The Downfall of Money: Germany's Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class

The Downfall of Money: Germany's Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class

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by Frederick Taylor
     
 

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A hundred years ago, many theorists believed—just as they did at the beginning of our twenty-first century—that the world had reached a state of economic perfection, a never before seen human interdependence that would lead to universal growth and prosperity. Then, as now, the German mark was one of the most trusted currencies in the world. Yet the early

Overview

A hundred years ago, many theorists believed—just as they did at the beginning of our twenty-first century—that the world had reached a state of economic perfection, a never before seen human interdependence that would lead to universal growth and prosperity. Then, as now, the German mark was one of the most trusted currencies in the world. Yet the early years of the Weimar Republic in Germany witnessed the most calamitous meltdown of a developed economy in modern times. The Downfall of Money will tell anew the dramatic story of the hyperinflation that saw the mark—worth 4.2 to the dollar in 1914—plunge until it traded at over 4 trillion to 1 by the autumn of 1923.

The story of the Weimar Republic's financial crisis clearly resonates today, when the world is again anxious about what money is, what it means, and how we can judge if its value is true. It is a trajectory of events uncomfortably relevant for our own uncertain world.

Frederick Taylor—one of the leading historians of Germany writing today— explores the causes of the crisis and what the collapse meant to ordinary people and traces its connection to the dark decades that followed. Drawing on a wide range of sources and accessibly presenting vast amounts of research, The Downfall of Money is a timely and chilling exploration of a haunting episode in history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
British historian Taylor (Dresden) adds to a solid body of work on 20th-century Germany with this chilling account of the human face of hyperinflation in the 1920s Weimar Republic. Many blame the collapse of the German mark on the reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, yet Taylor argues that it was the Second Empire’s decision to finance WWI primarily by borrowing that led to the economic catastrophe. Postwar uprisings on the left and right further destabilized the country’s fragile, young government and diminished confidence in its already-shaky currency. The mark’s value began to tumble, and once the fall gained momentum, “the only way now was down.” Prices rose 50% a month. Hyperinflation made Germany a “paradise for anyone who owed money”; citizens at all levels of society discovered that their fiscal prudence had been for naught. The result was a “war of all against all” and a society of “starving billionaires,” where a doorman received a million-mark tip, a life’s savings bought a subway ticket, and a girl’s virginity was something to barter. The government eventually managed to sufficiently stabilize the currency and foster a sense of hope, but the disaster had already fatally weakened the mutual trust essential to democracy. The beneficiary would be Hitler. B&w images throughout. Agent: Dan Conaway, Writers House. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“Taylor (Dresden) adds to a solid body of work on 20th-century Germany with this chilling account of the human face of hyperinflation in the 1920s Weimar Republic.” —Publishers Weekly

“A well-organized, fast-moving political narrative...Taylor's history provides plenty of relevant lessons for today-and not only for Europe.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Excellent...By skillfully weaving together economic history with political narrative and drawing on sources from everyday life as well as the inner cabinet of diplomacy, Mr. Taylor tells the history of the Weimar inflation as the life-and-death struggle of the first German democracy...This is a dramatic story, well told.” —Adam Tooze, The Wall Street Journal

“The British historian Frederick Taylor has written so brilliantly and incisively about Adolf Hitler that it is no surprise that he has turned his attention to the German economic meltdown...Mr. Taylor's book, 'Exorcising Hitler,' proved the author's prowess at social and political historiography and a magnificent grasp of Germany as a whole. 'The Downfall of Money' demonstrates that superb attunement to Germany anew and also [Taylor's] mastery as an economic historian....Firmly and rightly grounded in its own time and place, 'The Downfall of Money' nonetheless resonates in our own.” —Martin Rubin, The Washington Times

Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
A well-organized, fast-moving political narrative situating the absolute breakdown of Germany's currency in 1923 in the double context of the international drive for World War I reparations and the violent effects of internal political extremism. Royal Historical Society fellow Taylor (Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany, 2011, etc.) examines the historical span from the overthrow of the "once unshakeable representatives of the monarchical state" in November 1918 to the end of 1923 at the height of the crisis. The introduction of the "fixed-value Rentenmark" in November 1923 was followed rapidly by the beginning of new negotiations on reparations and apparent stability. Early on, Taylor identifies the major players in his drama. First, Erich Ludendorff, and his military associates, who seized on Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and launched their campaign against the betrayal of the armistice and the "stab-in-the-back" of the Versailles Treaty. Then, the author examines extremists of right and left, out of which the Nazis emerged. The former organized armed units under Ludendorff and assassinated leaders like Matthias Erzberger and Walther Rathenau, whom they associated with the Versailles sellout. The latter took to the streets and organized military units for Soviet-style revolution. Meanwhile, the Allies maintained their embargo on German food supplies and other trade until they were satisfied that reparations were forthcoming. Against this backdrop, Taylor methodically traces the fall of the currency and growth of the debt. By November 1923, a loaf of bread could be bought for 140 billion marks, and the middle class was left with next to nothing. Tax reforms and collections, social welfare cuts, impoverishment of students and government workers all played their part. Taylor's history provides plenty of relevant lessons for today--and not only for Europe.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781620402368
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
09/17/2013
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
807,697
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Frederick Taylor is the author of the acclaimed bestsellers Dresden and The Berlin Wall, both of which have appeared in many languages, and also edited and translated The Goebbels Diaries 1939–1941. He has lectured all over the world and appeared in several major television documentary series, including most recently the History Channel's The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall and PBS's The Wall: A World Divided. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and lives in Cornwall, England.

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The Downfall of Money: Germany's Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always open Fred Taylor's books with a sense of great anticipation. His style brings alive what it was like to be there - and this book is no exception. How did one survive - and some thrive - when the mark to the US$ exchange rate went from 4.19 in August 1914 to 6.7 trillion in December 1923? We find out. Who was to blame? Just about everyone had some role. The Germans actually had a policy of allowing inflation since this wiped out internal debt, much of it owed to the upper middle class, leading to a massive social upheaval and loss of class privilege on an unprecedented level. The Americans refused to even discuss forgiving any of the war debt owed by all of the major European powers, forcing France, one of the largest debtors, to insist on impossibly high reparations by the Germans. Britain supported France but pressed for more realistic repayments. France, after defaults by Germany, invaded and occupied the Ruhr causing Germany even more problems both politically and financially. How could any German government hold all this together? Internally, few Germans accepted that the war was their fault and most believed the reparations were unjust. Organised labor, flirting dangerously close to Communism, was pitted against anti-Republicans (who controlled the remains of the militia). After years of carting around wheelbarrows full of worthless paper marks, both sides were clamoring for a strong dictatorship to restore order. Enter Corporal Hitler. Although there is a great deal of information conveyed in the book, Fred Taylor makes it exciting and accessible. It is quite a story and, if like me, you did not know or had forgotten much of the detail, you have a treat in store. It is commonplace to blame the Treaty of Versailles for the Second World War, but, like most things, it was a lot more complex than that. This book reveals all. Thoroughly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very informative and well written.