This book, which even some normal people I know have heard of, was originally published in the 1970s and is about the Weimar hyperinflation of 1923.
It’s a bit fact after fact. Sure the thousands become millions and millions become billions (or milliards as they said at the time) and the our billions become the their billions. And it’s good at describing how some do badly then most do badly while a small minority who have borrowed at nominal rates do very well for themselves indeed. But there’s not enough space given over to consider the debates of the time or the principal actors. Thus we never get to find out anything about key figures like Hugo Stinnes, the industrialist or Rudolf Havenstein, the Ben Bernanke of the day.
What is odd is what the Germans do not do. They do not refuse Reichsmarks. They do not seriously examine how they got into this mess. They do not question the existence of a united Germany [Incidentally, why is it that the appeal of German unity has never been dimmed by its rather less than stellar reality?]
Actually, that’s not quite true. Towards the end there are nascent secessionist movements in Bavaria, the Rhineland, Hamburg and Saxony. It is at this moment the government gets its act together.
The other feature of the final stages was the food situation. Farmers stopped supplying the towns which led to the towns coming to the farms. And not in a nice way.
At root of it all was a government deficit. Fergusson never really explains how this comes about. One can speculate that it’s the consequence of the Germans having to pay not only for their own war but for everyone else’s (through reparations) as well as propping up inefficient state industries like the state railway and post office. But Fergusson never does the sums so we don’t know.
[Afterthought. Actually, he does point out that towards the end even the government had given up trying to do the sums. Another impact of hyperinflation.]
One of the odd things about that time was the virtual absence of unemployment. But then it struck me - in a hyperinflation you have to keep working. If you are unemployed your savings won’t last 5 minutes. Unemployment can be a “good” which hyperinflation denies.
The end is also rather odd. Normality - or what passed for it in Weimar Germany - came with the introduction of the Rentenmark backed not by gold - they’d run out of it - but by mortgages and rye contracts. And, bizarrely enough, it worked.
At least, that’s how it starts. But soon enough we’re talking about the Battle of Jena and all points between, which include the Franco-Prussian War, the siege(s) of Paris and the Dreyfus Affair.
This is the cartoon I mention:
“Above all, let us not discuss the Dreyfus Affair!”
Excellent Cobden Centre interview with Philipp Bagus. Apart from the excellent economics two facts I wasn’t previously aware of. One, Bagus is German (I’d had him down as a Spaniard). Two, the Germans still feel guilty about the war. I always thought that was a myth and an increasingly mythical myth at that. Apparently not.
- Bi-lingual children become mono-lingual at about the age of six. At that point fitting in at school is more important than fitting in at home. Presumably, they never entirely lose the ability to understand or speak the deprecated language. I hope so anyway.
- Germans are not happy at the prospect of being asked to work until 70 so that Greeks can retire at 60.
- Only two German states (Bavaria and Baden-Württemburg) are net contributors to the national budget. The Ruhr ain’t what it was. This is rather frightening. Because if every country in Europe is bust except Germany and every part of Germany is bust apart from the South the bailouts are not going to last long.
- Women feel safe to walk around Munich at night.
- Actually, Munich is a really nice city.
- Germans like their training courses. If there’s an activity and that activity has a training course they’ll have the training first thank you very much.
- I would love to comment on the beer but, sadly due to my under-developed taste buds, for the most part it all seemed the same. But none of it was bad. So, I guess it was good.
- Germans are big on winter tyres.
- Germans smoke in groups. One of them decides it’s time to light up and so they all get up and go outside. One out, all out, so to speak.
- I still don’t understand the Germans. Every other country in Europe, yes (well, as well as I can) but Germany, no. It remains mysterious, unpredictable.
Germany has outperformed England in every World Cup since 1966.
I was rather hoping, as you do, that actually being there would give me some deep insights into history and Germany today. But it didn't. It may yet, but nothing right now. In the meantime I may (no promises) blog about some of the things that came up.
- Harry Hutton considers the issue of smoking inspectors:
If we can raise a fighting fund of £500,000 we can probably drive many of them into exile, arranging for gangs of hoodlums to break their windows, drag them from their homes and tar and feather them.
