3 of the Most Bizzarre Financial Disasters from Around the World

Ryan Ong



Singaporeans love to complain about Singapore. But since it was just this country’s birthday, let’s take a break: let’s be grateful for what we do have instead. These are some examples of how things could be worse. Much worse.


1. Zimbabwe Gives Up on Its Own Currency

You know what currency they use in Zimbabwe? Any currency that doesn’t come from Zimbabwe. As of now, the only kind of currency used there comes from other countries.

That’s thanks to Zimbabwe’s world-record breaking inflation, which in November 2008 peaked at around – wait for it – 79,600,000,000%. And chances are that number’s a bit too low. Because at some point between ’08 – ’09, the Zimbabwean government just gave up tracking it.

In 2008, pay in Zimbabwe was measured in trillions of dollars – which isn’t as awesome as it sounds. Their average teacher’s pay at the time converted to about SGD 1.40 per month.

Computers in banks froze up, because there were too many zeroes to handle. Digital displays were rendered useless, because imagine if the pump at the petrol station had to display $400 trillion.

Their central bank got so fed up, they decided to just slash 10 zeroes off all the currency notes – a method we’re pretty sure is featured in no macroeconomics textbook ever.

How did iy happen? Well there are plenty of causes, but most fingers point at the Democratic Republic of Congo. Zimbabwe financed two wars there, and started printing money to pay for the soldier and equipment.

On top of that, the country was afflicted with wide scale corruption. We’re talking banks that would be thrown out of a time share salesmen’s convention for being too unethical.

But hey, they’re bound to recover. By doing things like spending USD 16,000,000+ on Mugabe’s birthday, giant statues of him, and his daughter’s wedding.


2. The Whole of Argentina Runs Out of Spare Change

Imagine if your 50 cent coin is worth a dollar. Or if loose change is so rare, shopkeepers  refuse to sell you a $1.90 pack of crackers if you don’t have exact change; because the 10 cents is too invaluable to give up for small transactions.

That’s exactly what happened in Argentina around ’09. No one is entirely certain of how all the country’s loose change just…up and vanished. Short of witchcraft and aliens, the most viable ones are:

  • Faceless coin hoarders, driving up the value of coins by taking them out of circulation, thus emulating the sort of criminal ploy usually only found in Scooby Doo episodes
  • The rising price of metal. Because at some point, it would have been more valuable to melt the coins and sell the metal than to keep them.
  • Buses that only take coins. Which is kind of a dumb explanation, unless the bus companies are the aforementioned faceless coin hoarders.

But wait. The simplest explanation is the Argentinian government. They didn’t mint enough coins, right?

Actually in 2008, they minted  over 500 million new coins. The only place you’ll find more metal is in Lil’ Wayne’s teeth. And yet over the next three years or so, the shortage was so severe people substituted small gifts, like candy, in place of their precious change.


3. Burma Insists All Currency Notes be Divisible by Nine

General Ne Win, who was chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party from ’62 – 98, had a unique monetary policy.

He modeled Burma on the planned economy of the Soviet Union, but with an extra twist: numerology. That is, the occult art of divining and controlling the future with numbers, the way we imagine maths is taught at Hogwarts.

General Ne Win’s magic number, according to numerology, was nine. But since people in Burma tend to count in sets of 10  (like, you know, almost every country ever), this was a problem.

Only two existing currency notes in Burma fit the General’s requirement: the 45 and 90 kyat notes.

Now as bizarre as the scheme was, it could have been implemented. It would just take massive effort to recall all the non 45 and 90 notes, issue new ones, and have every business reprice products into odd numbers (good thing they weren’t Argentina).

But upon considering how much work was involved, the General and his party decided “screw that”, and simply announced any note not divisible by nine was now worthless. On the radio. In minutes.

This caused the citizens of Burma to provide some negative feedback. Where by “feedback”, we mean an uprising resulting in around 350 deaths.

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.