Things That Don’t Last . . . and Things That Do

My brother Andy has kept a Brazilian “penny,” a centavo, on his desk for years. It is one of the smallest pennies in the world. It reminds him of something important: Money does not endure.

When Andy married a Brazilian woman, they moved 5,000 miles south so that he could learn Portuguese and get to know his new family. When they returned to the USA 25 years ago, Andy brought the centavo with him.

In 1986, Brazil inaugurated a new “dollar,” the cruzado, which was worth only 1,000th of the previous bill, the cruzeiro. Three years later Brazil launched another new dollar, the cruzado novo, worth 1,000 times less than the last bill. In 1990, once again Brazil devalued its currency by a factor of 1,000, bringing back the name cruzeiro. The economy continued to slide. In 1993, Brazil devalued its currency by another 1,000 times with the cruzeiro real. Then came the big change—1994. Brazil devalued its currency by 2,750 times with the real, which continues in circulation in 2011.

After this long spiral downward, Andy’s centavo is mathematically smaller than the USA national debt is large. A little Q & A may help in understanding the microscopic value of this penny.

Q: How many of Andy’s centavos would it take to equal one Brazilian “dollar,” a real?
A: 275 quadrillion.

Q: How many centavos are 275 quadrillion?
A: If every American had 1 billion centavos, and we all stacked our centavos into a pile, that would be 1 real!

Q: What does endure?
A: The Apostle Peter wrote, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

Peter drew a stark contrast between money and God’s word. A few sentences earlier he wrote, “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:17-19).

I am glad that the Brazilian real has outlasted its predecessors, but no one can guarantee its future.

God’s word? Imperishable! You can stake your life on it.

Q: What is something that has surprised by you by losing, holding, or gaining value?
A: Go to Comment…

About Ben Unseth

Migrant executive and professor.
This entry was posted in Hypertext: words that point up, values and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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