USA: TODAY’S WEIMAR REPUBLIC?
America is piling up debt like crazy. As of fiscal year 2013, our federal government was borrowing 46 cents of every dollar it spends, with seemingly no end in sight. Our national debt is almost $20 trillion, and unfunded liabilities are approaching a quarter of a quadrillion dollars. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there eventually will be an end. There has to be.
Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution: “No state shall emit bills of credit, make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts, coin money.” The Founding Fathers knew that irresponsible governments would print paper money, backed by nothing, overspend and devalue the currency, causing “inflation” and destroying the economy. But did we listen? Of course not.
In 1971, during the Nixon administration, we officially went off the gold standard and unpinned our paper money from anything of real or intrinsic value. George Santayana is quoted as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Many question the brilliance of the founders who have warned us of virtually every major mistake our country has made, yet still we don’t heed them.
Just last week we learned that president Obama has submitted a $4.14 trillion budget to Congress – the largest in the history of the world. We are not learning from mistakes of the past and seem certain to repeat them.
Just how bad could things get? We have only to look back about a century to witness one of the greatest financial collapses the world has ever known – that of the Weimar Republic of post World War I Germany. We haven’t been in the way-back machine in a while, so let’s strap in and take a ride back to 1914, or thereabouts.
To fund Germany’s war effort during World War I, the Kaiser and Parliament decided, without opposition, to fund the war entirely by borrowing. Great idea! They figured they could wrap up the war in very short order. They also figured they would win. They were wrong on both counts. Throughout the war, the currency exchange rate was approximately 8.9 German marks per dollar. Not bad. Remember this number.
After the war, the Treaty of Versailles required Germany to pay reparations, which accelerated the decline in the value of the mark, so by the end of 1919 more than 47 paper marks were required to buy one U.S. dollar. Bad, but not unmanageable.