Sunday, January 29, 2012

Krugman on European austerity and that German hyper-inflation thing

Paul Krugman has been looking at the lengths of the current depression in Britain and Italy compared with the Great Depression. In Britain, this one has gone on longer. (The Worse-than Club 01/28/2012) In Italy, it has gone on as long.

Heinrich Brüning (1885-1970)

And he makes an important historical point about the German economy in those days. Conservatives like to claim that the "hyper-inflation" in Germany in the 1920s resulted in bringing Hitler to power. Krugman writes:

France and Germany are doing much better than in the early 1930s - but then France and Germany had terrible, deflationist policies in the early 1930s. (It was the Brüning deflation, not the Weimar inflation, that brought you-know-who to power).

With two of Europe’s big four economies doing worse than they did in the Great Depression, at least in terms of GDP — and that’s three of five if you count Spain — do you think the austerity advocates might consider that maybe, possibly, they’re on the wrong track?
Peter Gay provided a helpful chart on this subjects in The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism: Eduard Bernstein's Challenge to Marx (1952):

The hyper-inflation incident was primarily a phenomenon of 1923. This is the period about which those stories are told about a loaf of bread costing a wheelbarrow full of money or whatever. A new currency was introduced late in 1923 and inflation stabilized.

This chart of election results shows the election results in millions of votes for the NSDAP (National Socialists, Nazi Party). In 1924, the year following the hyper-inflation, the NSDAP got 0.9 million votes. That fell to 0.8 million in 1928. Then in rose dramatically to 6.4 million in 1930 and 13.7 million in July of 1932. What else might have happened between 1924 and 1930? What could it have been?

Oh, yeah, that Great Depression thing. Economic crash, soaring unemployment. And Heinrich Brüning's Chancellorship of 1930-32.

None of this implies that the hyper-inflation of the early 1920s had no lasting effect. It's just that it's hard to match the notion that hyper-inflation brought the Nazis to power with the historical record as shown in election results.

While we're on the subject, it's worth noting that the NSDAP vote dropped significantly from the July 1932 election to November 1932. It's true that Hitler came to power mostly through electoral means. But Hitler's  feverish politicking that got him appointed Chancellor at the end of January 1933 was driven by his falling electoral support.

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