Art Cashin On The Most Important History Lesson Of The Last Century

Tyler Durden's picture

Today, instead of the traditional market observations by the Chairman of the Fermentation Committee, we share with readers a critical historical lesson from Art Cashin, focusing on an event that took place 89 years ago, which as Cashin says is "one of the most devastating economic events in recorded history and an important backdrop to Europe today. It all began with the efforts of a few, well-intentioned government officials." Many will know what we are talking about already...

An Encore Presentation

Originally, on this day (-2) in 1922, the German Central Bank and the German Treasury took an inevitable step in a process which had begun with their previous effort to "jump start" a stagnant economy. Many months earlier they had decided that what was needed was easier money. Their initial efforts brought little response. So, using the governmental "more is better" theory they simply created more and more money.

But economic stagnation continued and so did the money growth. They kept making money more available. No reaction. Then, suddenly prices began to explode unbelievably (but, perversely, not business activity).

So, on this day government officials decided to bring figures in line with market realities. They devalued the mark. The new value would be 2 billion marks to a dollar. At the start of World War I the exchange rate had been a mere 4.2 marks to the dollar. In simple terms you needed 4.2 marks in order to get one dollar. Now it was 2 billion marks to get one dollar. And thirteen months from this date (late November 1923) you would need 4.2 trillion marks to get one dollar. In ten years the amount of money had increased a trillion fold.

Numbers like billions and trillions tend to numb the mind. They are too large to grasp in any “real” sense. Thirty years ago an older member of the NYSE (there were some then) gave me a graphic and memorable (at least for me) example. “Young man,” he said, “would you like a million dollars?” “I sure would, sir!”, I replied anxiously. “Then just put aside $500 every week for the next 40 years.” I have never forgotten that a million dollars is enough to pay you $500 per week for 40 years (and that’s without benefit of interest). To get a billion dollars you would have to set aside $500,000 dollars per week for 40 years. And a…..trillion that would require $500 million every week for 40 years. Even with these examples, the enormity is difficult to grasp.

Let’s take a different tack. To understand the incomprehensible scope of the German inflation maybe it’s best to start with something basic….like a loaf of bread. (To keep things simple we’ll substitute dollars and cents in place of marks and pfennigs.  You’ll get the picture.) In the middle of 1914, just before the war, a one pound loaf of bread cost 13 cents. Two years later it was 19 cents. Two years more and it sold for 22 cents. By 1919 it was 26 cents. Now the fun begins.

In 1920, a loaf of bread soared to $1.20, and then in 1921 it hit $1.35. By the middle of 1922 it was $3.50. At the start of 1923 it rocketed to $700 a loaf. Five months later a loaf went for $1200. By September it was $2 million. A month later it was $670 million (wide spread rioting broke out). The next month it hit $3 billion. By mid month it was $100 billion. Then it all collapsed.

Let’s go back to “marks”. In 1913, the total currency of Germany was a grand total of 6 billion marks. In November of 1923 that loaf of bread we just talked about cost 428 billion marks. A kilo of fresh butter cost 6000 billion marks (as you will note that kilo of butter cost 1000 times more than the entire money supply of the nations just 10 years earlier).

How Could This All Happen? – In 1913 Germany had a solid, prosperous, advanced culture and population. Like much of Europe it was a monarchy (under the Kaiser). Then, following the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, the world moved toward war. Each side was convinced the other would not dare go to war. So, in a global game of chicken they stumbled into the Great War.

The German General Staff thought the war would be short and sweet and that they could finance the costs with the post war reparations that they, as victors, would exact. The war was long. The flower of their manhood was killed or injured. They lost and, thus, it was they who had to pay reparations rather than receive them.

Things did not go badly instantly. Yes, the deficit soared but much of it was borne by foreign and domestic bond buyers. As had been noted by scholars…..“The foreign and domestic public willingly purchased new debt issues when it believed that the government could run future surpluses to offset contemporaneous deficits.” In layman’s English that means foreign bond buyers said – “Hey this is a great nation and this is probably just a speed bump in the economy.” (Can you imagine such a thing happening again?)

When things began to disintegrate, no one dared to take away the punchbowl. They feared shutting off the monetary heroin would lead to riots, civil war, and, worst of all communism. So, realizing that what they were doing was destructive, they kept doing it out of fear that stopping would be even more destructive.

