When Money Dies – the Nightmare of the Weimar Hyper-inflation
(First published in the 1970’s, although I read the 2010 version pictured here.)
First off, what a great title for a book. But the obvious question I need to address in the first instance is once again, “Why?” Although I studied Economics at A level in the (early) 1980’s my interest in the topic, faint though it was even at the time, has not been maintained. I could pretend that I found the debate around how to control inflation in the face of spiralling public expenditure and falling revenue a particularly pertinent one given the financial times we find ourselves in in 2012. And I suppose that would be true, although with hindsight the behaviour of the German political establishment seems baffling – if we just print enough money it – all our economic woes – will all go away. George Osborne doesn’t strike me as much of a reader, but he would love this book with its messages of controlling expenditure, maximising revenue, sacking lots of unnecessary public sector workers, etc. However the parallels between Weimar Germany and 21st century UK can be overplayed – we aren’t being occupied by the French army for instance.
I could also argue that the rise of Hitler is inextricably linked with the series of crises in the German economy, and that would be closer to the truth, because in reality I read this book because I wanted to stay one step of my sons who was studying the rise of the Nazis in GCSE History. But as he will never read this far my secret is safe!
Incidentally, the QI theory of history – that everything we were ever taught in school is wrong – doesn’t really apply here. People really did have money worth less than the paper it was printed on, although whether the wheelbarrow stories are true is another matter. What I found interesting was how Germans managed to survive this period – for example rural Germans were much less affected than those in the cities, having access to their own food sources.
I can’t hand on heart recommend this (unless you are Danny Alexander or Ed Balls I suppose) because there are histories of the Weimar that tell the story with more “economy” (see what I did there?) and more context. I’ll write about one of these, by Richard J Evans, when I finally finish it!
(PS After I wrote this I saw this book recommended by an economist writing in the weekend newspapers!)