Yeah, I know we have real inflation now. Of course, unless the economy has come to a halt and is in danger of sliding into deflation, like during the Depression, we always have inflation. It’s just it’s somewhat higher right now. Now, it’s more like what we lived with in the early ’80s. It feels familiar, unless you’re very young.
Oh, and before you think I’m shrugging it off, not only the young are feeling the pinch. My wife, who is the one in the family who has to make our modest income stretch to feed and house us (this is not a task you would want to assign to me), reminds me of it frequently. She did so multiple times when we were shopping together yesterday, and that was at Walmart. She normally shops at Aldi.
But what I mean is, what if we really had the kind of inflation — commonly called “hyperinflation” — that really shows your country is messed up and falling apart? You know, the kind that means your whole system, or your leadership, needs to be replaced? I mean, the kind that you’d think we were having now, if you listened to Republican politicians. And for that matter, some Democrats.
Including some Democrats I really like, such as Abigail Spanberger, who’s in a tough race for reelection to her congressional seat up in Virginia. There was an update on that race on the front page of The Boston Globe today (see above), and it said in part:
Spanberger and her Republican opponent, Yesli Vega agreed that inflation is the most pressing issue for voters.
“We’re facing a time when people have to decide whether they’re going to pump gas or buy groceries,” said Vega, a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a former law enforcement officer who still serves as an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. “I do believe that we’re in the condition we are right now because of President Biden’s failed policies and representatives like Abigail Spanberger enabling him every step of the way.”…
“I have certainly found that people want to talk about gas prices, they want to talk about grocery prices, they want to talk about the challenges they’re facing,” Spanberger said after a recent Fredericksburg event highlighting the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last year that she supported.
“I’m acknowledging the problem and trying to fix it,” she said. “Your other option is somebody who’s just trying to cast blame for the problem.”…
Anyway, I look at this situation in which polls keep showing that voters care more about inflation than anything — as this story states, “ahead of abortion rights, an increase in violent crime during the pandemic, a war in Europe, and attacks on voting rights.” And, presumably, global climate change.
The worst problem in the world? Presumably, you don’t think that if you live, say, in Ukraine. But America is apparently full of people who, at this moment at least, think 8.5 percent inflation is our biggest problem.
They might have had a point, if they were living in the Weimar Republic 100 years ago.
I met a guy named John Toland in 1976. I gave him a ride from the airport to the book festival that had brought him to Memphis. I wasn’t really there to talk to him. I wanted to talk to Mary Hemingway about her new book, being a huge fan of her late husband. The publicists set me up to have lunch with her, but asked me to pick up Toland, who had just come out with a weighty tome about Hitler. I hadn’t read his book, wasn’t planning to read his book, but I gave him a ride, and enjoyed chatting with him.
Years later, I finally read the book, and it left an impression. (I recommend it.) Burned into my memory in particular is an anecdote it related about the night of the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler and a couple of his boys were hanging out in the beer hall, waiting for the time to make their move. They decided they would blend a bit better if they all were holding beers. So one of his boys went and bought three brews.
They cost three billion marks.
Not having the book at hand — I’m not sure where it is now — I looked up “Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic” in Wikipedia. It stated in part:
A loaf of bread in Berlin that cost around 160 Marks at the end of 1922 cost 200,000,000,000 Marks by late 1923.
By November 1923, one US dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German marks.
The line about the cost of bread reminded me of another anecdote I read somewhere years ago. I can’t remember whether it was in Toland’s book or somewhere else. Anyway, a woman was on the way to buy a loaf of bread. She had a laundry basket overflowing with paper money to pay for it. Some emergency came up, and she had to put down the basket and go deal with it.
When she came back, someone had dumped out the money and stolen her basket.
Now that’s inflation.
But you don’t have to go back to Weimar to find examples of serious, profound inflation problems. As I’ve often mentioned, I lived in Ecuador when I was a kid. I lived there longer than I lived anywhere growing up — two years, four-and-a-half months. I’ve never been back there since leaving in 1965. But I became aware of the fact that at some point, the currency that we used there in my day — the Sucre — had been ditched, and the U.S. dollar adopted in its place.
One day, I decided to look that up — also on Wikipedia. In my day in Guayaquil, a Sucre was worth a nickel — it took 20 to make a dollar. I didn’t realize it had been declining in value for years. In 1946, it had taken only 13 to make a dollar. After I left, things sped up. In 1970, the dollar was worth 25 Sucres. In 1983, it took 42. In 1990, it was 800 Sucres, and it plunged to 3,000 in 1995.
Just before the switch to the dollar standard in 2000, you needed 25,000 Sucres to buy what the dollar would buy.
That, too, is real inflation, even if not quite on the billion-for-a-cerveza level. I can see how someone living under those conditions might see it as the biggest problem of the moment.
But 8.5 percent? You’d think a country that saw that as its biggest problem didn’t have any real problems.
And yet, we do — and inflation is one of those problems, although not the worst. For the first time in my life, the first time in our 246 year history, our republic is in profound danger. It could really, truly be falling apart. Look at the number of people who are outraged — our senior senator suggests we’re on the verge of riots in the street (again) — that the government thought it out to go take back those classified documents you-know-who stole and hid in his place down in Florida.
Also, many of the same people, and others, think — and I’m using the word “think” very loosely here — that we ought to turn fine people like Rep. Spanberger out of office over something that is in no rational way her fault — inflation. Note the comments in that Globe story from guy who voted for Biden in 2020, but says maybe he’d vote for Trump next time, “because in Donald Trump’s time, we didn’t have these issues.” (How’s that for steel-trap, cause-and-effect logic? As we all know, the condition of the U.S. economy depends entirely on who happens to be in the White House, right?)
These are serious problems, and considerably more disturbing than this other actual, but more transitory, problem, inflation.
Remember, Germany came up with a “solution” to their Weimar problems.
That solution was Hitler…
Adolf and his posse sitting in prison after the Putsch, all hoping someone else offers to buy the next round of beers.