All Commentary
Wednesday, December 1, 1976

Lessons of the German Inflation

We learn from extreme cases, in economic life as in medicine. A moderate inflation, that has been going on for only a short time, may seem like a great boon. It appears to increase incomes, and stimulate trade and employment. Politicians find it profitable to advocate more of it—not under that name, of course, but under the name of “expansion­ary” or “full employment” policies. It is regarded as politically suicidal to suggest that it be brought to a halt. Politicians promise to “fight” inflation, but by that they almost never mean slashing government expenditures, balancing the budget, and halting the money-printing presses. They mean denouncing the big corporations and other sellers for raising their prices. They mean imposing price and rent controls.

When the inflation is sufficiently severe and prolonged, however, when it becomes what is called a hyperinflation, people begin at last to recognize it as the catastrophe it really is. There have been scores of hyperinflations in history—in ancient Rome under Diocletian, in the American colonies under the Continental Congress in 1781, in the French Revolution from 1790 to 1796, and after World War I in Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia, not to mention in three or four Latin American countries today.

But the most spectacular hyperinflation in history, and also the one for which we have the most adequate statistics, occurred in Ger­many in the years from 1919 to the end of 1923. That episode repays the most careful study with the light it throws on what happens when an inflation is allowed to run its full course. Like every individual infla­tion, it had causes or features peculiar to itself—the Treaty of Versailles, with the very heavy reparation payments it laid upon Germany, the occupation of the Ruhr by Allied troops in early 1923, and other developments. But we can ignore these and concentrate on the features that the German hyperinflation shared with other hyperinflations.

Convertibility Suspended

At the outbreak of World War I­ on July 31, 1914, the German Reichsbank took the first step by suspending the conversion of its notes into gold. Between July 24 and August 7, the bank increased its paper note issue by 2 billion marks. By November 15, 1923, the day the inflation was officially ended, it had issued the incredible sum of 92.8 quintillion (92,800,000,000,000,­000,000) paper marks. A few days later (on November 20) a new cur­rency, the rentenmark, was issued. The old marks were made converti­ble into it at a rate of a trillion to one.

It is instructive to follow in some detail how all this came about, and in what stages.

By October 1918, the last full month of World War I, the quantity of paper marks had been increased fourfold over what it was in the pre­war year 1913, yet prices in Ger­many had increased only 139 percent. Even by October 1919, when the paper money circulation had increased sevenfold over that of 1913, prices had not quite increased sixfold. But by January 1920 this relationship was reversed: money in circulation had increased 8.4 times and the wholesale price index 12.6 times. By November 1921 circula­tion had increased 18 times and wholesale prices 34 times. By November 1922 circulation had in­creased 127 times and wholesale prices 1,154 times, and by Novem­ber 1923 circulation had increased 245 billion times and prices 1,380 billion times.

These figures discredit the crude or rigid quantity theory of money, according to which prices increase in proportion to the increase in the stock of money—whether the money consists of gold and converti­ble notes or merely of irredeemable paper.

And what happened in Germany is typical of what happens in every hyperinflation. In what we may call Stage One, prices do not increase nearly as much as the increase in the paper money circulation. This is because the man in the street is hardly aware that the money supply is being increased. He still has confidence in the money and in the pre-existing price level. He may even postpone some intended pur­chases because prices seem to him abnormally high, and he still hopes that they will soon fall back to their old levels.

Later Stages of Inflation

Then the inflation moves into what we may call Stage Two, when people become aware that the money stock has increased, and is still increasing. Prices then go up approximately as much as the quan­tity of money is increased. This is the result assumed by the rigid quantity theory of money. But Stage Two, in fact, may last only for a short time. People begin to assume that the government is going to keep increasing the issuance of paper money indefinite­ly, and even at an accelerating rate. They lose all trust in it. The result is Stage Three, when prices begin to increase far faster than the govern­ment increases, or even than it can increase, the stock of money.

