bar cost 25 cents.
  • In the 2000s as imagined in the 1978 film Americathon, a bum asks for $25 for a cup of coffee (As of 2012, that varies from a little under $2 at a convenience store to almost $4 at some pricier Starbucks if you order a vente).

Literature

  • Portrayed realistically in Alongside Night where the US dollar has lost practically all of it's value from excessive printing by the Federal Reserve. Eventually the entire government either collapses or ends up privatised because of the advice of a bunch of revolutionaries described in the book as "worse than terrorists and the mafia combined".
  • In one series of Harry Turtledove's young-adult novels, a future society makes common use of "benjamins" -- ie, hundred-dollar bills -- in contexts where we moderns use dollars. A dollar is a fairly worthless coin, analogous to a penny.
    • This is the Crosstime Traffic series.
    • In his Timeline-191 stories in the CSA that just lost World War One he shows one character complaining about the ridiculous inflation that just started. A beer is now a dime rather than a nickel. Of course showing the economic spiral, the beer prices do go up and up - things start getting really bad when beer gets to a dollar... then ten, then a hundred...
      • That's simply a direct parallel to post-WWI, Weimar Germany's Hyperinflation. In fact, the CSA is a stand in for Germany for that entire series...
  • Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court anticipates this effect when converting 6th-century Arthurian Britain to decimal currency. He defines the units so that a cent is a lot of money and a dollar an inconceivable fortune, so that prices can inflate to those of 19th-century America on schedule.
    • Which is odd, since inflation as it's known in the modern world pretty much didn't exist until the 17th or 18th century. Prior to that time, most nations used specie money (coins made of their face value in gold or silver), so inflation was only an issue when a gold or silver mine added more precious metal to the economy.
      • Specie currencies still experience inflation, just in somewhat different way than fiat currencies. Usually it is a some form of the coin debasement -- the mint either decreases the amount of the precious metal in the coin while keeping the nominal the same, or, as it was common in Roman times, simply cuts off some of the metal from the coin itself. Another variation common in history was to introduce a base-metal coins, copper, for example, but still insist on tax payments in specie -- an Alexei Mikhailovich attempt to finance his wars that way has lead to the infamous Copper Riot in Moscow in 1662.
  • In 1978, in the original version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, part of the indication that Ford Prefect really did believe the world was about to end was that he bought six pints, paid with a five-pound note, and told the barman to keep the change. In the 2005 film, this became a fifty - £5 wouldn't even pay for six pints nowadays, let alone leave you with a notable amount of change.
  • Several Robert A. Heinlein future stories have mentions that the United States went the "drop a few zeroes" route to address inflation.

 Lazarus Long: $100 placed at 7 percent interest compounded quarterly for 200 years will increase to more than $100 million, by which time it will be worth nothing.

  • In Heinlein's "Citizen Of The Galaxy," a girl asks the hero, who is in a pensive mood, "Dollar for your thought?" "What?" "Old saying."
    • But a million of dollars is still able to buy the services of the premiere lawyer.
  • Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is set after "megainflation," and characters refer to "one trillion dollars" the same way we would refer to 10. One character's net worth is given as several million dollars, "before megainflation," causing the main character to let out an amazed whistle. In fact, even billion-dollar bills are now good only for toilet paper, a practice the FBI is seen discouraging because it clogs the plumbing. The result has been the introduction of non-inflated currency such as Kongbucks, which have become the unit of exchange for larger transactions.
  • In The Age of the Pussyfoot, a science fiction novel by Frederik Pohl (written around 1967), Charles Forrester is revived from cryopreservation in the year 2527 with a quarter of a million dollars from his insurance and interest (worth about $1.7 million in 2011). He thinks he is rich. It takes him a while to find out he isn't. It's handled quite well as the main source of inflation is rising health care costs.
  • An Isaac Asimov short story about Human Popsicles has a man withdrawing a couple million dollars from his bank account after being revived... and finding out that a new suit cost several million (or was it billion?) more.
  • Parodied in The Book What I Wrote (Eddie Braben's book about Morecambe and Wise) in which his reminiscing about 1950s Britain is accompanied by helpful footnotes such as "A shilling is worth about a hundred billion pounds in today's money".
  • Based on Real Life, James Bond, when in France at the beginning of OHMSS likes to think of the money in his pocket in old francs because that makes him feel richer, while counting his expenses in new francs to make them seem smaller.
  • In Jennifer Government, a pair of Nike Mercurys (the book is absolutely not Writing Around Trademarks) cost a few thousand dollars, which is treated to what would be in current money around one hundred or so.
    • Of course, the time period of Jennifer Government is a little unclear. The only date given "'96" which could be any century, and Word of God has it that (contrary to what the disclaimer in the book says) it's set in an alternate present that has a royally fucked up economic and political environment.
  • The Jaunt, a Stephen King short story, actually inverts this. The eponymous teleportation technology makes petroleum-powered transportation virtually obsolete and makes oil drilling on Mars viable, so gasoline is only a few cents a gallon.
  • Notably averted in The Witcher, where one character mantions that whenever a party of adventurer tries to slay a dragon, there's always some magician nearby, and said magician always has connections to the Goldsmiths and Jewelers Guild or some large bank. Indeed, no one has ever heard of an inflation in their world.

