When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending Devaluation and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany
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When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending Devaluation and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  315 ratings  ·  59 reviews

When Money Dies is the classic history of what happens when a nation’s currency depreciates beyond recovery.In 1923, with its currency effectively worthless (the exchange rate in December of that year was one dollar to 4,200,000,000,000 marks), the German republic was all but reduced to a barter economy.Expensive cigars, artworks, and jewels were routinely exchanged for st

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Published October 12th 2010 by PublicAffairs (first published 1975)
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Sagar Jethani
Adam Fergusson has taken one of the more dramatic episodes in economic history and rendered it sterile and devoid of life. His narrative suffers from an over-reliance upon the historical perspective described by Toynbee: "One damn thing after another."

Consider the mid-war inflation of the mark: it went from being around 1 Gold Mark= 1 Paper DM to 1 Gold Mark= 1 TRILLION Paper DM within a scant four years. Such a radical inflation led to some strange events, including--

* thieves stealing suitcase...more
Eric
This book did not meet my expectations. I thought Fergusson would provide a lot of context about the political and social issues leading to the hyperinflation. I thought he would really paint the picture of the political characters, circumstances and sentiments that created and resulted from this monetary environment. I was also looking for a lot of reasoning about how this monetary environment led to the birth and social acceptance of nazism.

Fergusson certainly touches on these things but his w...more
Rob Kitchin
In 1914, 20 German Marks equalled a British pound. By 1924 a British pound was equal to the number of yards to the sun and Germany was all but a barter economy. The First World War had left Germany on its financial knees, though its industrial base remained strong. The payments to the allies under the Versailles Treaty hung heavily on the struggling economy. Gradually inflation started to rise, devaluing the mark against foreign currencies. This allowed German business to grow, but the domestic...more
Lisa Cindrich
Just arriving at 1923, aka "the year of the wheelbarrow." Pretty fascinating so far. I had no idea that Austria and Hungary were also such basketcases after WWI. As always, with my paltry education in economics, some of the explanations go over my head. But overall Fergusson does a good job simplifying things for the layman and only includes as much political information as is necessary to understand the economic developments. Also, the British diplomats of the time were quick with a witty jab a...more
John
Fergusson is an eloquent writer, and chose a fascinating topic--one I knew virtually nothing about. Unfortunately the book has some glaring deficiencies in my view. I quickly found myself unable to follow much of the narrative because he doesn't provide enough background to so many elements of the story. He uses terms and names people without fully explaining their significance or origins.

This isn't to say one can't follow the story, or that it is not worth reading. It is just unfortunate that a...more
Ari
It's a quick and engrossing read on a very sad topic. After World War One, Germany, Austria, and Hungary all had increasingly catastrophic inflation. The consequences, which Fergusson sketches, were dire: the inflation wiped out most of the savings, self-confidence, and virtues of the middle class, and crippled public support for democratic governance.

The main thing I got from the book was a much better sense how it happened: I had vaguely assumed the inflation was a conscious tactic to evade pa...more
Nick Lincoln
Heavy on numbers and written in a dry, detached style, this can be a bit of a slog at times. Nevertheless it's compelling, in a car-crash kind of way, because the reader knows that this story is the precursor to National Socialism and carnage beyond our imagination (at that time).

30 years ago it would have seemed self-evident madness to print money to reflate an economy, as was done in Germany, Austria and Hungary in the 1920s. The excuse - if there can be one - for politicians at that time was...more
Justin
Don't let the lower rating fool you. I'm sure, if I were an economist, it would have been riveting. It's definitely worth the read but by the end, I was ready for it to be over. Knowing what Germany was about to become made it hard to find anyone to root for. The information is great though, very important and well presented. It's just not a topic that lends itself to "page-turners" in my opinion.
James Elder
Interesting subject matter, but somewhat confusingly and pedantically written. Notionally it's for the general reader, but I'm afraid that as an informed layman, I need a little help when concepts like 'discounted trade paper' are introduced - and the author didn't give it.

