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The Conundrum of Rising Prices in Hungary, 1900-1918

A paper presented at the History of Crisis Research Group seminar

Place and date: Eötvös University (ELTE), Budapest, 22 October 2015.

Mátyás Erdélyi (CEFRES & CEU) presented a paper on the public debate over the increase of consumer prices in Hungary between the turn of the century and the aftermath of the Great War. Although the phenomenon of rising prices, drágaság in Hungarian or Teuerung in German, seemed to affect all social strata, especially the urban population, there did not exist any consensus on how to define and measure it, who and what to blame, and how to remedy the situation before the turn of the century. Consensus, it seems, was only reached over the fact that the increase of prices was harmful to the existing social order and therefore had to be restrained. In this setting, first, the paper investigates how a monetary phenomenon, defined as such by most economic historians, could be conceptualized by contemporaries as a “social problem” that invited contributions from various experts, professionals, and academics, although with a clearly defined hierarchy of prestige and thus competence; second, it examines how the process of pluralizing the public debate led to a detrimental incapacity to find countermeasures on the part of the government.

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