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When Money Dies - The Nightmare of the Weimar Collapse

About When Money Dies

Much like Jens O. Parsson's "Dying of Money", When Money Dies - The Nightmare of the Weimar Collapse by Adam Fergusson can be pretty difficult to track down but is worth the time and money. I have quoted it extensively in WhichWayGold's "Strategy 2" lessons. These are all set out in the bibliography.

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. At the end of 1923, it would have been possible to exchange a shilling, a franc or a lira for up to 1,000,000,000,000 marks, although in practice by then no one was willing to take marks in return for anything. The mark was dead, one million-millionth of its former self. It had taken almost ten years to die.

The mark's fall began gradually. In the war years, 1914-1918, its foreign exchange value halved, and by August 1919 it had halved again. In early 1920, however, although the cost of living had risen less than nine times since 1914, the mark had only one-fortieth of its overseas purchasing power left. There followed twelve months of nervous fluctuation, but then the mark sped downwards with gathering momentum, dragging social misery and political disruption in its wake. Not until 1923 did Germany's currency at last go over the cliff-edge of sanity to which it had, as it were, clung for many months with slipping finger-tips. Pursuing the money of Austria and Hungary into the abyss, it crashed there more heavily than either.

The year 1923 was the one of galloping inflation when a kind of madness gripped Germany's financial authorities and economic disaster overwhelmed millions of people. It was the year of astronomical figures, of 'wheelbarrow inflation', of financial phenomena that had never been observed before. The death of the mark in November 1923 came as a merciful release, for the events of the preceding eight months had ensured that the old mark could never recover. They ensured, too, that Germany would have to undergo appalling rigours of financial reconstruction such as might otherwise have been escaped. The re-establishment of monetary sanity, which bankrupted thousands, robbed millions of their livelihoods, and killed the hopes of millions more, indirectly exacted a more terrible price which the whole world had to pay.

Quotes from When Money Dies

"The take-off point in the inflationary progress, after which the advent of hyperinflation was but a matter of time, the point indeed when it became self-generating and politically irreducible except for short periods, was not indeed to be found on the graph of the currency depreciation, or of the velocity of its circulation, or of the balance of payments deficit. Nor in Germany's case did it notably coincide with some ultimate crisis of confidence in the mark, at home or abroad — Rathenau's murder, or the occupation of the Rhine ports, or the London Ultimatum, all of which had immediate seismic effects upon it. Rather it lay on the falling curve of political possibility, with which was closely linked the degree of political power and courage that the government, sorely pressed as it was, was able to muster."

"What really broke Germany was the constant taking of the soft political option in respect of money. The take-off point therefore was not a financial but a moral one; and the political excuse was despicable, for no imaginable political circumstances could have been more unsuited to the imposition of a new financial order than those pertaining in November 1923, when inflation was no longer an option. The Rentenmark was itself hardly more than an expedient then, and could scarcely have been introduced successfully had not the mark lost its entire meaning. Stability came only when the abyss had been plumbed, when the credible mark could fall no more, when everything that four years of financial cowardice, wrong-headedness and mismanagement had been fashioned to avoid had in fact taken place, when the inconceivable had ineluctably arrived."

"Money is no more than a medium of exchange. Only when it has a value acknowledged by more than one person can it be so used. The more general the acknowledgement, the more useful it is. Once no one acknowledged it, the Germans learnt, their paper money had no value or use — save for papering walls or making darts. The discovery which shattered their society was that the traditional repository of purchasing power had disappeared, and that there was no means left of measuring the worth of anything. For many, life became an obsessional search for Sachverte, things of 'real', constant value: Stinnes bought his factories, mines, newspapers. The meanest railway worker bought gewgaws. For most, degree of necessity became the sole criterion of value, the basis of everything from barter to behaviour. Man's values became animal values. Contrary to any philosophic assumption, it was not a salutory experience."

"What is precious is that which sustains life. When life is secure, society acknowledges the value of luxuries, those objects, materials, services or enjoyments, civilised or merely extravagant, without which life can proceed perfectly well but make it much pleasanter notwithstanding. When life is insecure, or conditions are harsh, values change. Without warmth, without a roof, without adequate clothes, it may be difficult to sustain life for more than a few weeks. Without food, life can be shorter still. At the top of the scale, the most valuable commodities are perhaps water and then, most precious of all, air, in whose absence life will last only a matter of minutes. For the destitute in Germany and Austria whose money had no exchange value left existence came very near these metaphysical conceptions. It had been so in the war."

"In war, boots; in flight, a place in a boat or a seat on a lorry may be the most vital thing in the world, more desirable than untold millions. In hyperinflation, a kilo of potatoes was worth, to some, more than the family silver; a side of pork more than the grand piano."

When Money Dies by Adam Fergusson When Money Dies on Amazon