The Weimar hyperinflation revisited

In a 2017 blog post, I wondered why Germans remember the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic era.

Nils Redeker, Lukas Haffert and Tobias Rommel have recently published a paper about this very question. In Misrembering Weimar: unpacking the historic roots of Germany’s monetary policy discourse, they show that

most Germans do not know that Germany’s interwar period was shaped by two separate crises, but rather see them as being one and the same.

Furthermore,

Looking back into a skewed version of their own history, many Germans conclude that mass unemployment and high inflation are just two sides of the same coin. What makes this worse is that this misconception is especially prevalent among well-educated and politically interested Germans. Hence, the group of people following the ECB’s monetary policy most closely is also the group most likely to draw the wrong lessons from German history. But public thinking about Weimar economic history is not just substantially flawed. We can also show that the skewed memory of the Weimar Republic still affects the way in which at least some Germans think about monetary policy today.

Why do Germans remember the Weimar hyperinflation?

David Beckworth recently interviewed1 (podcast) professor Jesús Fernández-Villaverde. Among other things, they discussed the hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic, i.e. Germany after World War I. The economists ponder why a hyperinflation that occurred in 1923 has had such a large impact on German economists and central bankers, even to this day. After all, the NSDAP rose to power in the 1933, at a time of mass unemployment and austerity. This was almost a decade after the hyperinflation ended.

The professors get to the hyperinflation at 8:20 into the conversation. Fernández-Villaverde tells the story of how inflation got out of hand when French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr2. The Weimar government encouraged workers to resist the military occupation. Strikers were paid with money freshly printed by the Reichsbank, the German central bank. The combination of no real economic production with an increasing amount of Papiermarks tanked the purchasing power of the currency. The hyperinflation began. Continue reading “Why do Germans remember the Weimar hyperinflation?”