The World’s Most Famous Case of Hyperinflation (Part 2)
For the first infographic in this series, which summarizes the circumstances leading up to hyperinflation in Germany in 1921-1924, it can be found here: Hyperinflation (Part 1 of 2)
“Inflation took the basic law-and-order principles of loyalty and trust to the extreme.” Martin Geyer, Historian.
“As things stand, the only way to finance the cost of fighting the war is to shift the burden into the future through loans.” Karl Helfferich, an economist in 1915.
“There is a point at which printing money affects purchasing power by causing inflation.” Eduard Bernstein, socialist in 1918.
In the two years past World War I, the German government added to the monetary base of the Papiermark by printing money. Economic historian Carl-Ludwig Holtfrerich said that the “lubricant of inflation” helped breathe new life into the private sector.
The mark was trading for a low value against the dollar, sterling and the French franc and this helped to boost exports. Industrial output increased by 20% a year, unemployment fell to below 1 percent in 1922, and real wages rose significantly.
Then, suddenly this “lubricant” turned into a slippery slope: at its most severe, the monthly rate of inflation reached 3.25 billion percent, equivalent to prices doubling every 49 hours.
When did the “lubricant” of inflation turn into a toxic hyperinflationary spiral?
The ultimate trigger for German hyperinflation was the loss of trust in the government’s policy and debt. Foreign markets refused to buy German debt or Papiermarks, the exchange rate depreciated, and the rate of inflation accelerated.
Hyperinflation in Germany left millions of hard-working savers with nothing left.
Over the course of months, what was enough money to start a stable retirement fund was no longer enough to buy even a loaf of bread.
Who was affected?
- The middle class – or Mittelstand – saw the value of their cash savings wiped out before their eyes.
- Wealth was transferred from general public to the government, which issued the money.
- Borrowers gained at the expense of lenders.
- Renters gained at the expense of property owners (In Germany’s case, rent ceilings did not keep pace with general price levels)
- The efficiency of the economy suffered, as people preferred to barter.
- People preferred to hold onto hard assets (commodities, gold, land) rather than paper money, which continually lost value.
Stories of Hyperinflation
During the peak of hyperinflation, workers were often paid twice a day. Workers would shop at midday to make sure their money didn’t lose more value. People burned paper bills in the stove, as they were cheaper than wood or other fuel.
Here some of the stories of ordinary Germans during the world’s most famous case of hyperinflation.
- “The price of tram rides and beef, theater tickets and school, newspapers and haircuts, sugar and bacon, is going up every week,” Eugeni Xammar, a journalist, wrote in February 1923. “As a result no one knows how long their money will last, and people are living in constant fear, thinking of nothing but eating and drinking, buying and selling.”
- A man who drank two cups of coffee at 5,000 marks each was presented with a bill for 14,000 marks. When he asked about the large bill, he was told he should have ordered the coffees at the same time because the price had gone up in between cups.
- A young couple took a few hundred million marks to the theater box office hoping to see a show, but discovered it wasn’t nearly enough. Tickets were now a billion marks each.
- Historian Golo Mann wrote: “The effect of the devaluation of the German currency was like that of a second revolution, the first being the war and its immediate aftermath,” he concluded. Mann said deep-seated faith was being destroyed and replaced by fear and cynicism. “What was there to trust, who could you rely on if such were even possible?” he asked.
Even Worse Cases of Hyperinflation
While the German hyperinflation from 1921-1924 is the most known – it was not the worst episode in history.
In mid-1946, prices in Hungary doubled every fifteen hours, giving an inflation rate of 41.9 quintillion percent. By July 1946, the 1931 gold pengõ was worth 130 trillion paper pengõs.
Peak Inflation Rates:
Germany (1923): 3.5 billion percent
Zimbabwe (2008): 79.6 billion percent
Hungary (1946): 41.9 quintillion percent
Hyperinflation has been surprisingly common in the 20th century, happening many dozens of times throughout the world. It continues to happen even today in countries such as Venezuela.
What would become of Germany after its bout of hyperinflation?
A young man named Adolf Hitler began to grow angry that innocent Germans were starving…
“We are opposed to swarms of Americans and other foreigners raising prices throughout Germany while millions of Germans are starving because of the increased prices. We are equally opposed to German profiteers and we are demanding that all be imprisoned.” – Adolf Hitler, 1923, Chicago Tribune
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.
The Richest People in Human History, to the Industrial Revolution
What do Augustus Caesar, Cosimo de Medici, Mansa Musa, and Genghis Khan have in common? They were some of the richest people in all of history.
The Richest People in Human History, to the Industrial Revolution
Click here for a larger, more legible version of the infographic that you can explore in-depth.
When we think of wealth today, we often think of the massive personal fortunes of business magnates like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Warren Buffett. However, it is only since the Industrial Revolution that measuring wealth by one’s bank account has been a norm for the world’s richest.
