Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Review: When Money Dies

The Wall Street Journal and Andrew Stuttaford have just published an excellent book review of Adam Fergusson's When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending, Devaluation and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany (2010, first published 1975).

From Product Description:

When Money Dies
is the classic history of what happens when a nation’s currency depreciates beyond recovery. In 1923, with its currency effectively worthless (the exchange rate in December of that year was one dollar to 4,200,000,000,000 marks), the German republic was all but reduced to a barter economy. Expensive cigars, artworks, and jewels were routinely exchanged for staples such as bread; a cinema ticket could be bought for a lump of coal; and a bottle of paraffin for a silk shirt. People watched helplessly as their life savings disappeared and their loved ones starved. Germany’s finances descended into chaos, with severe social unrest in its wake.
Money may no longer be physically printed and distributed in the voluminous quantities of 1923. However, “quantitative easing,” that modern euphemism for surreptitious deficit financing in an electronic era, can no less become an assault on monetary discipline. Whatever the reason for a country’s deficit—necessity or profligacy, unwillingness to tax or blindness to expenditure—it is beguiling to suppose that if the day of reckoning is postponed economic recovery will come in time to prevent higher unemployment or deeper recession. What if it does not? Germany in 1923 provides a vivid, compelling, sobering moral tale.
From The Wall Street Journal review, Stuttaford writes:
"The death of the German mark (it took 20 of them to buy a British pound in 1914 but 310 billion in late 1923) plays a key part in the dark iconography of the 20th century: Images of kindling currency and economic chaos are an essential element in our understanding of the rise of Hitler. Mr. Fergusson adds valuable nuance to a familiar story. His tale begins not, as would be popularly assumed, in the aftermath of Germany's political and military collapse in 1918 (by which point the mark had halved against the pound) but in the original decision to fund the war effort largely through debt—a decision with uncomfortable contemporary parallels (one of many in this book) tailor-made for today's end-timers."
For further reading:
"When Money Dies", Jonas Clark, March 17, 2009

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