This infographic supplies, for the first time, a chronological hyperinflation chart that contains all 57 episodes of hyperinflation, (including several which had previously gone unreported.)
Let’s start from the beginning.
What is hyperinflation?
“By a continuing process of inflation, government can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.” – Economist John Maynard Keynes
Hyperinflation is not simply an increase in the money supply; after all the Federal Reserve has been increasing the money supply since 1913. Hyperinflation is an extremely rapid (and uncontrollable) period of inflation historically due to unrestrained printing of fiat currency.
However, hyperinflation isn’t just the expansion of the monetary base, (although the expansion is at the root.) Ultimately, uncertainty in the future worth of the currency causes people to panic and start trading it for things of actual utility and more reliable stores of value as soon as they can. The velocity of paper money increases as people seek to get rid of it but conflagration doesn’t begin until the herd panics.
How does hyperinflation happen?
The simplest explanation is the U.S. Government borrows money into existence from the independent Federal Reserve system and then spends it.
Although the Federal Reserve system and the U.S. Government are technically separate entities they collude with each other all the time. For example, if American citizens or foreigners won’t buy bonds, (and if raising taxes isn’t enough,) the Federal Reserve is always there to step in.
The Federal Reserve can increase the monetary base as much as it pleases because ultimately it is the only entity that issues national fiat currency. Historically it will then use that fiat currency to buy bonds from the government so that it can keep spending money. This type of legerdemain would be counterfeiting if anyone else tried it, when the Federal Reserve does it economists call it “Quantitative Easing” (QE) or stimulus.
It is very important for all of this economic stimulus to stay trapped in the system. Otherwise, hyperinflation takes off when the citizens have too much currency all chasing the same amount of goods and services. Ultimately this is the reason independent central banks have a bias to keep liquidity trapped in the major equity indices and keep interest rates artificially low for long periods of time.