Currencies, Culture And Chaos – If it is difficult to grasp the enormity of the numbers in this tale of hyper-inflation, it is far more difficult to grasp how it destroyed a culture, a nation and, almost, the world.

People’s savings were suddenly worthless. Pensions were meaningless. If you had a 400 mark monthly pension, you went from comfortable to penniless in a matter of months. People demanded to be paid daily so they would not have their wages devalued by a few days passing. Ultimately, they demanded their pay twice daily just to cover changes in trolley fare. People heated their homes by burning money instead of coal. (It was more plentiful and cheaper to get.)

The middle class was destroyed. It was an age of renters, not of home ownership, so thousands became homeless. But the cultural collapse may have had other more pernicious effects.

Some sociologists note that it was still an era of arranged marriages. Families scrimped and saved for years to build a dowry so that their daughter might marry well. Suddenly, the dowry was worthless – wiped out. And with it was gone all hope of marriage. Girls who had stayed prim and proper awaiting some future Prince Charming now had no hope at all. Social morality began to collapse. The roar of the roaring twenties began to rumble.

All hope and belief in systems, governmental or otherwise, collapsed. With its culture and its economy disintegrating, Germany saw a guy named Hitler begin a ten year effort to come to power by trading on the chaos and street rioting. And then came World War II.

That soul-wrenching and disastrous experience with inflation is seared into the German psyche. It is why the populace is reluctant to endorse the bailout. It is also why all the German proposals have each country taking care of its own banks. (It gives them more control.) The French plans tend to socialize the bailout. There’s more disagreement in these plans than the headlines would indicate.

To celebrate have a jagermeister or two at the Pre Fuhrer Lounge and try to explain that for over half a century America's trauma has been depression-era unemployment while Germany's trauma has been runaway inflation. But drink fast, prices change radically after happy hour.

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Clueless Economist's picture

10:23 AM

Silver $31.62

JPM $31.61

Ratio 1.0003-1

falak pema's picture

when was the last time you wore silver slippers like in Wizard of OZ? 

god! love the lipstick!

Storch's picture

To get paid twice a day people have to have jobs.

We have:
Currency manipulation
Cheap credit

We dont have:
Payroll expansion
Easy credit

That is why for people like me trying to buy a house the world is very deflationary when housing cost is factored in, but for renters commuting 60 miles the world is inflationary.

In other words, the stuff you already own is getting cheaper and the stuff you buy every day is getting more expensive. Stagflation bitchez.

ATM's picture

Why would you want to buy a depreciating asset like a home?

Rent with an option to buy! That was if the depreciation continues you aren't stuck and if things turn and inflation really jumps you ghave locked in a cheap price.

Au_Ag_CuPbCu's picture

Get that silver while you can, we might, maybe get one more push into the 20s and that will be the last time you will ever see silver at these prices.

AnAnonymous's picture


The article is factual for this part at least.

It was an age of renters, not of home ownership, so thousands became homeless.

This single thing makes it different this time.

The run for increasing the housing inventory in the US was a deliberate run and done on this purpose: provide US citizens with cheap opportunities to own a house.

In this consumption race, it is all about consumption and at the end, two kinds of people, when consumption takes a hit: people who consumed and people who did not consume.

The fact that the US has accumulated so much wealth, plundering the rest of the world makes that history does not rhyme.

US citizens have learned from the past and has organized another big theft to avoid facing the bad consequences of their actions, US citizens typical style.

falak pema's picture

You seem to be writing "the fall of the new Roman Empire", like a  modern day  Gibbons. You have the same contempt for US citizenry that he had then for Roman citizens...who were as corrupt as their leaders.

AnAnonymous's picture

You seem to be writing "the fall of the new Roman Empire", like a modern day Gibbons.


No. On the contrary.

Gibbons is an expansionist.

When expansion comes to halt, expansionists split in three categories:

-expansionists who admit that the main disruption to their system is the impossibility to keep on expanding as fast as it used to be.

-expansionists who paint that the main disruption to their system comes from a cultural change

-expansionists who paint that the main disruption to their system comes from a loss in genetic quality.

The first category numbers few people. Usually, expansionists spread over the two categories.

Gibbons is part of the second category, a guy who paints the failure to expand as a cultural mishap.
Gibbons paint it as there was a degenerescence.

How can I be similar to that person while I state over and over again that the US citizen nature is eternal? That the US has not changed one bit since its inception? That the US has no malfunction as it works as it was designed to work? That US citizens love their tales about a fabled past?

