Letter from Zimbabwe

Shanta posts this incredible missive from Harare:

December 11, 2008

It is just after midnight in Harare. I have just returned from a midnight tour of the ATMs in Harare with a cousin. There are queues of people still waiting to get their weekly cash withdrawal limit of $100,000,000,000 (US$2.50). I saw the queues this morning when I went for my first meeting at 7.45am. I did not know then that I would be seeing them throughout the day. Most of the ATMs had run out of money. Rather than go home, people saved their precious place in the lines by lying down where they stood and taking a nap. Covering themselves with sacks, newspapers and whatever warming clothing they had…

December 12, 2008

Today the Reserve Bank increased the cash withdrawal limit from $100,000,000 to $200,000,000 (US$4). It also introduced two higher-denomination notes, $200,000,000 and $500,000,000. As expected there was a mad rush to withdraw and spend the cash before it loses value. It is widely expected that retailers will increase their prices in line with the higher withdrawal limits…

What, historically, is the maximum lifespan of a government under such hyperinflation? Readers: any pointers in the literature?