Part 2: The World's Most Famous Case of Hyperinflation
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The World’s Most Famous Case of Hyperinflation (Pt. 2)

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The World's Most Famous Case of Hyperinflation (Part 2 of 2)

The World’s Most Famous Case of Hyperinflation (Part 2)

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

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)

Slippery Slope

“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.

The Effects

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.

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Economy

The $16 Trillion European Union Economy

This chart shows the contributors to the EU economy through a percentage-wise distribution of country-level GDP.

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The $16 Trillion European Union Economy

The European Union has the third-largest economy in the world, accounting for one-sixth of global trade. All together, 27 member countries make up one internal market allowing free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

But how did this sui generis (a class by itself) political entity come into being?

A Brief History of the EU

After the devastating aftermath of the World War II, Western Europe saw a concerted move towards regional peace and security by promoting democracy and protecting human rights.

Crucially, the Schuman Declaration was presented in 1950. The coal and steel industries of Western Europe were integrated under common management, preventing countries from turning on each other and creating weapons of war. Six countries signed on — the eventual founders of the EU.

Here’s a list of all 27 members of the EU and the year they joined.

CountryYear of entry
🇧🇪 Belgium1958
🇫🇷 France1958
🇩🇪 Germany1958
🇮🇹 Italy1958
🇱🇺 Luxembourg1958
🇳🇱 Netherlands1958
🇩🇰 Denmark1973
🇮🇪 Ireland1973
🇬🇷 Greece1981
🇵🇹 Portugal1986
🇪🇸 Spain1986
🇦🇹 Austria1995
🇫🇮 Finland1995
🇸🇪 Sweden1995
🇨🇾 Cyprus2004
🇨🇿 Czechia2004
🇪🇪 Estonia2004
🇭🇺 Hungary2004
🇱🇻 Latvia2004
🇱🇹 Lithuania2004
🇲🇹 Malta2004
🇵🇱 Poland2004
🇸🇰 Slovakia2004
🇸🇮 Slovenia2004
🇧🇬 Bulgaria2007
🇷🇴 Romania2007
🇭🇷 Croatia2013

Greater economic and security cooperation followed over the next four decades, along with the addition of new members. These tighter relationships disincentivized conflict, and Western Europe—after centuries of constant war—has seen unprecedented peace for the last 80 years.

The modern version of the EU can trace its origin to 1993, with the adoption of the name, ‘the European Union,’ the birth of a single market, and the promise to use a single currency—the euro.

Since then the EU has become an economic and political force to reckon with. Its combined gross domestic product (GDP) stood at $16.6 trillion in 2022, after the U.S. ($26 trillion) and China ($19 trillion.)

ℹ️ GDP is a broad indicator of the economic activity within a country. It measures the total value of economic output—goods and services—produced within a given time frame by both the private and public sectors.

Front Loading the EU Economy

For the impressive numbers it shows however, the European Union’s economic might is held up by three economic giants, per data from the International Monetary Fund. Put together, the GDPs of Germany ($4 trillion), France ($2.7 trillion) and Italy ($1.9 trillion) make up more than half of the EU’s entire economic output.

These three countries are also the most populous in the EU, and together with Spain and Poland, account for 66% of the total population of the EU.

Here’s a table of all 27 member states and the percentage they contribute to the EU’s gross domestic product.

RankCountry GDP (Billion USD)% of the EU Economy
1.🇩🇪 Germany4,031.124.26%
2.🇫🇷 France2,778.116.72%
3.🇮🇹 Italy1,997.012.02%
4.🇪🇸 Spain1,390.08.37%
5.🇳🇱 Netherlands990.65.96%
6.🇵🇱 Poland716.34.31%
7.🇸🇪 Sweden603.93.64%
8.🇧🇪 Belgium589.53.55%
9.🇮🇪 Ireland519.83.13%
10.🇦🇹 Austria468.02.82%
11.🇩🇰 Denmark386.72.33%
12.🇷🇴 Romania299.91.81%
13.🇨🇿 Czechia295.61.78%
14.🇫🇮 Finland281.41.69%
15.🇵🇹 Portugal255.91.54%
16.🇬🇷 Greece222.01.34%
17.🇭🇺 Hungary184.71.11%
18.🇸🇰 Slovakia112.40.68%
19.🇧🇬 Bulgaria85.00.51%
20.🇱🇺 Luxembourg82.20.49%
21.🇭🇷 Croatia69.40.42%
22.🇱🇹 Lithuania68.00.41%
23.🇸🇮 Slovenia62.20.37%
24.🇱🇻 Latvia40.60.24%
25.🇪🇪 Estonia39.10.24%
26.🇨🇾 Cyprus26.70.16%
27.🇲🇹 Malta17.20.10%
Total16,613.1100%

The top-heaviness continues. By adding Spain ($1.3 trillion) and the Netherlands ($990 billion), the top five make up nearly 70% of the EU’s GDP. That goes up to 85% when the top 10 countries are included.

That means less than half of the 27 member states make up $14 trillion of the $16 trillion EU economy.

Older Members, Larger Share

Aside from the most populous members having bigger economies, another pattern emerges, with the time the country has spent in the EU.

Five of the six founders of the EU—Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium—are in the top 10 biggest economies of the EU. Ireland and Denmark, the next entrants into the union (1973) are ranked 9th and 11th respectively. The bottom 10 countries all joined the EU post-2004.

The UK—which joined the bloc in 1973 and formally left in 2020—would have been the second-largest economy in the region at $3.4 trillion.

Sectoral Analysis of the EU

The EU has four primary sectors of economic output: services, industry, construction, and agriculture (including fishing and forestry.) Below is an analysis of some of these sectors and the countries which contribute the most to it. All figures are from Eurostat.

Services and Tourism

The EU economy relies heavily on the services sector, accounting for more than 70% of the value added to the economy in 2020. It also is the sector with the highest share of employment in the EU, at 73%.

In Luxembourg, which has a large financial services sector, 87% of the country’s gross domestic product came from the services sector.

Tourism economies like Malta and Cyprus also had an above 80% share of services in their GDP.

Industry

Meanwhile 20% of the EU’s gross domestic product came from industry, with Ireland’s economy having the most share (40%) in its GDP. Czechia, Slovenia and Poland also had a significant share of industry output.

Mining coal and lignite in the EU saw a brief rebound in output in 2021, though levels continued to be subdued.

RankSector% of the EU Economy
1.Services72.4%
2.Industry20.1%
3.Construction5.6%
4.Agriculture, forestry and fishing1.8%

Agriculture

Less than 2% of the EU’s economy relies on agriculture, forestry and fishing. Romania, Latvia, and Greece feature as contributors to this sector, however the share in total output in each country is less than 5%. Bulgaria has the highest employment (16%) in this sector compared to other EU members.

Energy

The EU imports nearly 60% of its energy requirements. Until the end of 2021, Russia was the biggest exporter of petroleum and natural gas to the region. After the war in Ukraine that share has steadily decreased from nearly 25% to 15% for petroleum liquids and from nearly 40% to 15% for natural gas, per Eurostat.

Headwinds, High Seas

The IMF has a gloomy outlook for Europe heading into 2023. War in Ukraine, spiraling energy costs, high inflation, and stagnant wage growth means that EU leaders are facing “severe trade-offs and tough policy decisions.”

Reforms—to relieve supply constraints in the labor and energy markets—are key to increasing growth and relieving price pressures, according to the international body. The IMF projects that the EU will grow 0.7% in 2023.

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