The object on the left is worth more than the pile on the right.

Annelena Lobb has this report on an inflation rate that dwarfs all comers.

If using the word “hyperinflation” understates the problem, the setting is probably Zimbabwe. In the southern African country, a spiraling inflation rate of at least six digits renders the value of its currency an ongoing puzzle.

Hyperactive hyperinflation comes as a result of decades of rule by Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s strongman president. Under his regime, infrastructure has crumbled and millions of people have fled. Today, Mr. Mugabe is the only candidate in a discredited presidential runoff election, from which opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai has withdrawn.

Mr. Tsvangirai won a majority of votes in a March election, but removed himself from this one after state-sponsored violence against his supporters. Mr. Mugabe said he wouldn’t recognize the withdrawal, and is expected to use violence and intimidation to get people to the polls today.

Amid political chaos this week, residents scrambled to buy foreign exchange, sending the value of the Zimbabwean dollar ever lower. The Old Mutual Implied Rate, used as an unofficial proxy for the value of a Zimbabwean dollar, estimates that one U.S. dollar today is worth Z$64,575,990,281, which is more than Thursday, when it bought about Z$62 billion, but down from a peak of about Z$80 billion Tuesday, according to the Web site ZimbabweanEquities.com.

Zimbabwe’s inflation rate has gone vertical in the last month. (Zimbabweanequities.com)

Financial-services firm Old Mutual lists shares in both London and Harare, among other places; observers can calculate — roughly — what a Zimbabwean dollar is worth using share prices on both exchanges.

The OMIR doesn’t necessarily correlate to the rate you’d get on the street. But foreign exchange is the easiest store of value in Zimbabwe these days, said Rob Stangroom, who runs ZimbabweanEquities.com as well as other sites on African companies.

“You can change U.S. dollars on the street, and you can only take about Z$25 billion out of a bank account at any point in time. So if you want to have a normal life, you can’t, unless you use foreign exchange,” Mr. Stangroom said. “It’s very distorted. [The currency’s] value changes from day to day. I’ve been out of Zimbabwe for [more than] a week, which is a very long time,” he said.

In a hyperinflationary setting, that can be an eternity. When prices change that fast, “people spend a huge part of their day, every day, thinking about how to spend their money in the right way and at the right time. People get paid and have to figure out how to spend money immediately, before it loses value,” said Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard University. “It’s almost impossible to cope with.”