Cash is a scarce commodity in Greece.
In June, Greek banks declared a surprise limitation on how much could be withdrawn from an account. At present, the government still limits the cash withdrawals of Greeks.
And, of course, this is just the most recent in a series of events that make up the cash squeeze. In response, Greeks have done what all people do when they cannot get enough currency - they improvise.
Several alternate systems for payment of goods and services have cropped up in Greece since 2010. One is TEM, which allows people to gain monetary credit on an internet site, which may then be used to pay others. Another system is the Athens Time Bank, which logs time units, allowing individuals to pay each other with their time. The services provided can be anything from language lessons to medical consultation. Other systems are popping up, as Greeks seek out any method of payment other than the euro, since they’re closed off from their own savings at the banks. As can be expected, barter is becoming more commonplace.
Greece is right where Weimar Germany was in late 1922. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles required Germany to pay reparations for WWI. At the time, Germany, having lost the war, was already on the ropes economically. The conditions of the treaty amounted to an unpayable level of debt. As it became apparent that it was impossible to pay, the allies squeezed harder. Economic conditions in Germany worsened dramatically, not unlike Greece today, and for the same reason.
Germans did their best to sidestep the economic squeeze. As the cost of goods and services was rapidly rising (on a daily basis), Germans learned that it was best to spend Reichsmarks as quickly as possible on virtually anything that was holding its value better than banknotes.
Interestingly, in 1922, virtually no one felt that currency was the problem. German politicians blamed the allies, particularly the French, for demanding that Germany live up to the treaty they had signed. Bankers often blamed foreign currencies for rising against the mark. And the people of Germany generally placed the blame on the most immediate symptom - that costs were rising more quickly than wages. Although they were pleased when their own wages went up, they wanted the prices of commodities to remain the same. They therefore blamed the merchants (particularly the many Jewish merchants) for raising the prices of their goods every time wages increased. They blamed this on Jewish greed, failing to understand that, every time wages increased, the cost of production increased and that increase was passed to the merchants.
In 1922, as in 2015, virtually everyone failed to recognise that monetary movement is circular in nature, not linear. All payments, for all goods and services, impact each other, in a domino effect.
The provision of goods and services is the lifeblood of any economy. Those who offer them and those who pay for them create wealth by doing so. This is the natural order of economics. However, if currency is artificially pumped into an economic system, either through the printing of bank notes, as in Germany in 1922, or the provision of bailouts, as in Greece in 2015, no goods have been created, no services have been performed. The injection of currency fails to improve the economy; it makes the situation worse. At some point, the money tap must be shut off, and, when it is, a crash takes place. The severity of the crash is directly proportional to the degree of currency injection.
So, as long as we’re comparing parallel events, what else happened back then? Well, one interesting development was that, although most everyone in Germany was experiencing a steady decrease in their standard of living, farmers seemed to be holding their own. This, of course, was because they remained productive. They created essential goods for sale to others, so they maintained their living standards. In the autumn of 1922, most Bavarians could not afford to attend Oktoberfest, but the beer halls did an acceptable business with the farmers who came to town for the celebration. They were deeply resented by city dwellers for being able to afford beer that they themselves could not afford.
Such was the resentment that the prime minister of Bavaria submitted a bill to the Reichsrat to make gluttony a public offense.
In 1923, as the Weimar inflation grew to the point that city dwellers were starving, many of them went out to the country to steal the produce the farmers had worked to grow. Resentment was so high against the farmers that many raiders killed the farmers out of hatred. Further, since they couldn’t take the farmers’ cattle back to the city with them, they slaughtered them in the fields, out of spite. Of course, by destroying the source of the food, they assured that they would receive even less in future. Many starved.
As stated by British Author Adam Fergusson in When Money Dies:
It brought out the worst in everybody… It caused fear and insecurity among those who had already known too much of both. It fostered xenophobia. It promoted contempt for government and the subversion of law and order.
As stated at the time by Sir Basil Blackett, controller of finance of the British Treasury, “Each class in Germany thinks that the burden of taxation should fall on some other class.” (Does any of this sound familiar?)
If Greece in 2015 mirrors Germany in 1922, then we might expect Greece in 2016 to come to resemble Germany in 1923.
But how about the rest of us? We’re not in the state that Greece is in - at least not yet. But the EU as a whole, and the U.S., Canada, and many other “First World” countries, are following the same destructive economic path. (They just aren’t quite as far along as Weimar Germany, 1923.)
So, we might be interested to know what came next in Germany.
- Demands increased by the public for a mandatory redistribution of wealth.
This has become a common cry, particularly in the U.S., where a presidential election will take place in a year and some candidates are fanning the flames on this issue.
- Movement of currency had to notified, then authorised.
Currency controls are being implemented, one after the other, to limit the people’s ability to move their own money. Most threatening is a plan to eliminate cash, so that money cannot be transferred without the permission of the banks.
- Importation was regulated.
Politicians in the EU and U.S. are speaking increasingly of the need for protective tariffs.
Political leaders have, for decades been squeezing the economy for all they can get and, as they’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, they’ve done what politicians always do, increase debt in order to prolong and increase their intake of wealth.
This can be likened to a farmer who, wanting more milk than a cow can produce, milks it dry, then, refusing to admit his folly, starts draining the cow of its blood. He may say to both himself and others that the increasing need may be satisfied by increasing the removal of blood and, on a temporary basis, this will allow him to continue making use of the cow. However, once he has done so, it is a certainty that, at some point very soon, the cow will collapse.
This was the case in Germany in 1923...and is the case in much of the world now.