Ha! Unlikely, for sure, but looking to the future, is it really beyond the bounds of possibility?
- Just when you thought it was safe to surf free of pop-ups, WordPress (of all people) bring them back. Jackie isn’t too impressed either.
- Free market think tank sets up school. Or does it?
- The standard version of the Madrid train bombing is that the government tried to pin it on ETA when, in fact, it had been carried out by Islamists. John Chappell begs to differ.
- A photo of Roman Abramovich from the 1980s. Seems there’s nothing new in the blank expression, even when, as it would appear here, he has plenty to smile about.
- Helen Szamuely feels the need for a German national identity. Which begs the question, if they don’t already have one, what is it that is keeping them together? Also check out Helen’s article on Willi Munzenberg - Josef Goebbels’s propaganda nemesis.
- France’s Socialist Party has selected a good-looking woman to be its candidate in the up-coming Presidential election. This has implications. But only an economist can tell us what they are.
- Don’t fancy yours much… Mark… Anthony.
- I know this item is called: “If you haven’t already...” but I have never made it clear what you may not already have done - read it, or seen it. For instance, while I have read this article on bullying in the Russian Army I haven’t seen it and I am not sure I want to. The British Army, of course, is so much better. While we’re on the subject of English Russia don’t forget to check out, well… everything.
... here are some of the items I’ve enjoyed reading/listening to over the past week:
- Ann Althouse describes her podcasting technique as putting nails into a rice pudding although you may find her distinctive style puts you in mind of a quite different dessert. (Hat-tip: Instapundit)
- Hydrogen. It’s a hoax. I particularly liked Zubin’s description of how difficult it would be to transport. (Hat-tip: Pajamas Media)
- When I first saw Apple’s latest Mitchell and Webb advertising campaign (the one in which the guy with the job is the PC and the layabout the Apple) my immediate thought was: “Well done, you’ve just lost a potential customer.” I was not alone. (Hat-tip: Tim Hall). Charles Pooter agrees.
- Mark Steyn takes a break from his own prophecies of doom to diss the climate change competition. Nothing particularly new, just good knockabout stuff.
- David Farrer blogs about Bavaria’s parallel currency, one of many to have emerged in Germany since the introduction of the Euro. Yeah… but… isn’t it just a teensy bit illegal?
- “In my darker moments I think guns should be not just legal but compulsory for sane, law-abiding members of the public.” David Copperfield outlines a multi-agency approach to crime prevention.
- And finally… this week’s link to English Russia: the rebuilding of Moscow. When I see photos like this I can almost believe that the Putin clampdown is only temporary.
Or maybe not.
Last night Channel 4 screened Downfall, the film about Hitler’s last days.
- It’s a great movie
- It goes someway to explaining why the Germans followed Hitler for as long as they did
- It demonstrates (for the first time I know about) the devastating effects of artillery
- (I feel) it is at times a bit stilted. (As I understand it) there are good reasons for this
- It’s tempting to think: there but for the grace of God go we. In other words, that it would have been, (indeed could be) quite easy for us to go down a similar path
- That’s no reason to indulge in self-loathing
- How did Traudl Junge get through Soviet lines? She was (obviously) a woman and she was wearing an SS uniform - either of which (one would have thought) would have put her in line for a pretty hard time.
So, why did they follow Hitler for as long as they did?
- He could sell them dreams. For most of Downfall, Hitler is demented but on at least one occasion he calms down and convinces those around him that there are all sorts of secret resources that he can call upon and that all will be well.
- (believing in his specialness) many had sworn oaths to him personally, which they felt honour-bound to obey. Why, I don’t know.
- The “stab in the back” myth of 1918. This was the (laughable) idea that had the German Army kept on fighting it would have won. The consequence was that this time around many were determined not to repeat that “mistake”
The devastating effects of artillery?
- 60% of First World War casualties were caused by artillery
- I have been told (here, I think) that a high explosive shell has the same energy on detonation as an express train travelling at 90mph - though not, sadly, the number of carriages
- An HE shell will blow a man apart to such an extent that not a trace can be found. That would have been the fate of the most of the 50,000 missing in action whose names are listed on the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres
Why the temptation to think that we could go the same way?
