JUST BEFORE THE First World War in 1913, the German mark, the British shilling, the French franc, and the Italian lira were all worth about the same, and four or five of any were worth about a dollar.
Ten years later 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 Weimar 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. In desperation, the Bavarian Prime Minister submitted a Bill to the Reichsrat proposing that gluttony be made a penal offence his exact definition of a glutton being ‘one who habitually devotes himself to the pleasures of the table to such a degree that he might arouse discontent in view of the distressful condition of the population’.
Since its first publication in 1975, When Money Dies has become the classic history of these bizarre and frightening times. Weaving elegant analysis with a wealth of eyewitness accounts by ordinary people struggling to survive, it deals above all with the human side of inflation: why governments resort to it, the dismal, corruptive pestilence it visits on their citizens, the agonies of recovery, and the dark, long-term legacy. And at a time of acute economic strain, it provides an urgent warning against the addictive dangers of printing money — shorthand for deficit financing — as a soft option for governments faced with growing unrest and unemployment.
It is interesting to note the three reasons why it kept going for as long as it did – one, the authorities knew that balancing the books would lead to an increase in unemployment, two, printing was politically the easy solution, and three, (much like in Argentina in 1989) the authorities in large had an interest in keeping the inflationary scheme going, as it erodes it’s debt and the value of it’s liabilities.
I found out about this book after reading this pretty good article.