I wonder whether the bidding on eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) will start heating up for the Zimbabwean $1 billion note, now that the country is lopping off a few zeroes? In its online auctions, a complete set of Zimbabwean bills -- with a combined value of more than $6 trillion in Zimbabwean currency! -- sells just less than $400 (in U.S. dollars). Talk about inflation.
Half a loaf
Yet even though a billion local bucks won't buy you a loaf of bread in that economic basketcase of a country, don't laugh too hard at the country's efforts to make things seems more reasonable. Even if Zimbabwe's $1 billion note will now be printed as $1.00, it could provide a magnified version of what's to come here in the U.S.
While Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson so far haven't colluded to run the country's printing presses day and night, their actions lately sure seem like they're burnishing their resumes to take posts in Zimbabwe's ruling administration, should things go poorly here.
The Fed announced Wednesday that it is extending permission through January for investment banks to borrow money from the central bank. The $200 billion program lets investment banks borrow directly from the Fed's discount window for a period of 28 days. Investors in Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH ) heaved a huge sigh of relief; now that the company can soldier on for a while longer without having to confront a liquidity crisis.
I'm from the government...
Paulson was the one steering the so-called rescue of the mortgage giants, as the Treasury proceeded with its plan to gain greater regulatory authority. While that may have worked in the short-term -- Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE ) , for example, found greater demand than it expected for its short-term bonds -- it puts the taxpayer on the hook for untold billions, should conditions worsen.
...and I'm here to help
And worsen they might. Despite the best efforts of the Bernanke-Paulsen tag team to stem the economic hemorrhaging, additional bailouts always seem necessary and imminent. When JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) was forced into a "rescue" of Bear Stearns early this year, it was supposed to have shored up a weakening foundation. The failure of IndyMac Bank, which could cost taxpayers more than $8 billion, along with the FDIC's seizure of two other banks last week, shows how successful that effort has been.
The government is also picking up the tab for some $300 billion in refinanced mortgages, should they end up in foreclosure. The Treasury Department is also strong-arming participation in the new covered-bond market, where Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) , and JPMorgan Chase will expand mortgage financing. The Fed has also given that market a nudge by saying that it may accept the bonds as collateral for banks seeking loans.
Today, inflation is at 5%, the worst level in 17 years. Indications suggest that the Fed will not raise rates at its next meeting, which would signal its willingness to indulge the ravages of inflation for the sake of stabilizing the financial institutions. As if they could.
A billion pennies for your thoughts
We probably won't see Zimbabwean-style inflation here -- let's hope not -- but the monetary effects of what Bernanke, Paulson, and their ilk in Congress are crafting will be no less ruinous. Better put your bids in on the $1 billion note, Fools. Taxpayers will need a whole bunch of them to finance the bailouts Washington is setting us up for.