... If modernity is characterized by a loss of the sense of the real, this fact is connected to what has happened to money in the twentieth century. Everything threatens to become unreal once money ceases
to be real. I said that a strong sense of counterfeit reality prevails in "Disorder and Early Sorrow." That fact is ultimately to be traced to the biggest counterfeiter of them all - the government and its printing presses. Hyperinflation occurs when a government starts printing all the money it wants, that is to say, when the government becomes a counterfeiter. Inflation is that moment when as a result of government action the distinction between real money and fake money begins to dissolve. That is why inflation has such a corrosive effect on society. Money is one of the primary measures of value in any society, perhaps the primary one, the principal repository of value. As such, money is a central source of stability, continuity, and coherence in any community. Hence to tamper with the basic money supply is to tamper with a community's sense of value. By making money worthless, inflation threatens to undermine and dissolve all sense of value in a society. Thus Mann suggests a connection between inflation and nihilism.
Perhaps in no society has nihilism ever been as prevalent an attitude as it was in Weimar Germany; it was reflected in all the arts, and ultimately in politics. It would of course be wrong to view this nihilism as solely the product of an inflationary environment. Obviously Weimar Germany faced many other problems, some the legacy of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, some the legacy of nineteenth-century German thinkers such a s Nietzsche. But as Mann's story reminds us, we should not underestimate the role of inflation in creating the pervasive sense of nihilism in Weimar Germany. A glance at the back of an American dollar bill shows two phrases: "United States of America" and "In God We Trust." Somehow our money is connected with our political and even our religious beliefs. Shake a people's faith in their money, and you will shake their other faiths a s well. This problem has become particularly acute in the twentieth century, because ours is the age of paper money, money that has to be taken on faith alone. That is why we have to put "In God We Trust" on the back of our dollars; nobody really trusts the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. In "Disorder and Early Sorrow," Mann invites us to consider what happens to our lives when we are forced to take our money purely on faith and that faith is betrayed by the government.