Why the world needs to lose the zeroes

The BBC reports that the National Debt Clock in New York has run out of digits to record the national debt level.  When debt passed the $10 trillion point last month, the sign could not display the full amount.

I suggest the US turn to an unlikely ally – Zimbabwe. They are bloody experts at dealing with extraordinarily big numbers, especially given their annual inflation rate just topped 231,000,000%. Robert Mugabe’s advice? “Just add more zeroes! Works for me every time.”

A trillion dollars is a made up number anyway

A trillion dollars is a made up number anyway

specialises in extra digits

Zimbabwe: specialises in extra digits

 Okay, so while I’m on the topic of stupidly big numbers, I might as well delve into the gripping universe of international finance.

So far I have been underwhelmed by the global financial crisis. There have been a lot of people banging on about something they don’t really understand. So I’m going to join them, albeit briefly.

I can’t even explain how angry the story below made me. It’s not the first of its kind, and it certainly won’t be the last. That doesn’t make it right.

Have a read of these excerpts from a Herald Sun story outlining the hearings of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the Lehman Brothers collapse. Richard Fuld was head of the bank.

Days before the collapse, a September 11 memo showed a request was made to the company’s compensation board to give three departing executives a combined $US20 million in golden handshakes.

“In other words, even as Mr Fuld was pleading with (US Treasury) Secretary Paulson for a federal rescue, Lehman continued to squander millions on executive compensation,” Mr Waxman said.

During the hearing, Mr Waxman turned to Mr Fuld and said: “You’ve been able to pocket close to half a billion dollars, and my question to you is, is that fair for a CEO of a company that’s now bankrupt? It’s just unimaginable to so many people.”

But Mr Fuld denied he had been paid that much, saying his cash compensation was about $60 million and he received about $250 million in other benefits and options since 2000.

Mr Waxman said: “You have a $14 million ocean-front home in Florida, you have a summer vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho, you and your wife have an art collection filled with million-dollar paintings.

“Your former president, Joe Gregory, used to travel to work in his own private helicopter.”

“While Mr Fuld and other Lehman executives were getting rich, they were steering Lehman Brothers and our economy toward a precipice.”

Fuld concedes that he has received US$310 million dollars. Or to put it another way, $310,000,000. That’s the equivalent of 15 Olympic swimming pools. No wait, wrong comparison. Okay, how about this? US$10 million dollars to spend every year for the next 31 years.

Or to put it another way, more than the combined annual incomes of 678,336 of the world’s poorest people. What a bloody disgrace. Or roughly 474 Ferrari 599s. Still a disgrace.

That’s a fair reward for ploughing a bank straight into the ground. I reckon I could give that a shake, where do I sign? It’d be easy, I’d just take my shoes and socks off and do all my accounting on my fingers and toes. I’m rubbish at maths, especially odds. I’d just bet it all on black, job done.

Those numbers are simply obscene. Only people in Zimbabwe are that rich, and that’s because they’re good at adding zeroes. Fuld should be stripped of everything and made to shop with monopoly money, because that’s how he treats money – his and everyone elses.

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