In the early 1920s, Ludwig von Mises became a witness to hyperinflation in Austria and Germany — monetary developments that caused irreparable and (in the German case) cataclysmic damage to civilization.
Mises’s policy advice was instrumental in helping to stop hyperinflation in Austria in 1922. In his Memoirs, however, he expressed the view that his instruction — halting the printing press — was heeded too late:
Austria’s currency did not collapse — as did Germany’s in 1923. The crack up boom did not occur. Nevertheless, the country had to bear the destructive consequences of continuing inflation for many years. Its banking, credit, and insurance systems had suffered wounds that could no longer heal, and no halt could be put to the consumption of capital.1
As Mises noted, hyperinflation in Germany was not stopped before the complete destruction of the reichsmark. To illustrate the monetary catastrophe, one may take a look at the exchange rate of the reichsmark against the US dollar. Before the start of World War I in 1914, around 4.2 marks would buy 1 US dollar. As soon as war action began, the convertibility of the mark was suspended and paper marks (papiermark) were issued, largely for financing war-related outlays. In 1918, after the end of World War I, 8.4marks bought 1 US dollar.2 In December 1919, the mark had depreciated to 46.8 per US dollar, and in December 1920 to 73.4 per dollar.
In July 1922, the US dollar cost 670 marks. When French and Belgian troops occupied the Rhineland at the beginning of 1923, however, the exchange rate of the mark plummeted to 49,000 marks per US dollar. On November 15, 1923, when hyperinflation reached its peak, the currency reform effectively made 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000) papiermarkequal to 1 rentenmark, and as 4.2 trillion papiermark exchanged for 1 US dollar at that time, 4.2 rentenmark would equal 1 US dollar.3
Increases in the Money Supply
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