Governments have an insatiable appetite for the wealth of their subjects. When governments find it impossible to continue raising taxes or borrowing funds, they have invariably turned to printing paper money to finance their growing expenditures. The resulting inflations have often undermined the social fabric, ruined the economy, and sometimes brought revolution and tyranny in their wake. The political economy of the French Revolution is a tragic example of this.
This year marks one hundred years since the beginning of the First World War in the summer of 1914. The Great War, as it used to be called, brought great devastation in its wake. Millions of human lives were lost on the battlefields of Europe; vast amounts of accumulated wealth were consumed to cover the costs of combat; and battles and bombs left a large amount of physical capital in ruins. But the “war to end war,” as it was called, also resulted in another weapon of economic mass destruction – an orgy of paper-money inflations.