Germany's financial collapse in the summer of 1931 was one of the biggest economic catastrophes of modern history. It led to a global panic, brought down the international monetary system, and turned a worldwide recession into a prolonged depression. The reason for the financial collapse was Germany's large pile of foreign debt denominated in gold currency which condemned the government to cut spending, raise taxes, and lower wages in the middle of a worldwide recession. As the political resistance to this austerity policy grew, the German government began to question its debt obligations, prompting foreign investors to panic and sell their German assets. The resulting currency crisis led to the failure of the already weakened banking system and a partial sovereign default.
Hitler managed to profit from the crisis, because he had been the most vocal critic of the reparation regime. As the financial system collapsed, his relentless attacks against foreign creditors and the alleged complicity of the German government resonated more than ever with the electorate.
In 1931, Tobias Straumann reveals the story of the fatal crisis, demonstrating how a debt trap contributed to the rapid financial and political collapse of a European country, and to the rise of the Nazi Party.
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Emergency executive powers gone wild
This book is roughly half finance, half politics. It traces the troubled tangle of those factors in 1929-31, leading into a spiral that changed German society very quickly. To me, this models a rough scenario for what could happen if, now, the world economy suffers (or key national economies suffer) a financial-economic buckling. Public panic could easily open a path for lots of ever-more stringent emergency decrees by executive officials, not patient decisions by parliaments. The rise of an ever-stronger centralized executive and the proliferation of "emergency" declarations and decrees can become quite likely, and probably very quickly. Things unfolded slower back in 1931, but still sped up alarmingly. The German people suffered many years more than I would expect populations to do now.
Right now (mid-2019) we came from a recent (circa 2016) scenario of expected global economic growth (and at last, post-2008 normalization of financial indicators) to one of the weaponizing of trade. Whether necessary or not (as the politics differ on this), this amounts to some degree of human-made and government-provoked crisis. We have a chief executive who will go straight, fast-forward, to confrontation and declare emergencies without hesitation. This poses a concern of a self-fulfilling prophecy where an "emergency"-and-financial-contraction feedback loop intensifies, hopefully not to run off the rails. That is one reason I am focusing on the moment in history skillfully laid out in this book.
There is a good mix here of personality portraits, banking events, and careful, nuanced descriptions generally. The story moves well. It is not seemingly crafted for maximum entertainment.
The narrator is quite good and I am pleased to hear careful and (I think) accurate pronunciation of non-English words and names. That should be a minimum standard for audiobooks.
2 people found this helpful
- J. M. Batista
... this is a book written from a novel analytic perspective and that refers a few rather less known but very fascinating characters. I just wished it was a longer book.