Iran's Cash: Going, Going-Gone?

By Varadarajan, Tunku | Newsweek, October 29, 2012 | Go to article overview

Iran's Cash: Going, Going-Gone?


Varadarajan, Tunku, Newsweek


Byline: Tunku Varadarajan

Kinship in Kinshasa?

What better place to take froideur to great new heights than the summit of the International Organization of La Francophonie, a jamboree at which heads of state of French-speaking nations gather from time to time to--reasonably enough--speak French to each other. This year, the leaders gathered in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first part of whose appellation is, in the view of French President Francois Hollande, a bit of a joke. At the summit, Hollande pointedly refused to applaud the address of President Joseph Kabila, his undemocratic Congolese host, and the handshake they exchanged before the event began was perfunctory, at best. (Madame Kabila, too, got the briefest handshake, and none of the extravagant hand-kissing that Frenchmen reserve for ladies they wish to flatter.) Hollande also made it a point to visit Etienne Tshisekedi, the 80-year-old opposition leader widely thought to have won the elections in December 2011, a man to whom the press were denied access for the duration of the summit. After their meeting, a forthright Hollande told reporters, "Speaking French also means speaking about human rights, because the rights of man were written in French."

Rial Emergency

As if a relentless decline in the value of the national currency weren't appalling enough for Iran's citizens, three European companies that print banknotes for Tehran have announced that they will no longer do so, leaving hapless Iranians to face the prospect of a daily-dwindling supply of rials. (One is inclined, here, to offer a variation on an old Jewish joke: such bad money, and so little of it.) And yet, could a scarcity of banknotes be a blessing in disguise for the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Could an artificially induced drying up of currency help to arrest Iran's hyperinflation? In a conversation with Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins and a major inflation guru, this columnist learned that in the great hyperinflation in Yugoslavia in early 1994--when monthly inflation rates peaked at 313,000,000 percent--Belgrade was running the currency presses 24 hours a day, re-denominating banknotes with additional zeroes. …

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