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4.0 out of 5 stars A Broader View of Weimar Hyperinflation, 31 Dec 2012
This review is from: Culture and Inflation in Weimar Germany (Weimar & Now: German Cultural Criticism) (Hardcover)
In 1923 the price of a cabbage which had not so long ago sold for 25 pfennigs, arrived at 50.000.000 marks.

The author takes a broad social approach in looking at the German hyperinflation of the early 1920's giving a deeper understanding of the phenomenon than the traditionally narrow economics "science" viewpoint.

He reaches into contemporary culture where I followed him watching Fritz Lang's 1922 film Dr Mabuse - The Gambler [1922] [DVD]and looking at Simplicissimus magazine covers from 1918 to 1924 (available on simplicissimus.com) illustrating the "Hellish Carnival" of the early interwar Weimar Republic. He describes a chaotic witches cauldron of gambling, hoarding, gluttony, hunger, riots, psychosis, jazz, prostitution and drugs overwhelming the German middle class.

Contemporary Germans viewed it as the end of civilization as everything that represented tradition, stability and trust was destroyed. Oswald Spengler's book The Decline of the West (Oxford Paperbacks) was seen as applying to them, as middle class doctors, lawyers, government officials etc. were reduced to selling their valuables on street stalls to avoid starvation while a commercial class able to obtain loans, foreign currency and commodities became rich overnight.

Widdig interestingly shows a certain ambivalence in the situation. It was undoubtedly a catastrophe, but at the same time the government could pay back foreign war debts in worthless currency and find employment (inflation = full employment) for the millions of soldiers returning from WW1. The hyperinflation also served to remove the ossified 19th century class system and approach with (excessive) fluidity the new modernity of for example, mass commercialization, automobiles, radio, films and new egalitarian ideas.

The equation seemed to imply that hyperinflationary chaos destroyed but also allowed a societal rebirth and a renewed adaptability. It went too far but there is a long shot similarity to the central idea in Andy Grove's book, Only the Paranoid Survive: The Threat and Promise of Strategic Inflection Pointsin that organizations need to combine the contradictory features of a solid structure with adaptive flexibility. Equally Jane Jacob's book, Systems of Survival (Vintage): A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics follows the same idea in stating the need for a Guardian class working together with Commercials for a successful society.

A doubtful aspect of the book is Widdig's equating the depreciation of the currency with the later National Socialist depreciation of the Jews. A simpler explanation would be that hyperinflation allowed the Jews to augment their already dominant position in finance and commerce and therefore be seen as the hyperinflationary winners in contrast the German middle class losers. The sub title of Mein Kampf was "Eine Abrechnung" i.e. it was revenge.

I can highly recommend Widdig's broad societal approach to an "economic" issue.
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Culture and Inflation in Weimar Germany (Weimar & Now: German Cultural Criticism)
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