Most people don’t know it but I’m a millionaire. In fact, not to brag, but I am a multi-millionaire. Twice in my life I have had in my possession a million in currency.
The first time was in 1998 when I was in Kenya and Uganda. In addition to credit cards, I took $1,000 in cash, not knowing what I would spend or how. I discovered that $1,000 U.S. dollars translates to 1,000,000 Ugandan shillings.
I considered converting the dollars to shillings and taking a photograph of myself with stacks of money but the conversation and reconversion would have cost me 100,000 shillings. But, as I saw it, for a couple of weeks I was a legitimate millionaire.
The second time is now. I am the possessor of $20,000,000 German marks. In today’s money, $20,000,000 German marks translates into $11,068,438.64 American dollars. Well, that’s assuming that the marks in my possession are from present day Germany. They aren’t.
Leaving aside the fact that the Euro is the currency in Germany, the marks I have come from 1923 are were issued by the Weimar Republic, officially the German Reich and also referred to as the German People’s State or simply the German Republic, which was the German state from 1918 to 1933.
Historians will recall that Germany was slapped with terrible conditions under the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. Fully one-third of the German economy was earmarked for reparations and, due to a variety of factors, hyperinflation devastated the nation.
It was said that a wheelbarrow of money was required to buy a loaf of bread. In actuality, In 1922, a loaf of bread cost 163 marks. By September 1923, during hyperinflation, the price crawled up to 1,500,000 marks and at the peak of hyperinflation, in November 1923, a loaf of bread costs 200,000,000,000 marks. That’s two hundred BILLION marks. Eventually, the misery in Germany led to the rise of Adolph Hitler and we all know how that worked out.
Those of us who have been around a while know something about inflation — or at least we know how the perception of price has changed. While I was a kid, my mother would give me a dollar on Saturdays. With this single dollar, I, and my friend Steve Duncan, would ride the bus into downtown Kingsport, Tenn., go to the movies, buy popcorn and a drink, go back to the bus station and buy a hot dog, catch the bus again, and go home.
Today, to catch an Uber and retrace the same steps, it would cost the equivalent of my parent’s house payment back in those days.
Speaking of house payments, I’m pretty sure my folks paid the princely sum of about $14,000 for our two bedroom, one bath, with a living room, TV room, and kitchen. Later my dad, all by himself, built on a third bedroom and a dining room. The house also had a basement.
By the time I got to junior high school, my older cousin Brenda had a brand new 1965 Ford Mustang convertible whose sticker price was $2,663. Gas was 30 cents a gallon A McDonald’s hamburger was also 30 cents. I’m not sure when cheeseburgers became available but the slice of cheese cost an extra nickel which my parents thought was outrageous. Dad would go buy the hamburgers and Mom would add the cheese before she gave them to us.
After high school, I enlisted in the Marine Corps and was paid $110 a month. When I went back to school, my college tuition was $85 a quarter plus books. Minimum wage, as I recall, was $1.60 an hour and, by the time I graduated from college, I earned the new minimum wage of $1.80 an hour working as a cook at Long John Silver’s. And, by the time I earned my degree in social work, I was married with two kids.
In 1977, the first year I was a full-time pastor of four separate churches, my tax records show that I made a grand total of just over $5,400 that year, including the Christmas bonus.
Later, when I worked as a “social counselor,” a term for investigating and handling child abuse and neglect cases, for the Tennessee Department of Human Services and eventually received a raise to $12,000 a year, I was ecstatic. I thought to myself that I would never need another raise. I had arrived!
A person who had a million dollars in 1965 was considered fabulously wealthy and in the upper strata of society. But a million dollars is not what it used to be. Today, in 2020, one has to have $8,194,126.98 to have the same purchasing power as in 1965. Not that I would scoff at having a million dollars. Today, with 11,000,000 legitimate millionaires in the United States, we may bump shoulders with one frequently and not even know it.
Sometimes, with so much change in the last 50-60 years, I wonder what the next 50-60 years will hold. Surely wages and prices will continue to rise. A 2020 Ford Mustang convertible now costs $32,170 plus whatever add-ons one wants to get. That’s well over ten times the price of the 1965 model. Will the 2075 model cost in excess of $350,000? Well, I won’t be around to see the answer to that question.
I feel certain that the average German who, in 1918, paid one-fourth of a Reichsmark for a loaf of bread would never have believed that, in four short years, that same loaf would cost 200 billion marks. The future is, at best, uncertain.
But the good news is that, you too, can be a multi-millionaire, if you aren’t picky about the type of currency. I can’t remember what I paid for my 20,000,000 marks, 1923 edition, bill. That’s right, it’s a single bill! But anyone can get one. It costs $1.49 online and that includes shipping. It doesn’t cost a fortune to be a millionaire.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the crisis, the church is live streaming at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays at http://www.facebook.com/cctksharpsburg/ He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]