World War I: Why the Allies won
Stephen Broadberry 11 November 2014
In the massive circumstances of total war, economic factors play the deciding role. Historians emphasise size in explaining the outcome of WWI, but this column argues that quality mattered as well as quantity. Developed countries mobilised resources in disproportion to their economic size – the level of development acted as a multiplier. With their large peasant sectors, the Central Powers could not maintain agricultural output as wartime mobilisation redirected resources from farming. The resulting urban famine undermined the supply chain behind the war effort.
The role of economic factors
How much power do economic factors have in deciding the struggle for global power? To explain the outcome of WWI economic historians stress the increasingly mechanised nature of warfare, waged for years on end by massed forces. They emphasise things like numbers of tanks, guns, ships, airplanes and ammunition, or aggregate indices of munitions production. Military historians object that this leaves no room for factors such as leadership, discipline, heroism, or villainy.
Development Economic history Europe's nations and regions
WWI, famine, total war
The halo of victory: What Americans learned from World War I
Hugh Rockoff 04 October 2014
World War I profoundly altered the structure of the US economy and its role in the world economy. However, this column argues that the US learnt the wrong lessons from the war, partly because a halo of victory surrounded wartime policies and personalities. The methods used for dealing with shortages during the war were simply inappropriate for dealing with the Great Depression, and American isolationism in the 1930s had devastating consequences for world peace.
World War I had important consequences for the structure of the US economy and its role in the world economy. This was especially true in the world of finance. The US transitioned from being a debtor nation to a creditor nation, and financial leadership moved from London to New York. But equally important were the lessons that Americans drew from the war. Although the war had much to teach, Americans tended, I will argue below, to learn too much from the war, drawing strong conclusions from a war in which the US was actively engaged for only 19 months.
Competition policy Economic history
World War I, WWI, planning, rationing, New Deal, Great Depression, fiscal policy, monetary policy, stimulus, financial crisis, conscription, inflation, unemployment, price controls, Competition policy, antitrust, National Industrial Recovery Act
Endowments for war in 1914
Avner Offer 19 September 2014
Victory in World War I relied on three types of energy: renewable energy for food and fodder, fossil energy, and high explosive. This column argues that the Allies had a clear advantage in manpower, coal, and agriculture, but not enough for a quick decision. Mobilisation in continental economies curtailed food production, occasionally to a critical level. Technical competition was a matter of capacity for innovation, not of particular breakthroughs. Coercive military service and rationing of scarce energy and food had egalitarian consequences that continued after the war.
World War I was a mistake. Its consequences were not part of anybody’s expectations (excepting Stead and Bloch 1899) – certainly not of those who set it off, although there was an undertone of fatalism in their decisions (Offer 1995). If one side had possessed an unassailable superiority, then there would have been no call for war. The war’s duration indicates that the sides were matched, that the outcome was uncertain, and that instigating war was therefore a colossal gamble – and, as it turned out, a bad one. The decisions for war were irresponsible, incompetent, and worse.
Economic history Energy
WWI, World War I, war, imperialism, nationalism, energy, Agriculture, technology, technological change, innovation, conscription, Inequality, rationing
Lessons from the financial preparations in the lead-up to the first world war
Harold James 09 July 2014
The 1907 panic affected the world, demonstrating the fragility of the international financial system. This column discusses the steps the US and Germany took in fortifying their financial systems following 1907. There is a link between the financial crisis and the escalation of diplomatic relations that led to war in 1914. And this link has implications for today as the world is recovering from the 2008 crisis.
The 1907 panic emanated from the US but affected the rest of the world and demonstrated the fragility of the whole international financial order. The aftermath of the 1907 crash drove the then hegemonic power – Great Britain – to reflect on how it could use its financial power. There is a close link between the aftermath of a great financial crisis and the escalation of diplomatic tensions that led to war in 1914.
Germany, US, WWI, Great Britain
August 1914 and the end of unrestricted mass migration
Drew Keeling 23 June 2014
When nations declared war in 1914, migration policies changed. This column describes some of these changes and how they affected later migration incentives and patterns. Before 1914, migration had been peaceful and driven by market incentives. Since 1914, it has been shaped by politically determined quotas, legal restrictions, and flights from wars and oppression.
The war declarations of August 1914 spelled far-reaching alteration to the fundamental character of modern long-distance international mass migration. For most of the preceding century, in the majority of big economies international human relocation had been largely peaceful, voluntary, and motivated by market incentives. Since 1914, it has been mostly shaped by politically determined quotas and legal restrictions, or driven by flight from war, oppression or similarly fearsome dangers and disasters (Hatton and Williamson 2005, Massey 2000).
WWI, migration policies changes
Four myths about the Great War of 1914-1918
Mark Harrison 03 June 2014
The Great War offers lessons for today. But this column argues from recent research that many so-called lessons are misunderstood. Secretive, authoritarian regimes become dangerous when they fear the future. Deterrence matters. Other aspects also demand re-evaluation.
As its centennial approaches, the events of the Great War have worldwide resonance. Most obviously, is China the Germany of today? Will China’s rise, unlike Germany’s, remain peaceful? The journalist Gideon Rachman wrote last year (Financial Times, February 4, 2013):
“The analogy [of China today] with Germany before the first world war is striking … It is, at least, encouraging that the Chinese leadership has made an intense study of the rise of great powers over the ages – and is determined to avoid the mistakes of both Germany and Japan.”
Economic history Europe's nations and regions
Germany, WWI, Versailles treaty, reparations