Lest anyone be misguided by this prediction into embracing a false solution
, I offer for your thoughtful consideration the following excerpt (all emphasis original):
The great German hyper-inflation of 1922-1923 is one of the most widely cited examples by those who insist that private bankers, not governments, should control the money system. What is practically unknown about that sordid affair is that it occurred under the auspices of a privately owned and controlled central bank.
Up to then the Reichsbank had a form of private ownership but with substantial public control; the President and Directors were officials of the German government, appointed by the Emperor for life. There was a sharing of the revenue of the central bank between the private shareholders and the government. But shareholders had no power to determine policy.
The Allies' plan for the reconstruction of Germany after WWI came to be known as the Dawes Plan, named after General Charles Gates Dawes, a Chicago banker. The foreign experts delegated by the League of Nations to guide the economic recovery of Germany wanted a more free market orientation for the German central bank.
[Hjalmar] Schacht relates how the Allies had insisted that the Reichsbank be made more independent from the government:
"On May 26, 1922, the law establishing the independence of the Reichsbank and withdrawing from the Chancellor of the Reich any influence on the conduct of the Bank's business was promulgated."This granting of total private control over the German currency became a key factor in the worst inflation of modern times.
The stage had already been set by the immense reparations payments. That they were payable in foreign currency would place a great continuing pressure on the Reichsmark far into the future.
HOW IS A CURRENCY DESTROYED?
In a sentence, a currency is destroyed by issuing or creating tremendously excessive amounts of it. Not just too much of it but far too much. This excessive issue can happen in several ways, for example by British counterfeiting as occurred with the U.S. Continental Currency, and with the French Assignats. The central bank itself might print too much currency, or the central bank might allow speculators to destroy a currency through excessive short selling of it, similar to short selling a company's shares, in effect allowing speculators to "issue" the currency.
The destruction of an already pressured national currency through speculation is what concerns us in this case. A related process was recently allowed to destroy several Asian currencies, which dropped over 50% against the Dollar in a few months time, in 1997-98, threatening the livelihood of millions.
It works like this: First there is some obvious weakness involved in the currency. In Germany's case it was World War One, and the need for foreign currency for reparations payments. In the case of the Asian countries, they had a need for U.S. dollars in order to repay foreign debts coming due.
Such problems can be solved over time and usually require national contribution toward their solution, in the form of taxes or temporary lowering of living standards. However, because currency speculation on a scale large enough to affect the currency's value is still erroneously viewed as a legitimate activity, private currency speculators can make a weak situation immeasurably worse and take billions of dollars in "profits" out of the situation by selling short the currency in question. This doesn't just involve selling currency that they own but making contracts to sell currency that they don't own -- to sell it short.
If done in large amounts, in a weak situation, such short selling soon has self-fulfilling results, driving down the value of the currency faster and further than it otherwise would have fallen. Then at some point, panic strikes, which causes widespread flight from the currency by those who actually hold it. It drops precipitously. The short selling speculators are then able to buy back the currency that they sold short, and obtain tremendous profits, at the expense of the producers and working people whose lives and enterprises were dependent on that currency.
The free market gang claim that it's all the fault of the government that the currency was weak in the first place. But by what logic does it follow that speculators take this money from those already in trouble? Currency speculation in such large amounts should be viewed as a form of aggression, no less harmful than dropping bombs on the country in question.
Industrialists should realize that when they allow such activity to be included under the umbrella of "business activity," they are making a serious error. They should help isolate such speculation and educate the populace on how destructive it is, so that it can be stopped through law.
Limitations could easily be placed on speculative currency transactions without limiting those that are a normal part of business and trading, while stopping the kind of transactions that are thinly disguised attacks on the country involved. Placing a small tax on such transactions would be a healthy first move.
TOO MANY GERMAN MARKS ISSUED
By July 1922 the German Mark fell to 300 marks for $1; in November it was at 9,000 to $1; by January 1923 it was at 49,000 to $1; by July 1923 it was at 1,100,000 to $1. It reached 2.5 trillion marks to $1 in mid November, 1923, varying from city to city.
In the monetary chaos Hamburg, Bremen and Kiel established private banks to issue money backed by gold and foreign exchange. The private Reichsbank printing presses had been unable to keep up and other private parties were given the authority to issue money. Schacht estimated that about half the money in circulation was private money from other than Reichsbank sources.
CAUSE OF THE FIRST INFLATION: SCHACHT'S FIRST "EXPLANATION"
There is often a false assumption made that the government allowed the mark to fall, in order to more easily pay off the war indemnity. But since the Versailles Treaty required payment in U.S. Dollars and British Pounds, the inflationary disorder actually made it much harder to raise such foreign exchange.
Hjalmar Schacht's 1967 book, The Magic of Money
, presents what appears to be a contradictory explanation of the private Reichsbank's role in the inflation disaster.
First, in the hackneyed tradition of economists, he is prepared to let the private Reichsbank off the hook very easily and blame the government's difficult reparations situation instead. He minimized the connection of the private control of the central bank with the inflation as mere co-incidence....
THEN SCHACHT GIVES THE REAL EXPLANATION
Schacht was a lifelong member of the banking fraternity, reaching its highest levels. He may have felt compelled to give his banker peers and their public relations corps something innocuous to quote. But Schacht also had a streak of German nationalism, and more than that, an almost sacred devotion to a stable mark. He had watched helplessly as the hyper-inflation destroyed "his mark."
For whatever reasons, after 44 years he proceeded to let the cat out of the bag, with some truly remarkable admissions, which shatter the "accepted wisdom" the Anglo-American financial community has promulgated on the German hyper-inflation....
It was in describing his 1924 battles in stabilizing the Rentenmarks that Schacht made his revelation, giving the private mechanism of the hyper-inflation. Schacht was obviously very upset when the speculators continued to attack the new Rentenmark currency. By the end of the November 1923:
"The dollar reached an exchange rate of 12 trillion Rentenmarks on the free market of the Cologne Bourse. This speculation was not only hostile to the country's economic interests, it was also stupid. In previous years such speculation had been carried on either with loans which the Reichsbank granted lavishly
, or with emergency money which one printed oneself, and then exchanged for Reichsmarks.
"Now, however, three things had happened. The emergency money had lost its value. It was no longer possible to exchange it for Reichsmarks. The loans formerly easily obtained from the Reichsbank were no longer granted
, and the Rentenmark could not be used abroad. For these reasons the speculators were unable to pay for the dollars they had bought when payment became due (and they) made considerable losses."
Schacht is telling us that the excessive speculation against the mark -- the short selling of the mark -- was financed by lavish loans from the private Reichsbank. The margin requirements that the anti-mark speculators needed and without which they could not have attacked the mark was provided by the private Reichsbank!
This contradicts Schacht's earlier explanation, for there is no way to interpret or justify "lavishly" loaning to anti-mark speculators as "helping to keep the government's head above water." Just the opposite. Schacht was a bright fellow, and he wanted this point to be understood. He waited until he wrote the Magic of Money
in 1967. His earlier book, The Stabilization of the Mark
(1927), discussed inflation profiteering but did not clearly identify the private Reichsbank itself as financing such speculation, making it so convenient to go short the mark.Thus it was a privately owned and privately controlled central bank, that made loans to private speculators, enabling them to speculate against the nation's currency.
Whatever other pressures the currency faced (and they were substantial), such speculation helped create a one way market down for the Reichsmark. Soon a continuous panic set in, and not just speculators, but everyone else had to do what they could to get out of their marks, further fueling the disaster. This private factor has been largely unknown in America.