If even contempt, Gibbons did not despize what he perceived as the original roman. So if I were to despize the current US citizens, I would have to despize past US citizens.

Actually, for people who admit diversity, contrary to US citizens,those two positions would be perceived as different.

But hey, this is a US driven world. So in a manner of perception commanding reality, somebody who is as distanced from Gibbons than me, has to be like a modern day Gibbons. Even if it makes no sense at all.

After all, US citizens are used to live in a political system in which what they call the opposition holds similar views as the political party in power.

So, yep, they have to see everything similar.

Fukushima Sam's picture

As usual, you are as clueless as someone launching a boat stern-first on a bunch of inflatable sausages.

knukles's picture

I like my inflatable sausage.

AnAnonymous's picture

No. As usual, US citizens prefer personal attacks rather than facing facts.

Clueless about what?

That in the US this is an era of home ownership, no longer of renting?

That the US inflated their house market to increase their housing inventory, robbing the world blind?

US citizens love to depict themselves as innovative.

They would be welcomed to show their innovation in their cheap propaganda.

DeeDeeTwo's picture

You are trying to reason with a mob, baby.

lasvegaspersona's picture


Most of us on ZH who are Americans see our problems and are digusted by them. We look for answers, we try to figure out the perps and to protect ourselves. You just do not like America or white folks. We seek answers and plan, you spew.

buyingsterling's picture

"US citizens typical style"

Try this on:

Killing millions of their fellow countrymen, Russian & Chinese citizen's typical style.


Sound right to you?

Oppressed In California's picture

"The fact that the US has accumulated so much wealth, plundering the rest of the world"


You must be a college professor....

onearmedlove's picture

Close, he is a freshman and wears a Chomsky shirt.

ATM's picture

I thought it was Che'? Oh well. I'm just surprised he can get internet service from Zuccotti Park

onearmedlove's picture

How is a mortgage you cannot pay any different than rent you cannot pay? 

DoneThis2Long's picture

Like so many, you have no problems in displaying your ignorance about the American peoples vs. some American politicians vs. American Corporate CEOs/structure, and separating your assessment of each group.

You clearly have no clue how many foreigners emigrated to the US in the 70's & even 80's only to return back home because they could not handle the work schedule or work load. Unlike back home where it was about punching the clock and being a fixture for a specific amount of time, whether productive or not it was an irrelevant fact, here, Americans (and willing foreigners) worked our asses off, hence we EARNED whatever the fuck we spent. Greeks are burning down the house for being asked to retire at the same age as Americans do now, so they may repay their debts, which I may add benefited just the greeks, yet Americans are facing retirement at an even older age, so to pay for two wars which Americans benefited jack-shit (yes some multinational corporations did, however, foreign corporations did, and will, benefit far more). Kindly enlighten me, just exactly WTF were the benefits from Afghanistan to Americans? Same for Iraq for that matter - keep in mind, Free Iraq's very 1st contract was signed with a fucking chinese company for oil field development and maintenance, so my being a bit dense, oh, you bright one, please point me to benefits to the American people - trillions in debt notwithstanding??? 

About the only benefit we Americans can claim from either 'adventure' is how insignificant we really are in the eyes of our fucking government (either party), for while they continue to draw benefits, we, ordinary Americans got screwed, thus hardly, the kind of benefits you blubber yap about .....

You also clearly conveniently forget billions in foreign aid be it through American gov, or private organizations - faith based, or otherwise. If you have a functioning memory, try remembering which was the country which gave the most, and was among the 1st at the scene of major disasters. Remember "Concert for Bangladesh" (among many others)? Who the fuck gave and who received, and what in the fuck did Americans plunder there?

What about Live Aid? Of course it was a Brit/American collaboration, but again, who gave, who received, what the fuck did either country stand to "plunder" from that one?

I seem to recall it was not until the bad Americans gave in and agreed to get involved by kicking ass in former Yugoslavia, that positive results begun showing up, otherwise, the europeans were happy to simply meet over tea, coffee and pastries, so to discus when & where the next meeting should take place, all the while tens of thousands of innocent men, women, children, elderly got deep-sixed for shit 'n grins and just because some criminals could. Now genius, whet exactly did America plunder from that one?

