by Hans F. Sennholz
by Hans F. Sennholz
This article is excerpted from the book The Age of Inflation.
The German inflation of 1914—1923 had an inconspicuous beginning, a creeping rate of one to two percent. On the first day of the war, the German Reichsbank, like the other central banks of the belligerent powers, suspended redeemability of its notes in order to prevent a run on its gold reserves.
Like all the other banks, it offered assistance to the central government in financing the war effort. Since taxes are always unpopular, the German government preferred to borrow the needed amounts of money rather than raise its taxes substantially. To this end it was readily assisted by the Reichsbank, which discounted most treasury obligations.
A growing percentage of government debt thus found its way into the vaults of the central bank and an equivalent amount of printing press money into people's cash holdings. In short, the central bank was monetizing the growing government debt.
By the end of the war the amount of money in circulation had risen fourfold and prices some 140 percent. Yet the German mark had suffered no more than the British pound, was somewhat weaker than the American dollar but stronger than the French franc. Five years later, in December 1923, the Reichsbank had issued 496.5 quintillion marks, each of which had fallen to one-trillionth of its 1914 gold value.
How stupendous! Practically every economic good and service was costing trillions of marks. The American dollar was quoted at 4.2 trillion marks, the American penny at 42 billion marks. How could a European nation that prided itself on its high levels of education and scholarly knowledge suffer such a thorough destruction of its money? Who would inflict on a great nation such evil which had ominous economic, social, and political ramifications not only for Germany but for the whole world? Was it the victors of World War I who, in diabolical revenge, devastated the vanquished country through ruinous financial manipulation and plunder? Every mark was printed by Germans and issued by a central bank that was governed by Germans under a government that was purely German. It was German political parties, such as the Socialists, the Catholic Centre Party, and the Democrats, forming various coalition governments, that were solely responsible for the policies they conducted. Of course, admission of responsibility for any calamity cannot be expected from any political party.
October 11, 2008
Copyright 2008 Ludwig von Mises Institute