(This result follows not because of any proportionate increase in the “velocity of circulation” of money, but simply because the value that people put upon the monetary unit falls faster than the issuance increases. See my article, “What Determines the Value of Money?” in The Freeman of September, 1976.)

But throughout the German inflation there was almost no pre­dictable correspondence between the rate of issuance of new paper marks, the rise in internal prices, and the rise in the dollar-exchange rate. Suppose, for example, we assign an index number of 100 to currency circulation, internal prices, and the dollar rate in Octo­ber 1918. By February 1920 circula­tion stood at 203.9, internal prices at 506.3, and the dollar rate at 1,503.2. One result was that prices of imported goods then reached an index number of 1,898.5.

But from February 1920 to May 1921 the relationship of these rates of change was reversed. On the basis of an index number of 100 for all of these quantities in February 1920, circulation in May 1921 had increased to 150.1, but internal prices had risen to only 104.6, and the dollar exchange rate had actual­ly fallen to 62.8. The cost of imported goods had dropped to an index number of 37.5. Between May 1921 and July 1922 the previous tendencies were once more resumed. On the basis of an index number of 100 for May 1921, the circulation in July 1922 was 248.6, internal prices were 734.6, and the dollar rate 792.2. 

Again, between July 1922 and June 1923 these tendencies con­tinued, though at enormously in­creased rates. With an index num­ber of 100 for July 1922, circulation in June 1923 stood at 8,557, inter­nal prices at 18,194, and the dollar rate at 22,301. The prices of imported goods had increased to 22,486.

The amazing divergence between these index numbers gives some idea of the disequilibrium and dis­organization that the inflation caused in German economic life. There was a depression of real wages practically throughout the inflation, and a great diminution in the real prices of industrial shares.

How It Happened

How did the German hyperinfla­tion get started? And why was it continued to this fantastic extent?

Its origin is hardly obscure. To pay for the tremendous expen­ditures called for by a total war, the German government, like others, found it both economically and politically far easier to print money than to raise adequate taxes. In the period from 1914 to October 1923, taxes covered only about 15 per cent of expenditures. In the last ten days of October 1923, ordinary taxes were covering less than 1 percent of expenses.

What was the government’s own rationalization for its policies? The thinking of the leaders had become incredibly corrupted. They inverted cause and effect. They even denied that there was any inflation. They blamed the depreciation of the mark on the adverse balance of payments. It was the rise of prices that had made it necessary to increase the money supply so that people would have enough money to pay for goods. One of their most respected monetary economists, Karl Helfferich, held to this rationalization to the end:

“The increase of the circulation has not preceded the rise of prices and the depreciation of the exchange, but it followed slowly and at great distance. The circulation increased from May 1921 to the end of January 1923 by 23 times; it is not possible that this increase had caused the rise in the prices of imported goods and of the dollar, which in that period increased by 344 times.”¹

Of course such reasoning was eagerly embraced by Germany’s politicians. In the late stages of the inflation, when prices rose far faster than new money could even be printed, the continuation and even the acceleration of inflation seemed unavoidable. The violent rise of prices caused an intense demand for more money to pay the prices. The quantity of money was not suffi­cient for the volume of transactions. Panic seized manufacturers and business firms. They were not able to fulfill their contracts. The rise of prices kept racing ahead of the volume of money. The thirty paper mills of the government, plus its well-equipped printing plants, plus a hundred private printing presses, could not turn out the money fast enough. The situation was desper­ate. On October 25, 1923 the Reichsbank issued a statement that during the day it had been able to print only 120,000 trillion paper marks, but the demand for the day had been for a quintillion.

One reason for the despair that seized the Germans was their con­viction that the inflation was caused principally by the repara­tions burden imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. This of course played a role, but far from the major one. The reparations payments did not account for more than a third of the total discrepancy between expen­diture and income in the German budget in the whole four financial years 1920 through 1923.