And speaking of that one, America got involved so to save Muslims from being slaughtered, yet, as best as I recall, I did not see millions of muslims worldwide, going bizerk so to thank Americans, however, I do recall millions of "peace loving" muslims celebrating a mob hanging and mutilations of FOUR Americans. Likewise, burning of the American flag and similar idiotic actions whenever something they did not like, no matter how small, did not suit their fancy. So it is ok to use double standards against Americans vs. expectations of Americans ..... Hypocritical bastards. 

I know that our medications are more expensive than most other countries because we get stuck with the R&D tab, while the rest of the world pays barely manufacturing cost plus meager sums.

Who are the most charitable individuals in the world, and for world-wide cause? Americans !!! Other nationalities either skip it all together, wasting the wealth instead, or any spending is for the benefit of their respective countries and no one else.

The world had a chance to show its resolve by taking action and saving million + innocent from being slaughtered by bad players in Rwanda, yet, once again, given the lack of American involvement, not a fucking country stepped to save the massacre. Not china, not brazil, not EU, not india, none of America's "equal" wanna-bes. They had nothing to gain so why bother. Of course, they are there in droves so to 'plunder' the country during its reconstruction ...

I could go on and on and on, but who did not get my drift by now, any more will not help anymore.

Lets be clear, America's done many idiotic deals, and frankly, for all I give a shit, I wish Afghanistan and Iraq would have been left the shit-holes they were. BTW, even there, the economic embargo against Saddam failed as most of America's "partners" were more than glad to circumvent the measures in place and sold them anything he wanted, much like with iran. Perhaps if our allays would have been less of the whores they are, and have been all along, things would have worked out better for all, including the horrible Americans.

Also, there is no denying that many conglomerates are playing the global system, however, anyone who believed that GE, or HP, or even Cisco, is screwing other countries for America(n)'s benefit, is an ignorant idiot, for Americans are getting screwed by these companies worse than any other country. They originated here, they benefited here from the American legal system, the American tax-code and all America had to offer them, yet, when it came to carrying their load, like the rest of the world, they chose to freeload on the back of American individual taxpayers. While they piss 'n moan of poor education system product, yet they refuse to pay their share so more and better could be produced, choosing instead to shift offshore where things will be better only temporarily, then, they will get their ass kicked ..... the fools.

And lastly, while America has its share if problems, other countries, and societies are just as bad, if not worse ..... much worse. Just wait until china and russia will gather a bit more leverage. russia already showed they have no problems what-so-ever letting entire countries freeze to death by simply cutting off much needed nat gas supplies just a few years back. china gives a shit less, other countries must have some of the 'rare earth' materials for their respective industrial base .... tough shit. I applaud them for it, and we Americans should learn from them.

Much more could be said but ..... Now let the red arrows fly ......

Ohhhh. one last thing: do not confuse a multinational corporation, which got its start here, but now does not contribute in (m)any way(s) to America's progress, with Americans, for said corporations benefit other countries all the while plundering America/USA and Americans!!!! Think of that one genius!!!! For I give a shit, HP under the former CEO was as much of a representative of American values, as muslims claim that bin-ladin was a representative of the muslim faith. HP (and others) gives as much shit about America and Americans, as much as binladin did of muslims!!!! I hope I am crystal clear now.

Wild tree's picture


Inconvenient truths, but well articulated. Green arrow flies.

engineertheeconomy's picture

Actually the single most important lesson in history is that printing money is stealing money. Unless it's done by a congress that represents the wishes of it citizens. Also, no amount of interest can ever possibly be paid back since only the principle is printed, the interest payments are never printed. That means the banks will trick you out of your homes by foreclosing on them. Then, even though money is created as credit because it's a tax on existing money, they will try to convince you that  the country is in debt and the citizens must pay. This is 180 degrees backwards. If the gov prints money and spends it, they are the ones that are in debt and they should pay us back for the money they stole. They should pay taxes to us to compensate us for our paper becoming worth less and less, thus rendering most of our assets worth less and less also. Last but not least, let's remember that Gold is real money. It can not be printed and can not be used to finance endless wars and can not be used to enslave the masses in servitude for perpetual eternity. Gold = Freedom

GeneMarchbanks's picture

Only the banks seem to understand this history 'lesson' so now BAC just fires 10,000 employees and charges $5 for using debit. Digital, cashless society will promote the ultimate cure to fears of hyperinflation... and in the process achieve complete capitulation of the global citizenry.

Long-John-Silver's picture

At least the Germans could burn money and not freeze to death. Burning a little plastic card full of digital dollars will only smell bad.

