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The Troubled Currencies Project

July 9, 2013

For various reasons — ranging from political mismanagement, to civil war, to economic sanctions — some countries are unable to maintain a stable domestic currency. These "troubled" currencies are associated with elevated rates of inflation, and in some extreme cases, hyperinflation. Often, it is difficult to obtain timely, reliable exchange-rate and inflation data for countries with troubled currencies.

To address this, the Troubled Currencies Project collects black-market exchange-rate data for these troubled currencies and estimates the implied inflation rates for each country. The data and estimates will be updated on a regular basis. A current snapshot is presented in the table below. A time series of these data can also be viewed in graphical form by clicking on the corresponding tab for each country at the bottom of this page.



THE PROBLEM

Regimes in countries undergoing severe inflation have a long history of hiding the true extent of their inflationary woes. In many cases, governments fabricate inflation statistics to hide their economic problems. In the extreme, countries simply stop reporting inflation data. This was the case in Zimbabwe, a country that recorded the world's second-highest hyperinflation. Results of research determined that Zimbabwe's hyperinflation peaked in mid-November 2008, at a monthly rate of 7.96 × 1010% — roughly 8 followed by 10 zeros.

But, the Mugabe government stopped reporting inflation data in July 2008, when the peak monthly inflation rate was "only" 2,600%. Unfortunately, these official July 2008 data are still used in press reports and by venerable institutions like the International Monetary Fund. There is, of course, a "little" problem. The hyperinflation actually peaked at monthly rate 30 million times higher than the official peak inflation rate. The true peak of Zimbabwe's hyperinflation occurred 3.5 months after the government's last release of official inflation data.

Many countries have followed this course — failing to report any usable monetary data and neglecting to report inflation data in a timely and replicable manner. Those data that are reported are often deceptive, if not completely fabricated. Yes, official economic data from countries with troubled currencies often amount to nothing more than "lying statistics" and should be treated as such.

THE SOLUTION

How can this problem be overcome? At the heart of the solution is the exchange rate. If free-market exchange-rate data (usually black-market data) are available, a reliable estimate of an inflation rate can be determined. The principle of purchasing power parity (PPP) — which links changes in exchange rates and changes in prices — allows for reliable inflation estimates during periods of elevated inflation. Indeed, PPP simply states that the exchange rate between two countries is equal to the ratio of their relative price levels. Accordingly, to calculate the inflation rate in countries with troubled currencies, a rather straightforward application of standard, time-tested economic theory is all that is required.

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Steve H. Hanke is a Professor of Applied Economics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter: @Steve_Hanke.

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Steve H. Hanke is Professor of Applied Economics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. He is also a Senior Fellow and Director of the Troubled Currencies Project at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter: @Steve_Hanke

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