A False Prosperity

In the early stages of the inflation, German internal prices rose more than the mark fell in the foreign exchange market. But for the greater part of the inflation period—in fact, up to September 1923—the external value of the mark fell much below its internal value. This meant that foreign goods became enormously expensive for Germans while German goods became great bargains for foreig­ners. As a result, German exports were greatly stimulated, and so was activity and employment in many German industries. But this was later recognized as a false prosperity. Germany was in effect selling its production abroad much below real costs and paying extor­tionate prices for what it had to buy from abroad.

In the last months of the German inflation, beginning in the summer of 1923, internal prices spurted forward and reached the level of world prices, even allowing for the incredibly depreciated exchange. The exchange rate of the paper mark, calculated in gold marks, was 1,523,809 on August 28, 1923. It was 28,809,524 on September 25, 15,476,190,475 on October 30, and was “stablized” finally at 1,000,­000,000,000 gold marks on Novem­ber 20.

One change that brought about these astronomical figures is that merchants had finally decided to price their goods in gold. They fixed their prices in paper marks ac­cording to the exchange rate. Wages and salaries also began to be “indexed,” based on the official cost­-of-living figures. Methods were even devised for basing wages not only on the existing depreciation but on the probable future depreciation of the mark.

Finally, with the mark depreciat­ing every hour, more and more Germans began to deal with each other in foreign currencies, prin­cipally in dollars.

Placing The Blame

Viewed in retrospect, one of the most disheartening things about the inflation is that no matter how appalling its consequences became, they failed to educate the German monetary economists, or cause them to re-examine their previous sophisms. The very fact that the paper marks began to depreciate faster than they were printed (be­cause everybody feared still further inflation) led these economists to argue that there was no monetary or credit inflation in Germany at all! They admitted that the stamped value of the paper money issued was enormous, but the “real” value—that is, the gold value ac­cording to the exchange rate—was far lower than the total money circulating in Germany before the war.

This argument was expounded by Karl Helfferich in official testimony in June 1923. In the summer of 1922 Professor Julius Wolf wrote: “In proportion to the need, less money circulates in Germany now than before the war. This statement may cause surprise, but it is correct. The circulation is now 15-20 times that of pre-war days, while prices have risen 40-50 times.” Another economist, Karl Elster, in his book on the German mark, declared: “However enormous may be the apparent rise in the circulation in 1922, actually the figures show a decline”!

Of course all of the bureaucrats and politicians responsible for the inflation tried to put the blame for the soaring prices of everything from eggs to the dollar, to a special class of selfish and wicked people called the “speculators”—forgetting that everybody who buys or sells and tries to anticipate future prices is unavoidably a speculator.

Effect on Production

There is today still an almost universal belief that inflation stim­ulates trade, employment, and pro­duction. For the greater part of the German inflation, most business­men believed this to be true. The depreciation of the mark stimulated their exports. In February and March of 1922, when the dollar was rising, business seemed to reach a maximum of activity. The Berliner Tageblatt wrote in March of the Leipzig Fair: “It is no longer simply a zeal for acquiring, or even a rage: it is a madness.” In the summer of 1922, unemployment practically dis­appeared. In 1920 and 1921, on the other hand, every improvement in the mark had been followed by an increase of unemployment.

The real effect of the inflation, however, was peculiarly complex. There were violent alternations of prosperity and depression, feverish activity and disorganization. Yet there were certain dominant ten­dencies. Inflation directed produc­tion, trade, and employment into different channels than they had previously taken. Production was less efficient. This was partly the result of the inflation itself, and partly of the deterioration and destruction of German plant and equipment during the war. In 1922 (the year of greatest economic expansion after the war) total pro­duction seems to have reached no more than 70 to 80 percent of the level of 1913. There was a sharp decline in farm output.

High prices imposed “forced sav­ing” on most of the German popula­tion. High paper profit margins combined with tax considerations led German manufacturers to increase their investment in new plant and equipment. (Later much of this new investment proved to be almost worthless.)