Problem Is's picture

Isn't the Louisiana Governor that nice man Bobby Dingle a conservative?

What a nice cut government, cut taxes, strengthen defense Ronald Reagan Republican that man Governor Bobby Dingle is...

DosZap's picture


NEVER stand in court, if they take it there.

Fed Reserve notes are LEGAL TENDER, and any one who is offered them in payment for goods, and or services,and refuses them is guilty of a a Federal crime.

Tedster's picture

That is a common misconception - legal tender for all debts, public and private, does not refer to goods and services per se.

As a shopkeeper I am perfectly within my rights to refuse cash. Similarly, I can specify "no checks, cash only" etc.

Debts denominated in dollars (property tax, parking fines, etc,) are payable in cash, and must be accepted. Refusal, in fact, extinguishes that debt.

buyingsterling's picture

This doesn't sound right. I think they want to jail you if you run your business on barter; they want their cut. I think they'd consider anything aside from FRNs a form of barter. Can you file a tax return in Swiss Francs? In the end you have to play their game with their yardstick.

Tedster's picture

In the end, you have to pay your taxes in dollars.

Permits, licenses, fees, etc. There isn't anything that requires me to take payment in dollars. The _seller_ sets the terms of the sale, not the buyer.
While it might be a poor business decision for me to refuse cash, or credit, etc, that's not the issue.

Let's say I want to sell my car for 100 silver dollars. You want my car, you pay me 100 silver dollars. Pretty simple, no?

DosZap's picture


Thanks for the clarification........never too old to learn.(<;

I knew you can refuse checks, credit cards,etc.

But I was under the understanding that our national money, must be accepted if I wanted to purchase any item.

Tedster's picture

Nope, because no sale has occurred yet. There's no debt. Old school stores used to post "Terms of Payment" signs by the register.

Wise guys sometimes try to pay fines in pennies, probably not a good idea, generally though, they are within their rights.

The general rule, if one owes money, then a cash offer to pay or settle can't be refused. But merchandise or services offered are not necessarily able to paid with cash. For my part, cash is generally well received.

Joseph Jones's picture

Not till the last paragraph of the article did the author sneek in one business group exempt from the cash ban: pawn shops.  And who runs most of the pawn shops?  Gee, I wonder who could it be?

The rules never apply to the king!  

Syrin's picture

I appreicate the sentiment, but if you burned a million one dollar bills, you'd be lucky to get a fire that lasts 15 minutes.

Harlequin001's picture

so have some more then, they aren't exactly in short supply are they, and there's plenty more where they came from anyway?

You could have yourself a veritable bonfire if you only wait a few months...

I did it by Occident's picture

But wouldn't it be easier to stay warm longer with those one million one dollar bills by going to ahem, a 'gentlemen's establishment'

onearmedlove's picture

Btw you can't even burn silver you idiot. 


They did freeze to death and resorted to eating the horses. I have a 100,000 Mark note from 23 that my Grandfather left me. He was a young man in the 20's and knew this story first hand.

Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.'s picture

it's a bull market in political whoredom! buy buy buy

Divided States of America's picture

RIMM says there was an overload in EUROPE which spread around the entire globe like wildfire....looks like thats a precursor to what is going to happen in the financial markets soon as well?

john39's picture

seems like RIMM is being destroyed from the outside.  more buyers now for apple products?  hmmm.

hedgeless_horseman's picture

RIMM too secure and Canadian.  Apple...not so much.

wombats's picture

Apple may as well be Chinese at this point.

AE911Truth's picture

Yes, but what RIMM did not explain is the reason for the overload... It takes a lot of extra CPU to decrypt all that traffic on the fly for the government mandated spying. The government (of all nations permitting RIMM) think anyone who sends encrypted messages must have something valuable to hide, and gub wants their cut.

DormRoom's picture

lesson from Greece:  tax revenues will always fall faster than deficit cutting, if austerity measures are implemented.

Therefore the longer you postpone default, the longer citizens suffer.  And they will rage against the machine, whether it be Greek, or German machination.

GeneMarchbanks's picture

Kind of. Greece provides a subtle perhaps more important lesson: DO NOT have Goldman 'advise' your governments finance needs in order to enter horribly flawed monetary unions.

DormRoom's picture

or have Merril Lynch advice you, like the Irish government did, when it decided to take private debt (banks==property developers), public.  dumbest move ever.