For most of recorded human history, in fact, the lines around wealth were quite blurred. Leaders like Augustus Caesar or Emperor Shenzong had absolute control of their empires—while bankers like Jakob Fogger and Cosimo de Medici were often found pulling the strings from behind.
This infographic we created with Texas Precious Metals focuses on the richest people in history up until the Industrial Revolution, and it highlights key facts and anecdotes on how they created their wealth.
Is This List of People Definitive?
While it is certainly fun to speculate on the wealth of people from centuries past, putting together this list is exceptionally difficult and certainly not definitive.
Firstly, much wealth in early periods is tied to land (Genghis Khan) or entire empires (Augustus, Akbar), which makes calculations extremely subjective. What is most of Asia’s land worth in the year 1219? What separates personal fortune from the riches of an empire that one has full control of? There are a wide variety of answers to these questions, and they all influence the figures chosen to be represented.
Secondly, records kept from Ancient eras are scarce, exaggerated, or based on legends and oral histories. Think of King Solomon or Mansa Musa—these are characters described as immeasurably rich, so trying to put their wealth in modern context is fun, but certainly not guaranteed to be historically accurate.
Lastly, wealth and conversion rates can be approached in different ways as well. Take Crassus in the Roman Republic, who had a peak fortune of “200 million sesterces”. Well, that’s a problem for us in modernity, because that stash could be worth anywhere from $200 million to $169.8 billion, depending on how calculations are done.
So, enjoy this list of the wealthiest historical figures, but keep in mind that it is mostly for fun—and that the list of the richest people in history may change depending on who you ask!
Is $1 Million Enough for Retirement in America?
The average American needs their retirement savings to last them over a decade. In which cities is $1 million enough to retire comfortably?
Is $1 Million Enough for Retirement in America?
The average American needs their retirement savings to last them 14 to 17 years. With this in mind, is $1 million in savings enough for the average retiree?
Ultimately, it depends on where you live, since the average cost of living varies across the country. This graphic, using data compiled by GOBankingRates.com shows how many years $1 million in retirement savings lasts in the top 50 most populated U.S. cities.
Editor’s note: As one user rightly pointed out, this analysis doesn’t take into account interest earned on the $1 million. With that in consideration, the above calculations could be seen as very conservative figures.
How Long $1 Million Would Last in 50 Cities
To compile this data, GOBankingRates calculated the average expenditures of people aged 65 or older in each city, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and cost-of-living indices from Sperling’s Best Places.
That figure was then reduced to account for average Social Security income. Then, GOBankingRates divided the one million by each city’s final figure to calculate how many years $1 million would last in each place.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, San Francisco, California came in as the most expensive city on the list. $1 million in retirement savings lasts approximately eight years in San Francisco, which is about half the time that the typical American needs their retirement funds to last.
|City||How long $1 would last (years)||Cost-of-living Index||Annual expenditures
(after using annual Social Security)
|El Paso, TX||40.3||81.4||$24,789|
|Oklahoma City, OK||37.3||85.4||$26,824|
|Kansas City, MO||36.7||86.2||$27,231|
|San Antonio, TX||34.4||89.7||$29,011|
|New Orleans, LA||30.8||96.3||$32,367|
|Forth Worth, TX||29.3||99.8||$34,148|
|Colorado Springs, CO||27.3||104.5||$36,538|
|Virginia Beach, VA||26.9||105.6||$37,097|
|Las Vegas, NV||24.8||111.6||$40,149|
|San Diego, CA||15.4||160.1||$64,816|
|Long Beach, CA||15.3||160.4||$64,969|
|Los Angeles, CA||13.9||173.3||$71,530|
|New York, NY||12.7||187.2||$78,599|
|San Jose, CA||10.8||214.5||$92,484|
|San Francisco, CA||8.3||269.3||$120,355|
A big factor in San Francisco’s high cost of living is its housing costs. According to Sperlings Best Places, housing in San Francisco is almost 6x more expensive than the national average and 3.6x more expensive than in the overall state of California.
Four of the top five most expensive cities on the list are in California, with New York City being the only outlier. NYC is the third most expensive city on the ranking, with $1 million expected to last a retiree about 12.7 years.
On the other end of the spectrum, $1 million in retirement would last 45.3 years in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s about 37 years longer than it would last in San Francisco. In Memphis, housing costs are about 2.7x lower than the national average, with other expenses like groceries, health, and utilities well below the national average as well.
Regardless of where you live, it’s helpful to start planning for retirement sooner rather than later. But according to a recent survey, only 41% of women and 58% of men are actively saving for retirement.
However, for some, COVID-19 has been the financial wake-up call they needed to start planning for the future. In fact, in the same survey, 70% of respondents claimed the pandemic has “caused them to pay more attention to their long-term finances.”
This is good news, considering that people are living longer than they used to, meaning their funds need to last longer in general (or people need to retire later in life). Although, as the data in this graphic suggests, where you live will greatly influence how much you actually need.
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