There was a great decline in labor efficiency. Part of this was the result of malnutrition brought about by high food prices. Bresciani-Turroni tells us:

“In the acutest phase of the inflation Germany offered the gro­tesque, and at the same time tragic, spectacle of a people which, rather than produce food, clothes, shoes, and milk for its own babies, was exhausting its energies in the manufacture of machines or the building of factories.”

There was a great increase in unproductive work. As a result of changing prices and increased spec­ulation, the number of middlemen increased continually. By 1923 the number of banks had multiplied fourfold since 1914. Speculation expanded pathologically. When prices were increasing a hundred­fold, a thousandfold, a millionfold, far more people had to be employed to make calculations, and such calculations also took up far more time of old employees and of buyers. With prices racing ahead, the will to work declined. The production of coal in the Ruhr, which in 1913 had been 928 kilograms per miner, had decreased in 1922 to 585 kilograms. The “dollar rate” was the theme of all discussions.

Chaotic Business Conditions

Inefficient and unproductive firms were no longer eliminated. In 1913 there had been, on average, 815 bankruptcies a month. They had decreased to 13 in August 1923, to 9 in September, to 15 in October, and to 8 in November. The accelerative depreciation of the paper mark kept wiping out everybody’s real debt.

The continuous and violent oscillations in the value of money made it all but impossible for manu­facturers and merchants to know what their prices and costs of pro­duction would be even a few months ahead. Production became a gam­ble. Instead of concentrating on improving their product or holding down costs, businessmen speculated in goods and the dollar.

Money savings (e. g., in savings bank deposits) practically ceased. The novelist Thomas Mann has left us a description of the typical experience of a consumer in the late stages of the inflation:

“For instance, you might drop in at the tobacconist’s for a cigar. Alarmed by the price, you’d rush to a competitor, find that his price was still higher, and race back to the first shop, which may have doubled or tripled its price in the meantime. There was no help for it, you had to dig into your pocketbook and take out a huge bundle of millions, or even billions, depending on the date.”²

But this doesn’t mean that the shopkeepers were enjoying an economic paradise. On the contrary, in the final months of the inflation, business became demoralized. On the morning of November 1, 1923, for example, retail traders fixed their prices on the basis of a dollar exchange rate of 130 billion paper marks. By afternoon the dollar rate had risen to 320 billion. The paper money that shopkeepers had re­ceived in the morning had lost 60 per cent of its value!

In October and November, in fact, prices became so high that few could pay them. Sales almost stop­ped. The great shops were deserted. The farmers would not sell their products for a money of vanishing value. Unemployment soared. From a figure of 3.5 percent in July, 1923, it rose to 9.9 percent in September, 19.1 percent in October, 23.4 percent in November and 28.2 percent in December. In addition, for these last four months more than 40 per cent of union members were em­ployed only part time.

The ability of politicians to profit from manufacturing more inflation had come to an end.

Effect on Foreign Trade

Because the paper mark usually fell faster and further on the foreign exchange market than German internal prices rose, German goods became a bargain for foreigners, and German exports were stimu­lated. But the extent of their increase was greatly overestimated at the time. The relationship be­tween the dollar rate and the inter­nal price rise was undependable. When the mark improved on the foreign exchange market, exports fell off sharply. Germans in many trades viewed any improvement of the mark with alarm. The main, long-run effect of the inflation was to bring about a continuous instability of both imports and exports. Moreover, the two were tied together. German industry largely worked with foreign raw materials; it had to import in order to export.

Germany did not “flood the world with its exports.” It could not increase production fast enough. Its industrial output in 1921 and 1922, in spite of the appearance of feverish activity, was appreciably lower than in 1913. As I have noted before, because of price and foreign exchange distortions, Germany was in effect giving away part of its output.

