Edited by Chris Wrigley
Chapter 6: Legacy – War, Aftermath and the End of the Nineteenth-Century Liberal Trading Order, 1914–32
Andrew Marrison The 1920s were a decade of heightened national insecurity in which the legacy of the First World War was manifest not only in the interminable politico-economic wrangle over German reparations, but also in currency instability and an increased desire for economic autarky. Such factors were given further impetus by unequally rapid technological change and capacity extension in the emerging mass-production industries of the leading nations, at a time when export markets had lost their pre-war dynamism. Persistent conferences to liberalize trade relations under the auspices of the League of Nations yielded little beyond pious expressions of intent by participating countries, and by the later 1920s cynicism abounded. Policy-makers turned inwards even more violently as the world crisis of 1929–32 unfolded and ushered in what for most countries was a period of state intervention and control in the economy unparalleled in time of peace. BEFORE THE WAR In the 1920s, many, especially in Britain and America, looked back on the Edwardian years as an ideal in terms of economic stability and prosperity. World trade and world production had increased fairly steadily between 1870 and 1914, as the countries of Europe industrialized and as new primary producers overseas joined an expanding international economy. Expansion was underpinned by stable exchange rates during the relatively short heyday of the international gold standard, and a tremendous export of capital from Europe, especially from Britain. The image of an open international economy was reinforced by a virtual absence of regulation of the movement...
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