Table Top Games

  • Steve Jackson Game's Car Wars aka Autoduel, made in the mid 1980s, depicted a Mad Max styled post-apocalyptic 2030's of road-going car battles. Most cars are electric, but where gas is available at all it costs about $40 a gallon.
    • Of course, most cars are electric.
    • The supplement Chassis and Crossbow depicted the even more apocalyptic 2010's, where following a nuclear war and mass collapse of civilization, the trade value of a gallon of alcohol-derivative faux-gas is... about $3 a gallon. Eerie.
  • The currency in Dungeons and Dragons is notoriously inflated in value. It takes 7 solid gold coins, each of which weighs about a quarter of an ounce (which adds up to somewhere around $2000 in 2010 dollars), just to buy a basic hooded lantern. The prices of even the lowliest magic items are measured in thousands of these gold pieces. The books try to justify this by comparing the economy to Gold Rush towns, where a shovel cost $10 in 1840s money and eggs sold for a dollar or more each; the problem is, the outrageous prices don't just apply in adventuring towns near a dungeon complex, they also apply in cities and villages far removed from areas where such equipment is in demand.
    • It was even worse in 1st Edition AD&D. Prices were the same as modern D&D prices in gold pieces, except a gold piece weighed a tenth of a pound (that's nearly one-and-a-half Troy ounces per coin). Imagine paying 10 one-ounce gold Krugerrands, each worth about $1600 in 2012, for that basic hooded lantern.
    • This gets even more nonsensical in the MMORPG Dungeons and Dragons Online, which seems to inflate everything up yet another step. A single platinum piece is worth 100 gold coins, and an ordinary wooden shield in the starter area costs more than 2 platinum pieces, or over three pounds of pure gold, which would have an equivalent US dollar price of over 70,000$. At that price, it's never explained why one wouldn't simply use a table
    • This is probably deliberate; how else could you have dragons lying on piles of treasure, and let the players kill the dragons and take the treasure, without that letting them buy the nearest three kingdoms, except by making the individual coins that make up that treasure worth a lot less?
    • It's partially that magic items are just that expensive. Sure 25000 gold will only buy one magic weapon, but it will also buy a small castle, or an army for a short period. The best comparison is probably time. One day of labor is one copper (0.01 gold, or 0.0005 pounds of gold) for untrained labor. This is roughly 500 times minimum wage in real life. Also, unless it's been mentioned that gold was ever worth more, it's not really inflation.
  • Used and Averted in Shadowrun. A standard lunch costs 40-60$ UCAS dollars. However, in the standard currency of the setting, the Nuyen, that's only 10-15¥.
  • Inverted by "classic" Monopoly which still uses 1932 prices, with prime oceanfront real estate going for a few hundred dollars.

Television

  • In the 1989 Doctor Who story "Battlefield", set Twenty Minutes Into the Future, the Doctor buys a round of drinks. A lemonade, a vodka and Coke and a water come to five pounds. The Doctor pays with a £5 coin. In 1989 the drinks would not have cost more than two pounds and both the amount and the fact that a five pound coin existed were mildly startling.
    • In England five-pound coins are regularly issued to commemorate events, and as such are collectors items. It is technically a one crown coin. Have a look here and here for rather beautiful examples. The latter one is the very first legal titanium coin to be minted. Look here for some history.
  • The Doctor Who Magazine recently featured an article in its 400th issue, where a picture of a mock-up 800th issue cover was seen on one of the pages. The price "300 Euros" could be made out on the side.
  • In the Y2K episode of Kenan and Kel (set in the year 3000), prices have inflated into the millions range, with a few grocery items costing a whole backpack full of cash.
  • Subverted in the episode "The Leap Back" on Quantum Leap. Sam suggests mailing the master code for the imaging chamber(which locked when he and Al cross-leaped), to his father's lawyer with $100 to ensure the man will follow the odd-but-specific instructions about mailing it to Sam on a specific day in the future(the day that Sam is actually at currently, but trapped in the imaging chamber). Al, who's still out of it from the Leap, thinks Sam is talking about the cost of postage.

