First, hyperinflation is a phenomenon of the modern era: with a single exception, every hyperinflation has occurred since the end of the first world war. The outlier is revolutionary France, where monthly inflation passed 300 per cent in the summer of 1796.
Second, three-quarters of these hyperinflations – 43 out of 56 – occurred in one of three clear historical clusters. The first cluster is central European states after the first world war. It provides the most famous hyperinflation in history: Weimar Germany. The second cluster is during or immediately after the second world war, and it includes history’s worst: Hungary in 1946. Those inflation rates defy comprehension – 41,900,000,000,000,000 per cent a month, compounded, is (I believe) an annual inflation rate with 178 digits. It makes more sense as 207 per cent a day.
The third cluster is that of Eastern bloc countries as the Soviet Union disintegrated, and it comprises over half of all the 20th century’s hyperinflations. These are all examples of hyperinflation going hand in hand with an extremely stressed political and social system. Most of the remaining examples, from Zimbabwe to late revolutionary France, exhibit that same stress.
There’s a lesson here: regardless of the fears of some US Republicans and German hard-money fans, hyperinflation is not produced by central bankers. It is the result of a total failure of the political system.
There are a few people who are simultaneously buying gold in expectation of hyperinflation in western economies and stockpiling bullets in anticipation of a calamity for western civilisation. I will give the survivalists this much credit: the scenarios are consistent. But calamity arrives first, and hyperinflation follows.