In 1923, German currency became effectively worthless: the exchange rate in December of that year was one US dollar to 4200 trillion marks. The Weimar Republic was all but reduced to a barter economy. Expensive cigars, artworks, and jewels were routinely exchanged for staples such as bread. In desperation, the Bavarian prime minister submitted a bill to the Reichsrat proposing that gluttony be made a penal offence — his exact definition of a glutton being ‘one who habitually devotes himself to the pleasures of the table to such a degree that he might arouse discontent in view of the distressful condition of the population’.
Since its first publication in 1975, When Money Dies has become the classic history of these bizarre and frightening times. Weaving elegant analysis with a wealth of eyewitness accounts by ordinary people struggling to survive, it deals above all with the human side of inflation: why governments resort to it; the dismal, corruptive pestilence it visits on their citizens; the agonies of recovery; and the dark, long-term legacy. And at a time of acute economic strain, it provides an urgent warning against the addictive dangers of printing money — shorthand for deficit financing — as a soft option for governments faced with growing unrest and unemployment.