My First Seventy-Six Years: Autobiography

By Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY
Inflation

THE years 1920 to 1924 are still known as "the period of inflation". Although few people can explain the meaning of the word it has come to signify many things for whole generations.

To all who still remember it "the period of inflation" stands for the hunger blockade; the surrender of real values to foreign Powers; political outlawry; regrouping of the population; the rise of obscure figures to sudden wealth. To the hitherto wealthy classes it meant loss of capital, to the well-to-do, the moderately comfortable and the small man, it spelt ruin. In Government and official circles it signified corruption; political jobbery between the Parties, the Wehrmacht and the Ministries; increase in child mortality, and in crime; the young crippled with rickets, the old dying before their time. All this and much beside is summed up in the expression "period of inflation".

Inflation is loss of capital in its widest sense. The Latin word signifies "blowing up"; in its narrower sense therefore it signified the blowing up of a currency. In Germany this is easy to grasp from a statistical point of view: at the end of the war the mark was worth about half as much as at the beginning of hostilities. A gold mark (the standard on which the paper currency was based) was worth 2.02 paper marks. But in November 1923 a gold mark was worth one billion paper marks. This is how it appeared in figures:-- 1,000,000,000,000.

Within five years the German Reichsmark had sunk to a fivehundred-milliardth of its value. At the end of the war one could, in theory, have bought five hundred milliard eggs for the same price as that for which, five years later, only a single egg was procurable.

Such comparisons are mere juggling with figures. But for the one-and-only breadwinner of a family they represented not juggling with figures, but direst need.

We do not find the word Währung in other languages. There is monnaie or currency, i.e. funds in cash or in circulation. Our German word expresses, in its deepest sense, the significance of money as a means of payment. It must endure (währen), it must last, it must possess stability, i.e. it must preserve its value. Before bank-notes or paper money were invented, payment was

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