But this loss had one notable offset. In the earlier stages of the inflation, foreigners could not resist the idea that the depreciated Ger­man mark was a tremendous bargain. They bought huge quan­tities. One German economist calculated that they probably lost seven-eights of their money, or about 5 billion gold marks, “a sum triple that paid by Germany in foreign exchange on account of reparations.”

The Effect on Securities

Those who have lived only in comparatively moderate inflations will find it hard to believe how poor a “hedge” the holding of shares in private companies provided in the German hyperinflation. The only meaningful way of measuring the fluctuation of German stock prices is as a percentage of changes in their gold (or dollar) value, or as a percentage of German wholesale prices. In terms of the latter, and on the basis of 1913 = 100, stocks were selling at an average of 35.8 in December 1918, 15.8 in December 1919, 19.1 in December 1920, 21 in December 1921, 6.1 in December 1922, and 21.3 in December 1923.

This lack of responsiveness is accounted for by several factors. Soaring costs in terms of paper marks forced companies to continually offer new shares to raise capital, with the result that what was being priced in the market was contin­ually “diluted” shares. Mounting commodity prices, and speculation in more responsive “hedges” like the dollar, absorbed so large a pro­portion of the money supply that not much was left to invest in securities. Companies paid very low dividends. According to one com­pilation, 120 typical companies in 1922 paid out dividends equal, on the average, to only one-quarter of 1 percent of the prices of the shares.

The nominal profits of the com­panies were frequently high, but there seemed no point in holding them for distribution because they would lose so much of their purchas­ing power in the period between the time they were earned and the day the stockholder got them. They were therefore ploughed back into the business. But people desperately wanted a return, and they could make short term loans at huge nominal rates of interest. (High interest rates, also, meant low capitalized values.)

Moreover, investors rightly suspected that there was something wrong with the nominal net profits that the companies were showing. Most firms were still making com­pletely inadequate depreciation and replacement allowances, or showing unreal profits on inventories. Many companies that thought they were distributing profits were actually distributing part of their capital and operating at a loss. Finally, over each company hung an “invisible mortgage”—its potential taxes to enable the government to meet the reparations burden. And over the whole market hung, in addition, the fear of Bolshevism.

Yet it must not be concluded that stocks were at all stages a poor hedge against inflation. True, the average of stock prices (in gold value on the basis of 1913 = 100) fell from 69.3 in October 1918 to 8.5 in February 1920. But most of those who bought at this level made not only immense paper profits but real profits for the next two years. By the autumn of 1921 speculation on the German Bourse reached feverish levels: “Today there is no one,” wrote one financial newspaper, “—from lift-boy, typist, and small land­lord to the wealthy lady in high society—who does not speculate in industrial securities.”

But in 1922 the situation dra­matically changed again. When the paper index is converted into gold (or into the exchange rate for the dollar) it fell in October of that year to only 2.72, the lowest level since 1914. The paper prices of a selected number of shares had increased 89 times over 1914, but wholesale prices had increased 945 times and the dollar 1,525 times.

After October 1922, once again, the price of shares rapidly began to catch up, and for the next year not only reflected changes in the dollar exchange rate, but greatly sur­passed them. The index number in gold (1913 = 100) rose to 16.0 in July 1923, 22.6 in September, 28.5 in October, and 39.4 in November. When the inflation was over, in December 1923, it was 26.9. But this meant that shares ended up at only about a fourth of their gold value in 1913.

The movement of share prices contributed heavily to the profound changes in the distribution of wealth brought about in the infla­tion years.

Interest Rates

In an inflation, lenders who wish to protect themselves against the probable further fall in the purchasing power of money by the time their principal is repaid, are forced to add a “price premium” to the normal interest rate. This elemen­tary precaution was ignored for years by the German Reichsbank. From the early days of the war until June 1922 its official discount rate remained unchanged at 5 percent. It was raised to 6 percent in July, to 7 percent in August, 8 percent in September, 10 percent in November, 12 percent in January 1923, 18 percent in April, 30 percent in August, and 90 percent in September.

