Economic Disasters of the Twentieth Century

Economic Disasters of the Twentieth Century

Edited by Michael J. Oliver and Derek H. Aldcroft

The First and Second World Wars, the great depression, oil shocks, inflation, financial crises, stock market crashes, the collapse of the Soviet command economy and Third World disasters are discussed in this comprehensive book. The contributors subject these disasters to in-depth assessment, carefully considering their costs and impact on specific countries and regions, as well as assessing them in a global context. The book examines the legacy of economic disasters and asks whether economic disasters are avoidable or whether policymakers can learn from their mistakes.


Michael J. Oliver and Derek H. Aldcroft

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, financial economics and regulation, money and banking


Michael J. Oliver and Derek H. Aldcroft What epitaph should we give to the twentieth century? The philosopher and historian, Sir Isaiah Berlin, once described it as ‘the most terrible century in Western history’ while Eric Hobsbawm (1994) gave it the unpropitious title of ‘the age of extremes’. Compared with the previous century, ‘The Twentieth century . . . is a confusion of emergencies, disasters, improvisations, and artificial expedients. One passes in a few weeks of 1914 from a quiet stream, as it were, to white water’ (Landes 1969, 359). A more unkind epitaph would be to label it ‘the age of the common man’. This was the term used by Noel Coward in the mid-1950s to describe England, though for America he felt it was ‘definitely the age of the crazy-mixed-up kid’ (Payn and Morley 1998, 342, 351). One could go even further and describe it as ‘the century of the common man and slob culture’, epitomized surely by the way an insignificant corporal came for a time to dominate the continent of Europe and by the mass vulgarity and decline in social mores and family values of the latter half of the century. Whatever one’s personal predilection, few would dissent from view that it was a violent century: three super-monsters alone, Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for over 100 million deaths, while the frequent wars and military conflicts in the Third World together with the Great War may have accounted for...