The World’s Most Famous Case of Hyperinflation (Part 1 of 2)
The Great War ended on the 11th hour of November 11th, 1918, when the signed armistice came into effect.
Though this peace would signal the end of the war, it would also help lead to a series of further destruction: this time the destruction of wealth and savings.
The world’s most famous hyperinflation event, which took place in Germany from 1921 and 1924, was a financial calamity that led millions of people to have their savings erased.
The Treaty of Versailles
Five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, officially ending the state of war between Germany and the Allies.
The terms of the agreement, which were essentially forced upon Germany, made the country:
- Accept blame for the war
- Agree to pay £6.6 billion in reparations (equal to $442 billion in USD today)
- Forfeit territory in Europe as well as its colonies
- Forbid Germany to have submarines or an air force, as well as a limited army and navy
- Accept the Rhineland, a strategic area bordering France and other countries, to be fully demilitarized.
“I believe that the campaign for securing out of Germany the general costs of the war was one of the most serious acts of political unwisdom for which our statesmen have ever been responsible.”
– John Maynard Keynes, representative of the British Treasury
Keynes believed the sums being asked of Germany in reparations were many times more than it was possible for Germany to pay. He thought that this could create large amounts of instability with the global financial system.
1. Germany had suspended the Mark’s convertibility into gold at the beginning of war.
This created two separate versions of the same currency:
Goldmark: The Goldmark refers to the version on the gold standard, with 2790 Mark equal to 1 kg of pure gold. This meant: 1 USD = 4 Goldmarks, £1 = 20.43 Goldmarks
Papiermark: The Papiermark refers to the version printed on paper. These were used to finance the war.
In fear that Germany would run the printing presses, the Allies specified that reparations must be paid in the Goldmarks and raw materials of equivalent value.
2. Heavy Debt
Even before reparations, Germany was already in significant debt. The country had borrowed heavily during the war with expectations that it would be won, leaving the losers repay the loans.
Adding together previous debts with the reparations, debt exceeded Germany’s GDP.
3. Inability to Pay
The burden of payments was high. The country’s economy had been damaged by the war, and the loss of Germany’s richest farmland (West Prussia) and the Saar coalfields did not help either.
Foreign speculators began to lose confidence in Germany’s ability to pay, and started betting against the Mark.
Foreign banks and businesses expected increasingly large amounts of German money in exchange for their own currency. It became very expensive for Germany to buy food and raw materials from other countries.
Germany began mass printing bank notes to buy foreign currency, which was in turn used to pay reparations.
4. Invasion of The Ruhr
After multiple defaults on payments of coal and timber, the Reparation Commission voted to occupy Germany’s most important industrial lands (The Ruhr) to enforce the payment of reparations.
French and Belgian troops invaded in January 1923 and began The Occupation of The Ruhr.
German authorities promoted the spirit of passive resistance, and told workers to “do nothing” to help the invaders. In other words, The Ruhr was in a general strike, and income from one of Germany’s most important industrial areas was gone.
On top of that, more and more banknotes had to be printed to pay striking workers.
Just two calendar years after the end of the war, the Papiermark was worth 10% of its original value. By the end of 1923, it took 1 trillion Papiermarks to buy a single Goldmark.
All cash savings had lost their value, and the prudent German middleclass savers were inexplicably punished.
Learn about the effects of German hyperinflation, how it was curtailed, and about other famous hyperinflations in Part 2 (released sometime the week of Jan 18-22, 2016).
About the Money Project
The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.
200 Years of Global Gold Production, by Country
Global gold production has grown exponentially since the 1800s, with 86% of all above-ground gold mined in the last 200 years.
Visualizing Global Gold Production Over 200 Years
Although the practice of gold mining has been around for thousands of years, it’s estimated that roughly 86% of all above-ground gold was extracted in the last 200 years.
With modern mining techniques making large-scale production possible, global gold production has grown exponentially since the 1800s.
The above infographic uses data from Our World in Data to visualize global gold production by country from 1820 to 2022, showing how gold mining has evolved to become increasingly global over time.
A Brief History of Gold Mining
The best-known gold rush in modern history occurred in California in 1848, when James Marshall discovered gold in the Sacramento Valley. As word spread, thousands of migrants flocked to California in search of gold, and by 1855, miners had extracted around $2 billion worth of gold.
The United States, Australia, and Russia were (interchangeably) the three largest gold producers until the 1890s. Then, South Africa took the helm thanks to the massive discovery in the Witwatersrand Basin, now regarded today as one of the world’s greatest ever goldfields.
South Africa’s annual gold production peaked in 1970 at 1,002 tonnes—by far the largest amount of gold produced by any country in a year.
With the price of gold rising since the 1980s, global gold production has become increasingly widespread. By 2007, China was the world’s largest gold-producing nation, and today a significant quantity of gold is being mined in over 40 countries.
The Top Gold-Producing Countries in 2022
Around 31% of the world’s gold production in 2022 came from three countries—China, Russia, and Australia, with each producing over 300 tonnes of the precious metal.
|Rank||Country||2022E Gold Production, tonnes||% of Total|
|#5||🇺🇸 United States||170||5%|
|#8||🇿🇦 South Africa||110||4%|
|-||🌍 Rest of the World||1,030||33%|
North American countries Canada, the U.S., and Mexico round out the top six gold producers, collectively making up 16% of the global total. The state of Nevada alone accounted for 72% of U.S. production, hosting the world’s largest gold mining complex (including six mines) owned by Nevada Gold Mines.
Meanwhile, South Africa produced 110 tonnes of gold in 2022, down by 74% relative to its output of 430 tonnes in 2000. This long-term decline is the result of mine closures, maturing assets, and industrial conflict, according to the World Gold Council.
Interestingly, two smaller gold producers on the list, Uzbekistan and Indonesia, host the second and third-largest gold mining operations in the world, respectively.
The Outlook for Global Gold Production
Gold prices have been hovering around the $1,900-$2,000 per ounce near all-time highs. For mining companies, higher gold prices can mean more profits per ounce if costs remain unaffected.
According to the World Gold Council, mined gold production is expected to increase in 2023 and could surpass the record set in 2018 (3,300 tonnes), led by the expansion of existing projects in North America. The chances of record mine output could be higher if gold prices continue to increase.
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