Monday, March 27, 2017

The Strange Tale of the Somali Shilling

JP Koning:
Somalia has long played host to one of the world's strangest monetary phenomenon, a paper currency without a central bank. Despite the fact that both the Central Bank of Somalia and the national government ceased to exist when a civil war broke out in 1991, Somali shilling banknotes continued to be used as money by Somalis. Over the years, Somalis also accepted a steady stream of counterfeits that circulated in concert with the old official currency. . . .

Old legitimate 1000 shilling notes and newer counterfeit 1000 notes are worth about 4 U.S. cents each. Both types of shillings are fungible—or, put differently, they are accepted interchangeably in trade, despite the fact that it is easy to tell fakes apart from genuine notes. This is an odd thing for non-Somalis to get our heads around since for most of us, an obvious counterfeit is pretty much worthless. The exchange rate between dollars and Somali shillings is a floating one that is determined by the cost of printing new fake 1000 notes. For instance, if a would-be counterfeiter can find a currency printer, say in Switzerland, that will produce a decent knock off and ship it to Somalia for 2.5 U.S. cents each (which includes the cost of paper and ink), then notes will flood into Somalia until their purchasing power falls from 4 to 2.5 U.S. cents... at which point counterfeiting is no longer profitable and the price level stabilizes.
People are writing about this now because the central bank is being reformed and plans to start printing official money again, and nobody knows what will happen. Most likely Somalis, used to getting by with little government help, will sigh and treat the new bills just like the old ones.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

So it's paper money that has reverted back to being a literal commodity whose value is based on the market cost of the materials that physically comprise it. Fascinating.

And the sad thing is, that makes it a more rational form of exchange than US pennies, which are worth LESS than what it costs to manufacture them.