But even the highest of these rates did nothing to deter borrowing by debtors who expected to pay off in enormously depreciated marks. The result was that the Reichsbank’s policy kindled an enormous credit inflation, based on commercial bills, on top of the enormous government inflation based on Treasury bills. After Sep­tember 1923, a bank or private individual had to pay at a rate of 900 percent per annum for a loan from the Reichsbank. But even this was no deterrent. At the beginning of November 1923 the market rate for “call money” rose as high as 30 percent per day—equivalent to more than 10,000 percent on an annual basis.

The Monetary Reform

There is no space here for an adequate summary of the redistribution of wealth, the pro­found social upheaval, and the moral chaos brought about by the German inflation. I must reserve them for separate treatment, and move on to discuss the monetary reform that ended the inflation.

On October 15, 1923, a decree was published, establishing a new cur­rency, the rentenmark, to be issued beginning November 15. On Novem­ber 20 the value of the old paper mark was “stabilized” at the rate of 4,200 billion marks for a dollar, or one trillion old paper marks for a rentenmark or gold mark. The infla­tion came to a sudden halt.

The result was called “the mira­cle of the rentenmark.” Indeed, many economists find it difficult to this day to explain exactly why the rentenmark held its value. It was ostensibly a mortgage on the entire industrial and agricultural resources of the country. It was provided that 500 rentenmarks could be converted into a bond having a nominal value of 500 gold marks. But neither the renten­marks nor the bond were actually made convertible into gold.

Moreover, the old paper marks continued to be issued at a fantastic rate. On November 16 their circula­tion amounted to 93 quintillions; it soared to 496 quintillions on December 31, and continued to rise through July of the following year. Bresciani-Turroni is inclined to attribute the “miracle” of the ren­tenmark to the desperate need for cash (more and more people had stopped accepting paper marks), and to the word “wertbeständig” (constant value) printed on the new money. The public, he thinks, “allowed itself to be hypnotized” by that word.

There is a more convincing explanation. Though paper marks continued to be issued against com­mercial bills, from November 16 on, the discounting of Treasury bills by the Reichsbank was stopped. This meant that at least no more paper money was being issued on behalf of the government to finance its defi­cits. In addition, the Reichsbank intervened in the foreign exchange market. In effect it pegged the rentenmark at 4.2 to the dollar and the old marks at 4.2 trillion to the dollar. Germany was now on a dollar exchange standard!

The Stabilization Crisis

The effect was dramatic. In the last months of the inflation, the German economy was demoralized. Trade was coming to a standstill, many people were starving in the towns, factories were closed. As we have seen, unemployment in the trade unions, which had been 6.3 percent in August, rose to 9.9 percent in September, 19.1 percent in October, 23.4 percent in November, and 28.2 percent in December. (The inflation technically came to an end in mid-November, but its disorganizing effects did not.) But after that, confidence quickly revived, and trade, production, and employment with it.

Bresciani-Turroni and other wri­ters refer to the “stabilization crisis” that follows an inflation which has been brought to a halt. But after a hyperinflation has passed beyond a certain point, any so-called “stabilization crisis” is comparatively mild. This is because the inflation itself has brought about so much economic dis­organization. When it is said that unemployment rose after the mark stabilization, the statement is true at best only as applied to one or two months. Bresciani-Turroni’s month-­by-month tables of unemployment end in December 1923. Here is what happened in the nine months from October 1923 through June 1924.

October 1923


November 1923


December 1923


January 1924


February 1924


March 1924


April 1924


May 1924


June 1924


Thus by June of 1924 unemploy­ment had returned to a normal figure.