At times it is very hard to follow and even contradicts itself: as an example we are told on one page that middle-class Germans on fixed incomes were forced to sell their valuables to buy the bear necessities; two pages later...more
Robert
It's a tough slog of a read because it is not really a story but a collection of first-hand accounts of people living in Germany and Austria at the time, and what they experienced (as they wrote about it in diaries and memos).

What is most interesting and valuable about it is the first hand accounts of the massive distortions in the economy in general, and prices in particular....and who lost (most people) and who benefited (yes, there were a few).

For example, the money printing not only caused p...more
Ray
Show me someone who's concerned about inflation; I'll have found another who will be fascinated with this book. This is a 2010 edition of Fergusson's story of the German hyperinflation of the Weimar period from which, in no small part, Hitler's Reich arose. It was first published in 1975 when I first read it; the United States contemporary economic malaise led me back to it. Understanding of how devaluation, wild unthinking ignorance of runaway monetary manipulation, and even problems of deficit...more
Tim
Political assassinations, an income that even when paid daily was worthless by the afternoon, and roving gangs of starving urbanites stripping the farmers of their produce and leaving destruction in their wake. Whenever life seemed like it couldn't get any worse, it did, consistently, month after month for years on end. These were the real effects of hyperinflation in Germany, as well as Austria and Hungary, in the wake of the peace treaties, and their stringent conditions, signed after World Wa...more
Liam
“‘[T]he scholarly writer does not earn as much with a printed line as the street sweeper earns with two whisks of his broom.’” (42)

“‘In the whole course of history, no dog has ever run after its own tail with the speed of the Reichsbank. The discredit the Germans throw on their own notes increases even faster than the volume of notes in circulation. The effect is greater than the cause. The tail goes faster than the dog.’” (quoting Lord D’Abernon, 117)

Paper marks: “Havenstein rubles” (165)

“That...more
Syed Ashrafulla
I would read the Epilogue before reading the remainder of the book. Like many stories, the end makes the middle much more powerful. Adam Fergusson describes the myriad choices of the Weimar Republic, describing the hyperinflationary policy of Germany as it lay ruined after World War I. Fergusson describes it from economic, social and political angles. By allowing us to see the effects and affects of the working class, middle class, industrial class, politicians and ambassadors, we get a very goo...more
Tom
People who think "money is overrated" should try not having any. That's the terrible lesson at the heart of "When Money Dies," an extensive and often brutal look at what happens when runaway inflation makes everything monetary - your paycheck, your bank account, your investments, your life savings - as worthless as toilet paper. The cover illustration for my edition is itself unsettling - a period photo of piles of money, as large as piles of leaves, being swept up in the street like garbage.

Ad...more
Paul
I got this book in October 2010 based on a recommendation from either BullionVault.com or another website devoted to providing a dissenting view to mainstream economics. It was first published in 1975, just four years after the Nixon administration had severed the last tie between gold and the U.S. dollar by closing the international "gold window" and terminating the right of foreign governments to exchange dollars for gold. At that time the prospect of an American hyperinflation seemed far off,...more
Erez Davidi
When Money Dies, written by Adam Fergusson, is a case study of the death of the German Mark during the 1920s.

So what exactly happened in the Weimar Republic?

In short, the post-war Weimar Republic found itself with a staggering amount of debt. The government lacked the political will to raise taxes or to cut spending. Therefore, to deal with these debts, Germany chose the "easiest" path -- the path of printing money. Anyone familiar with Germany's history knows what happened next -- the death of...more
Doug
In the wake of the carnage of the first world war, the allied "victory" was accompanied by mutual destruction of wealth, loss of life, and the inevitable currency depreciation of war. Germany and the central powers were of course worse off than the allies, and to add insult to injury, the Treaty of Versailles placed the unmanageable burden of war reparations on an already crippled nation. When Money Dies is not so much a story of the causes of the inflation that followed, but rather of the greed...more
Coinboy
This is a bottom up history of the period from the end of WW I to the end of the hyperinflationary period, which came to a pretty sudden halt at the end of 1923. It's not really much of a cautionary tale, since the circumstances which led to hyperinflation in Germany, Austria and Hungary are not likely to visit the West again. But the political decisions to avoid doing anything to stop the inflation were interesting, as the inflation was tied to continuing, albeit artificial, full employment in...more
Alexis
Interesting survey of the post-WWI hyperinflation in Germany and to a lesser extent, the inflation in Austria and Hungary.