 Sam: The post office. And my dad's lawyer, Doc Krosnov. We mail Doc Krosnov a letter, right? With, say, a hundred bucks.

Al: For the stamp.

Sam: No, no, no, it's 1945. $100 will do very nicely. We mail him $100 with instructions to deliver the code on September the 18th, nineteen-hundred and ninety-nine.

    • Played straight, however, in that this exchange strongly suggests that a stamp in Sam and Al's "present' time period (the late 1990s) costs in the ballpark of $100: that would be a rate of inflation of 40,000% in less than a decade!
  • Lost in Austen inverts this. When the modern protagonist Amanda truthfully says she lives on £27,000 a year, it gives everyone in the Regency era entirely the wrong idea about how wealthy she is.

Video Games

  • In the adventure game Gateway, loosely based on the novel of the same name, a news bulletin seen at the beginning of the game informs the player that the new currency reform means that a new U.S. dollar is worth about 1,000 of the old ones, meaning that prices are now at roughly the same numerical value they were at in 1995, 200 years previously.
    • Which is actually not too bad. For 200 years, that's only about a 3.5% inflation rate.
  • Unleaded 3.95 a gallon, Diesel 4.05! For reference, the actual price of gas at time of the game's release was about $1.50. Bet 4 bucks a gallon sounded downright nightmarish to them. Take that! ha ha! ha...
    • Granted, retail gas prices in the U.S. have always been ridiculously low by global standards. $3.95 a gallon wouldn't have seemed as excessive to players in, say, South America at the time.
    • JC's augmentations apparently cost fifty billion dollars (and the same again for Paul), which would probably not be unreasonable if anyone used dollars in Deus Ex's future.
  • According to Saints Row 2, gas is about $8.40 per gallon. This is lampshading the minor gas crisis that was occurring during the game's development, when gas was raising about 40 cents per month (coming to a head of about $4.50 a gallon in some states.)
  • Fallout 1 had a gas station where the price of regular gasoline was somewhere in the $4500 range. Premium fuel was $8000.99 per gallon. (Then again, this may have been more due to the lack of oil. The shock of the price is still jarring to those who do not know about the oil shortage of the past)
    • Then again in Fallout 3 Cars were nuclear powered...
    • The newspapers from the 2050s and 2070s shown in the Fallout 3 loading screens cost $56 each.
  • This trope may be the reason why in Secret of Evermore, the Omnitopian Credit is the least valuable of the four currency (each credit being worth 1/8 of a gold coin).
    • Even at that price, a single Omnitopian Credit would (assuming each gold coin weighs a quarter of an ounce, as they do in D&D) be worth about USD $43 in today's money (note: The price of gold was about USD $1370 per ounce at the time of writing (15th of Feburary 2011). 1370 / 4 for one coin = USD $342.5 / 8 ~ USD $43).
  • Might seem to be the case in Eve Online as the simplest of commodities cost hundreds of thousands ISK to millions, high-end ships cost hundreds of millions, and capital ships cost billions. However that's most likely a case of sci-fi fans not having a sense of how expensive space ships, space travel, and Amarrian wheat by the metric ton, would be. And the creators do.
  • In the alternate future in Home Front, gas prices rise to $19.99 per gallon. Yikes. Here is the trailer where it's mentioned. The exact time is around 0:53.


Webcomics

  • 21st Century Fox (takes place in 2066) plays it straight, but the inflation doesn't get much mention, besides a couple of comics near the beginning, where gas is "cheap" for $70 a gallon, and a can of soda is 20 dollars - and the main characters just happen to have a couple of $20 coins on them.
  • Used for a throwaway gag in Flaky Pastry after Nitrine gets catapulted into the far future and gets some fast food.
  • In a future arc of SSDD one character remarks that $2 million won't get you a candy bar, of course it was an economic crisis that messed up their world.
  • Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life has a basic lozenge cost ∞ dollars on Uranus since all the solar system's cash and financial robots were dumped there when they became worthless due to the post-scarcity economy.

