This review of Frank D. Graham’s book, Exchange, Prices and Production in Hyper-Inflation: Germany 1920–23 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1930) was published in Economica (May 1932).
All the misfortunes from which Europe has suffered in the last two decades have been the inevitable result of the application of the theories which have dominated the social and economic philosophy of the last fifty years. Our troubles are the upshot of much laborious thought. The German inflation, above all, was the outcome of the monetary and banking theory which for many years had obsessed the men who occupied the chairs of economics at the Universities, the men who governed the financial policy of the Reich, and the editors of the most influential newspaper and periodicals.
The central feature of these erroneous theories was a total rejection of the Quantity Theory1 and of all the teachings of the Currency School.2 The empirisch-realistische Volkswirt,3 who distrusted every “theory”—especially theories imported from abroad—was firmly convinced that both the Quantity Theory and the Theories of the Currency School were nothing but an inexplicable blunder committed by Ricardo and his followers. The German Kathedersozialisten4? did not waste their time on the study of English political economy. Hence they were unaware of the problems which were the subject of the long-lasting controversy between the Banking School and the Currency School. The only source of their knowledge of the matter was the book published in 1862 by Adolph Wagner under the title Theorie der Peel’schen Bankakte. Wagner lacked absolutely the gift of economic ratiocination. He accepted without any criticism all the statements of the Banking School; from his book it was utterly impossible to gather what objections the Currency School had had against the theories of the Banking School.
The other leading authority on monetary and banking problems, Wilhelm Lexis, was still less endowed with the power of economic reasoning. He, like Wagner, was entirely innocent of any understanding of the Ricardian theory of the foreign exchanges—the “purchasing power parity” theory. Each firmly believed that the foreign exchanges are governed by the balance of payments.
Hence would-be economists who owed their education to the teachings of such men were prepared to accept without criticism the doctrines of Knapp and Bendixen, who in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of the war dominated German monetary and banking theory. Knapp, Professor of Political Science at the University of Strasburg, was a trained statistician and had devoted much time in archives to the study of Prussian policy concerning the peasantry. There is not the slightest indication in his writings that he had ever glanced at Ricardo or any other of the British monetary economists. The occasional allusions to Ricardo’s ideas, which one finds in Knapp’s writings, impute to Ricardo opinions which are rather the contrary of what we read in Ricardo’s books and pamphlets. Knapp ignored absolutely the problem of prices. In his view the task of monetary theory is nothing else than the purely formal classification of the various kinds of currency. He had not the slightest idea that government interference in the mechanism of price-making is subject to certain conditions which cannot be controlled simply by governmental decree.
Not less fatal for the formation of German views on monetary theory was the influence of Bendixen, the manager of a mortgage corporation, who, inspired by Knapp, wrote some booklets, which expounded the principles of the Banking School. The most striking feature of Bendixen’s contribution was that, being unfamiliar with monetary literature, he honestly believed he was enunciating something entirely new!
In passing under review the German monetary and banking policy from the outbreak of the war to the catastrophe of 1923, the most startling thing is the absolute ignorance even of the most elementary principles of monetary science on the part of literally all German statesmen, politicians, bankers, journalists, and would-be economists. It is impossible for any foreigner even to realize how boundless this ignorance was. For this reason, in the last three years of the German inflation, some foreigners came to believe that the Germans ruined their own currency of set purpose in order to involve other countries in their own ruin, and to evade the payment of reparations. Such imputation of secret satanism to German policy does it wrong. The only secret of German policy was Germany’s total lack of any acquaintance with economic theory.
Thus Herr Havenstein, the governor of the Reichsbank, honestly believed that the continuous issue of new notes had nothing to do with the rise of commodity prices, wages, and foreign exchanges. This rise he attributed to the machinations of speculators and profiteers and to intrigues on the part of external and internal foes. Such indeed was the general belief. Nobody durst venture to oppose it without incurring the risk of being denounced both as a traitor to his country and as an abettor of profiteering. In the eyes both of the public and of the rulers the only reason why monetary conditions were not healthy was the lamentable indulgence of the government in regard to profiteering. For the restoration of sound currency nothing else seemed to be necessary than a powerful suppression of the egotistic aims of unpatriotic people.
It would be very interesting to show that this attitude was the necessary sequel to the whole system of social and economic philosophy as taught by the school of Schmoller. According to the étatiste outlook of this school, power (Macht) is the deciding factor in social life. That even the most powerful government is not free to do everything, that there exist certain unalterable conditions of human existence insusceptible to the influence of the most powerful intervention, are propositions which it never admitted. The study of economic theory, it said, was useless, for the various systems of theoretical economics all overlooked the fact that governments had the power to alter all conditions. It was ready to admit that the Ricardian system was a faithful description of the state of England at his time, but it denied its applicability to Germany. In the realm of the Electors of Brandenburg and the Kings of Prussia everything was different. It therefore replaced the study of economic theory by the history of Prussian administration in the academic curriculum. It taught that there is nothing important in social life but power, and its notion of power was very materialistic. Power in its eyes was soldiers and guns. It had never understood Hume’s discovery that all government is founded on opinion.
But to trace this evolution would involve writing the entire history of the transition of the German mind from the liberal thought of Goethe, Schiller, and Humboldt to the militarist ideas of Treitschke, Schmoller, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. It would involve writing the history of the Prussian hegemony of the nation which has been styled the nation of poets and thinkers, and the history of the Reich founded by Bismarck and lost by Wilhelm II. It is obvious that this would exceed the purpose of these lines.
In these circumstances it is easy to understand that the German books