Until I was halfway through, I didn't know about the recent resurgence of interest in the book. (I discovered it through a reference elsewhere.) Despite the publisher's blurb about "quantitative easing" on the back of the book, and the author's Conservative credentials, I think anyone reading this as a cautionary tale about modern monetary policy may leave disappointed. As i...more
Void lon iXaarii
Though even the author falls prey to some in my humble opinion misguided thinking, the story portrayed here is so important and so recurring all through the history of humanity that anybody who reads this book will, I believe, have a much muuuch higher chance of thriving in this world and protecting his loved ones. It's so amazing how similar the events back then are to events today! As somebody wisely put it, people who think that now is complicated but things in the past were simpler simply do...more
Bud Hewlett
This is a book about the hyperinflation of the German Weimar Republic between 1918 and 1925. I wanted to read it mostly for the anecdotes about what life was like in the midst of a hyperinflationary crisis. It had some of those, but was largely a detailed and often tedious account of the monetary machinations of the government. In the midst of our own fiscal problems and on the precipice of the fiscal cliff, it was extra scary. Politicians never learn!

I should add that the origins of the Weimar...more
Harry Lane
I found this book a difficult read on two levels. First, the prose was somewhat turgid, perhaps in part because the author is British and the usage is not as familiar as US usage. Second, the printing of money, the social milieu, the politics of the time, industrial and labor organization, and governmental structures are all described in sequence and in detail, it somehow fails to come together in a way that promotes an understanding of what it all means for economic policy in a general sense. A...more
Jiri Kram
There is a lot to learn from Hyper Inflation Era. If you read this you will see WW II and all what has happened after differently. It's a key to understand our modern world.
Rob
Contains some good detail. Sometimes too much for my limited understanding of economics.

Also contains a far bit of dodgy arithmetic eg 50% per month being equivalent to 300% per year (it's actually about 13000%). It also mentions the mark falling by 250% in a month - was it really worth a negative amount?.

However, the social and political history makes up for the failings in other areas, and uses the proper size of a billion (12 noughts), using milliards and billiards for 9 & 15 noughts res...more
Richard Hakes
Sound good and interesting but just not a good book
Ian
One part informative, one part tragic, and one part comical, this book excellently delves into the most horrific hyperinflation of recent memory. An excellent reminder of what happens when politicians and economists end up going terribly awry.
Daren Doucet
Allot of economic dread during the period of the early 1920s of the times in Germany and Austria after the war. The Mark was rendered useless by the printing presses and war reparations. Just imagine buying food, with having to sell a gold link off of a chain. Desperation finally sets in.

Great book, but the economics for myself are sometimes a little difficult to grasp. It is good advice to heed, for any country, and it does explain how extremists can take advantage of peoples perilous situation...more
Richard
A fascinating and horrifying look at what happens when economic illiteracy collides with geopolitics. Adam Ferguson lays out the story of the Weimar Republic in the early 20's and it's like watching a train wreck: only the train has everyone in Germany on it.

I read this as part of a research paper on the economic roots of World War II and it makes a clear case as to why Germany ended up the way it did and why they'd follow someone, really anyone, who told them that things would get better.
Ben
I have a feeling some pretty awesome detective work went into this book. How the author kept track of the different values of what became vast sums of currency, and how he found and scraped together diary entries of life from visitors to Weimar, or citizens of Austria, then you read about just what the nation faced during this time - you really get the mindset of Germany pre-WW2, and their hunt for blame on their economic problems...
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