Western Animation

  • In the South Park episode "Goobacks", the future immigrants are willing to work for minimum wage, which they then put into a bank account so that in their time the interest has built up to the point that they have billions of dollars. Of course, due to inflation this is worth even less than when they put it into the bank. It's worth noting that in Real Life, inflation can and does become higher than interest rates.
    • This is linked to a Fridge Logic moment about the relationship between interest and inflation. If everyone is earning interest, the money supply has to be increasing, and that normally causes inflationary pressure. It must be noted, however, that the value of the currency is a function of the ratio between the supply of currency and the supply of goods and services. As long as the latter keeps pace with the former, prices will remain stable.
  • Futurama averts this - with Fry's $4 billion in his account (saved over 1000 years, of course) is enough to make him independently wealthy, and getting a $300 tax rebate is a big deal.
  • In Family Guy, it was spoofed as Pearl, the old singer, was shown in a documentary getting a meager sum of a couple thousand dollars a long time ago, "which is worth over $3 billion today".
  • In an episode of Samurai Jack, a bounty hunter says that Aku has a bounty on Jack's head worth two googolplex. Yes, the hunter is convinced that this is "a looooot of money" and the person offering the bounty controls the entire world, but that's just ridiculous.
  • In the Courage the Cowardly Dog episode "One Thousand Years of Courage", Eustace, Muriel and Courage end up in the year 3000. Muriel remarks that something doesn't seem right:

 Eustace: [looking at a newspaper] I'll say there's something wrong. Eight million bucks for a salami!

    • The joke being that he's concerned about this while giant sentient bananas are walking around.
  • The Simpsons had a parody of the (then) modern Russian economy with an instance of Ridiculous Present Inflation, with a Russian dignitary at the Olympics committee:

 Russian: Come to Russia, where 1 dollar worth 5 roubles. [gets paged on his beeper, and reads out the message, sounding increasingly panicked] 12 roubles. 50 roubles. 1000 ROUBLES!? I must go. [Frantically leaves the conference hall.]

    • Also an inversion: in an episode set in the Huckleberry Finn era, Tom and Huck are shocked that a couple days worth of supplies cost 2 cents and there was a 99-cent store which sold such items as grand pianos.
  • One episode of Arthur, presented in the context of far-future people living in a Jetsons-style world watching an old VHS tape, has one character talking about the incredible deal they got on mittens for "only" $3 million.