Because (it seems to me) that the British are not that different from the Germans
But that shouldn’t force us to question ourselves?
- No other civilisation has ever done any better
- The economic forces that made the Second World War so destructive are the same ones that gave us the extraordinary prosperity (of all kinds) that we enjoy today.
It seems to me that the film is entirely based on eyewitness testimony. The upside is that we know that this is what actually happened. The downside is that it jerks about a bit depending on which eyewitness supplied the testimony. I am rather glad the producers avoided the temptation to make things up. It is just too important that everything we see is true, or, at least, as near to the truth as we are ever likely to get.
From the Telegraph:
A multi-million pound campaign to boost Germans’ low self-confidence has backfired after it emerged that its slogan was first coined by the Nazis.
Mattias Matussek, Der Spiegel’s London correspondent and brother of the German ambassador, certainly knows how to put a cat among the pigeons. In an article (via A&L Daily), to coincide with the 60th anniversary of VE-Day he makes a number of charges:
- That we still think that the Germans are a bunch of Nazis
- That we overestimate our contribution to victory.
- That in taking pride over our achievements in World War II we tend to gloss over things like Dresden, the failure to do anything about the concentration camps and various other imperial crimes.
I have to say, on Charge 1 I tend to agree. This attitude is most apparent at England-Germany football games. I find the boorish behaviour of England fans so embarrassing that it has not been unknown for me to find myself supporting Germany.
Having said that I do find myself wondering how this came about. It doesn’t seem to happen in the States and it doesn’t seem to have been present at the 1966 World Cup Final. I can’t help thinking it is at least in part related to the British establishment’s self-loathing and to the left’s take-over of the history curriculum. Unfortunately, I’ve never quite been able to join the dots on this one.
As far as overestimating our contribution well, who can say? There are no parallel universes where counter-factuals are allowed to play themselves out. I will say this though: I do not see how freedom could have returned to Western Europe had Britain been knocked out of the war in 1940. And without the bomber campaign and the threat of an invasion of France the balance of forces on the Eastern Front might have been quite different.
However, the part of his article that I find most disturbing is the accusation of glossing over. For starters it’s a complete mismatch. You cannot usefully compare actions (such as the Holocaust) which were primary policy with actions like Dresden which may or not have been mistakes committed in the pursuance of primary policy. The killing of Jews was intentional, the killing of German civilians was incidental.
But what is really alarming about this charge is its motivation. By dragging up things like this Matussek is effectively saying: your ancestors were no better than ours. Now whether this is an attempt to rehabilitate the Nazis or to belittle the World War Two generation I can’t say but I can’t help but think this is somehow wrapped up with Europeanism and the desire to eliminate national feeling. Whatever, the case may be he’s wrong. Our ancestors were a great bunch. And so long as we honour and preserve the culture that made them we can be proud of them.
I think the English (as well as the Scottish, Welsh and Irish) have a lot to be proud about. I’m German and I’ll be eternally grateful for the Allied Forces ridding us of Hitler and his henchmen. In actual fact Sir Winston Churchill is my greatest hero. If it hadn’t been for Hitler we probably wouldn’t have been in the politically correct mess we are today. Maybe we’d all be communists though, you never know. I just wanted to say thanks to all the servicemen and -women from the UK, the US and the rest of the Western World who risked and often lost their lives in the spirit of freedom. Maybe I should stick my cross of St. George (which I’ve got for footballing purposes) to the window. Rule Britannia!
Seen in a comment to this piece on St George and the BBC dragon.
having lived six years in Bavaria where we have 5-6% unemployment, compared to 25-30% in parts of the former East, it crosses my mind fm time to time that Bavaria could be a lot better off (absent any military threat from the north) throwing its lot in with Austria than with the Prussian rustbelt.
Especially if we could figure out a way to get the South Tirol back from Italy.
That’s without starting another European War, I presume.
According to Theodore Dalrymple the Germans are looking for an identity that is not German. Europeanism is obviously silly but why not go back to the mini-states of the past? With a few abberrations - like the Thirty Years War - they did just fine and it is their ethos that can be considered the basis of the German economic miracle of the late 19th Century (that’s before the anti-economists got going).