There was a real stabilization crisis, but it showed itself in a different way. One of the things that happens in an inflation, and espe­cially in a hyperinflation, is that labor is employed in different direc­tions than the normal ones, and when the inflation is over, this abnormal demand disappears. Dur­ing an inflation, labor is drawn into luxury lines—furs, perfumes, jewe­lry, expensive hotels, nightclubs—and many essentials are com­paratively neglected. In Germany, labor went particularly into fixed capital, into the erection of new plant, and into the overexpansion of industries making “instrumental” goods. And then, suddenly, as one industrialist bluntly put it, many of these factories were found to be “nothing but rubbish.” In many cases it was soon found to be a mistake even to keep them closed down in the hope of reopening later. The mere cost of maintenance was excessive. It was cheaper to demolish them.

In brief, when the inflation ended, the distortions and illusions to which it had given rise came to an end with it. Parts of the economy had been overdeveloped at the expense of the rest. The inflation had produced a great lowering of real wages. In the first months of1924 a big increase took place in the average incomes of individual workers as well as in employment. The index of real incomes rose from 68.1 in January 1924 to 124 in June 1928. This led to a great increase in the demand for consumption goods, and to a corresponding fall in the production of capital or instrumen­tal goods. There was suddenly what was recognized as a great overproduction of coal, iron, and steel. Unemployment set in in these industries. But once again, careful attention was paid to production costs, and there was a return to labor efficiency.

There was apparently a great shortage of working capital, if we judge by interest rates. In April and May of 1924 the rate for monthly loans rose in Berlin to a level equivalent to 72 percent a year. But a large part of this reflected con­tinuing distrust of the stability of the new currency. At the same time loans in foreign currencies were only 16 percent. And in October 1924, for example, when rates for loans in marks had fallen to 13 percent, loans in foreign currencies were down to 7.2 percent.

It would be difficult to sum up the whole German inflation episode bet­ter than Bresciani-Turroni himself did in the concluding paragraph of his great book on the subject:

“At first inflation stimulated pro­duction because of the divergence between the internal and external values of the mark, but later it exercised an increasingly disadvan­tageous influence, disorganizing and limiting production. It annihi­lated thrift, it made reform of the national budget impossible for years, it obstructed the solution of the Reparations question; it destroyed incalculable moral and intellectual values. It provoked a serious revolution in social classes, a few people accumulating wealth and forming a class of usurpers of national property, whilst millions of individuals were thrown into pover­ty. It was a distressing preoccupa­tion and constant torment of innumerable families, it poisoned the German people by spreading among all classes the spirit of speculation and by diverting them from proper and regular work, and it was the cause of incessant politi­cal and moral disturbance. It is indeed easy enough to understand why the record of the sad years 1919-23 always weighs like a nightmare on the German people?”

These lines were first published in 1931. There is only one thing to add. The demoralization that the debase­ment of the currency left in its wake played a major role in bring­ing Adolf Hitler into power in 1933.

Author’s Note—For most of the statistics and some of the other information in this article I am indebted to two books: chiefly to The Economics of Inflation, by Costan­tino Bresciani-Turroni (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1937), and partly to Exchange, Prices, and Pro­duction in Hyper-Inflation: Germany, 1920-1923, by Frank D. Graham (Princeton University Press, 1930, and New York: Russell & Russell, 1967). These authors in turn derived most of their statistics from official sources.


¹ Das Geld (sixth edition, Leipzig, 1923.)

² Lecture in 1942, published in Encounter, 1975. Money that shopkeepers had re­ceived in the morning had lost 60 per cent of its value!

³ The figures do not include part-time workers or employees in public emergency projects, but only unemployed workers eligible for unemployment compensation. I am indebted to Prof. Gunther Schmölders for supplying them.

  • Henry Hazlitt (1894-1993) was the great economic journalist of the 20th century. He is the author of Economics in One Lesson among 20 other books. See his complete bibliography. He was chief editorial writer for the New York Times, and wrote weekly for Newsweek. He served in an editorial capacity at The Freeman and was a board member of the Foundation for Economic Education.