Real Life

  • An old joke tells of a man who suffers a coma and wakes up 50 years later. He calls his stockbroker firm, which tells him that due to a split he now has a billion dollars. Before he can celebrate, the payphone asks him to insert $1 million dollars...
  • In Germany under the Weimar Republic, it did reach a point when a newspaper cost 100 billion marks, and you literally needed wheelbarrows of marks just to buy groceries. In some cases, the wheelbarrow itself was worth more than its contents. Germans of that era would burn wads of banknotes as fuel during the winter, owing to the money being cheaper to burn than the wood/paraffin alternative.
    • This was parodied in the fake travel guide Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry. An enigmatic leader of the country faced widespread inflation, the book mentioning that the people had to carry wheelbarrows of money to purchase simple goods. The leader solved this problem by declaring wheelbarrows legal tender.
    • A popular german urban legend had a man going to the bank with a wheelbarrow full of marks go to a bank and leave it outside for a minute while talking to the tellers. Upon returning outside to wheel the money in, he finds the wheelbarrow gone... and all of the money cleanly dumped on the sidewalk.
  • Less well-known than the German hyperinflation, the worst inflation yet happened in Hungary in the wake of World War II. When the pengő currency was replaced by the forint on 1st August 1946, the conversion rate was 4 x 1029 (a 4 followed by 29 zeros) pengő to a single forint.
    • To give you an idea of just how ridiculous this number is: if you could buy one atom of hydrogen for one pengő -- just one atom -- you could fill the Hindenburg for twenty-five forints. (And, at 2010 exchange rates, that would run you a little over 12¢ US, less than a tenth of a euro.)
  • Happened in the modern times in Zimbabwe where the exchange rate at late June, 2008 was 20 billion $Z to 1 $US. In 2007 the inflation rate was going up so fast that golfers would prepay for their drinks before starting their round because the price would have gone up significantly by the time they finished the 18th hole, and that waiting a day to buy bread meant you could no longer afford to do so.
    • The economy is right now pretty much running on foreign currency: the Zimbabwean dollar is so worthless that it's actually more cost effective to sell the currency for use as recycled paper (and get paid in real money) then it is to use it for its face value. A Zimbabwean newspaper printed its ads on Zimbabwean money...
    • Zimbabwean government banned its own currency in April 2009.
    • Before then the inflation was exponential... on a logarithmic graph
  • In very recent past, exchange rate for one U.S. dollar was about 1,500,000 Turkish liras. Six zeros have been removed from the currency since.
  • 1996, Poland revalued its currency by knocking off four of the zeros; there was a period in which both old and new currency was accepted and goods were double-priced accordingly.
  • In 1997 in Russia. Only three zeros got chopped instead of four, so for about a year there were neat, Soviet-like single-digit sums. Then came crisis of 98, and inflation struck again... It got much better recently, but inflation is still about 10% per year, so rumors of a new revaluation tend to hover around.
  • Mexico dropped three zeros out of the "peso" for the sake of simplicity in 1993. New coins and bills appeared into circulation and the old ones were taken out.
  • The Government of Ghana lopped four zeroes off the end of the cedi when it hit 10,000 to a dollar back in 2007.
  • The Soviet Union used to have coin-operated phones. Then it collapsed, and in the 1990s after hyperinflation the rubles, never mind the kopeks, became totally worthless. The only source of coins to run the coin operated machines was the phone company who could recycle the coins and sell them for whatever the phone call was worth. This also happened on the Moscow and St Petersburg metros, where the barriers were coin-operated. The metro system sold tokens the same size and weight as the coin that had operated them.
  • A huge problem in the South during the American Civil War, due to the Confederate government simply printing more money to pay for the war. As one politician put it: "You bring your money to market in a basket, and bring home what you buy in your pocketbook." An additional problem was that the CSA's currency was redemption-based, with the theory that a few years after the war, one could turn it in for 'hard' currency. Thus, when the South was defeated, the money became 'As worthless as a Confederate bill'.
  • During the late eighties in Peru the inflation was ridiculously high, to the point that in 1990 the annual inflation rate had well surpassed 10000% (yes... that is a one followed by 4 zeroes). As a consequence you did have to buy meager stuff like a bottle of coke with millions of intis. When the Inti was changed for the Nuevo Sol the exchange rate was 1 million Intis to the Sol.
  • In Brazil, inflation slowly grew through the 70s and 80s, reaching 200%/year around 1985 and something like 1700%/year in 1989. Inflation was fixed in 1994 with yet another currency (the Real) which is still working today.
  • In Venezuela it reached the point where one American dollar was Bs.5,000, they fixed it though; now with the "Strong" bolivars, the conversion rate is 5 Bolivars to the dollar.
  • During and after the American Revolution, paper money issued by the Continental Congress was proverbially worth nothing, mostly because the government had no effective powers and no assets to back it.
  • Ancient societies had this problem even though they used coins that had intrinsic values. The problem was that many rulers would need a lot of coins fast so they would just slightly decrease the percentage of the good stuff in the coins so they could issue a lot of coins cheaply.
    • The later Roman Empire suffered hyperinflation when, instead of diluting the gold, the government repeatedly simply tried to buy it all.
    • King Henry VIII of England was known as "Old Coppernose" because the silver would wear off the high-relief parts of his coins, revealing the underlying copper.
    • For a time the last US coins minted with silver content (quarters and dimes from the early 60s) were worth more as precious metals than as collectibles. Enough coins were melted down that the balance swung the other way, and the coins are rare enough to collect again.
  • In 1986, an Italian politician proposed to replace the old currency (lira) with the "lira pesante" (heavy lira), with a value of 1000 lire for each lira pesante, in order to bring Italian prices in line with the other European nations. Some printing tests were made, but technical and political problems proved the currency replacement to be impossible, so the project was abandoned. Italy eventually switched from the lira to the euro in 1999, with a conversion value of 1936.27 lire for each euro.
    • People would joke about being a "lire millionaire," which, just before the Euro valuation, meant you had around $800 U.S.
  • Japan has never revalued their currency, and as a result the smaller denominations, sen (1/100 of yen) and rin (1/1000 of yen) have been removed from circulation.
    • During the early days of yen (19th century) you could find a 1 yen banknote, while today 1 yen is the least worth coin.
      • Nowadays the yen appreciates at such a speed that we might see the Ridiculous Future Deflation.
  • Averted (for a price) in Soviet Union. As the USSR made the population affluence its main propaganda point, in can never afford the wage drops or inflation lest it lose the face. However, the economy can grow only so fast, and to make everything worse, in The Seventies the Soviet economy stagnated. As the prices were fixed, the only outcome of the money supply overrunning the supply of goods was the shortage -- the dreaded deficit, when even the basics required enormous lines, and the population that turned their disaffection with the government into a ridicule.
  • Make your own with The Inflation Calculator. Simple experiment: what was a thousand dollars worth in 1800? What cost $1000 in 1800 costs $12653 today. Put more simply, a thousand 2011 dollars is equivalent to eighty 1800 dollars.
    • And what costs $1 in 1800 costs $1 in 1928.
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