Let's say you wake up tomorrow and find one of Venezuela’s new 50,000 bolívar megabills in your wallet. Exhilarated by your luck — Did a bank teller hand it to you by accident? A cashier at the grocery store? — you do a bit of research into how much this peach-colored prize is worth.
Venezuela’s central bank announced this week it will begin circulating new 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000 notes. Not only is the 50,000-bolívar bill now the highest denomination in circulation in Venezuela, but also it’s missing a few zeros — eight, to be exact. Anti-inflation efforts by the Venezuelan government in 2008 and 2018 slashed that many zeros from the value of the bolívar. When you add those zeros back in, the 50,000 bill in your hand becomes a 5-trillion-bolívar note. You rub your eyes to make sure they’re working. They are. You kiss the tiny bill and begin to dance. Cue a whooshing movie sequence of cash being stacked, passports being stamped, and champagne bottles being popped.
Having 5 trillion of almost any of the world’s currencies would usually make a person wildly rich. But not when it comes to Venezuela, where inflation is measured in six digits. In fact, the new megabill would be worth only about $8 at a currency exchange, assuming the tellers take it all.
In a place like Miami, your newfound riches won’t get you far. You could buy the following:
- An arepa with shredded chicken at Doggi’s Arepa Bar for $7.99, not including tax.
- A Publix sub, currently on sale for $5.99.
- A few hours of parking in South Beach if you can find an open spot.
- A matinee at a local theater.
- Two-for-one drinks at Mac's Club Deuce during happy hour.
- An ironic Salt Life sticker.
Venezuela’s economic woes are deathly serious, but the release of the new megabills and the previous slashing of zeros off currency are more joke than solution. To that end, the new bills are a picture of the growing desperation in Venezuela.
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Runaway inflation in the South American country has depreciated much of its currency to the point of worthlessness. The new 50,000-bolívar bill is still higher than Venezuela's monthly minimum wage.
Low-value cash is nearly useless there, except to make purchases with enormous stacks, and larger bills remain hard to come by. And though Venezuelans usually opt for U.S. dollars, credit cards, or wire transfers as forms of payment whenever possible, bolívars are still required for everyday purchases like gasoline.
Before the new bills were rolled out, the 500-bolívar note was the highest denomination available in Venezuela. In 2016, the largest bill in circulation was the 100-bolívar bill.