Born - Einstein Correspondence
Einstein seated 1st row, Born seated 2nd row
Einstein's fame is such that he requires no introduction. And given the state of today's economy, inflation probably needs no explanation. Max Born on the other hand may not be so well known. Born was one of the great theoretical physicists. Maybe it is enough to note Born introduced the statistical interpretation of the wave function. For his seminal research in quantum mechanics Born was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics. A little known fact about Born was that his grand-daughter was the singer Olivia Newton-John.
The correspondence of Einstein and Born has been collected and put into a book "The Born-Einstein Letters 1916-1955". The letters are commented on by Born himself. Usually I read such books to learn these great men's insights on science. I find it instructive to learn what they were thinking as they developed their theories, as these things don't usually find their way into the textbooks.
It was therefore an unexpected surprise to find a letter from Born to Einstein lamenting inflation, something we are all dealing with now:
|21 October, 1921|
In writing to you today I address the mighty Director of the Institute of Physics of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society about the X-ray equipment we applied for. Franck has already told you how things are. In the meantime, something has happened. About ten days ago a representative of the Veifa-Werke was here and he made the following offer: if we order at once, the firm will supply the equipment we want at the current price. We could, however, cancel the order before October 31st (3 week's grace) should no decision have arrived from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society by then. If the order were placed later, we would be subject to the full price increase casused by currency devaluation, which would amount to 50 percent (!!!). We have accepted this proposal and placed our order in hope that confirmation of the grant will arrive from the Kaiser Wilhem Society within three weeks. The deadline, October 31st is approaching and we are still waiting. Pohl and Franck have asked me to write to you and ask what the position really is and whether we should cancel the order on October 31st or whether the grant is certain enough for us to let the order stand. It would be a great pity if we received the 100,000 M, but so late that the cost of the equipment had increased to 150,000 M. Maybe the decision could be speeded up a little.
And Born's later commentary on the inflation:
The financial matters mentioned are practically incomprehensible today. One has to remember that the inflation of the German currency was beginning. A drop of one half in the value of money may have taken about two to three months at that time. Later on it took only as many days. Hence our troubles with the purchase of the X-ray equipment. Officialdom and public coorporations did not understand the situation. The courts supported the currency catastrophe by rigid judgements. I myself lost the greater part of my inheritance. A man who owed me money on a mortgage sent me the entire nominal value of the mortgage (50,000 M, I believe) in one single note of the inflated currency which was actually worth 1 M at the time. This was held to be legal. The High Court had decided that a mark is a mark. After such experiences as this, my faith in the wisdom of financial and legal experts, instilled into me during my upbringing as the son of middle-class parents, was very much weakened. However, at the time when Franck and I moved to Gottingen, things were not quite as bad as that -- yet. Even so, we had to expend a considerable amount of time and energy in order to keep the institute going. It was even worse for our wives; they were forced to convert our salaries into food, clothing, and other necessities immediately. But I am digressing.
Fascinating stuff, and not mentioned in the textbooks...