Europe’s Economies after the First World War

When the Allies met in Paris to negotiate the terms for peace after the First World War, their main goal was ostentatiously to create stability in Europe, but each representative came to the table with his own specific interests in mind. This led to major issues in the Treaty of Versailles, such as its questionable economic feasibility. In his book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes discusses how the preoccupation of the Allies caused them to deal with economic issues using politics and without considering the future of Europe’s economies. While the Treaty of Versailles set many future events in motion, the economic turmoil it created was the most dramatic and disastrous effect it had on the European Continent.

As Mark Mazower writes in Dark Continent, “After the Great War, Europe’s economic life was in chaos.” He goes on to describe the hunger and rapidly falling prices that ensued in Europe following the war. (Mazower 104) Keynes elaborates on the same point, stating that, “In relation to other continents Europe is not self-sufficient; in particular it cannot feed itself.” The people of the industrialized cities of Europe need to obtain supplies like food from outside their cities if they are going to survive. When war breaks out, these supply lines are broken, and because of “… the interruption of the stream of supplies, a part of this population is deprived of its means of livelihood.”(Keynes) After the war, no agreement to eliminate economic tariffs is made, as was suggested by President Wilson in his Fourteen Points, causing even more economic stress in Europe.

A large part of the economic wrongdoing in the Treaty of Versailles was directed at Germany. Not only did Germany have to accept blame for the war, it also had to pay reparations to the Allies for the damage it caused. Germany was also stripped of its colonies, leaving it little economic prospect for paying the Allies.  In response to these terms in the treaty, Count Brockdorff-Rantzau identified that the terms of the peace treaty would literally and economically starve Germany, and that, “Those who sign this Treaty will sign the death sentence of many millions of German men, women and children” (Keynes).

The Treaty of Versailles possessed many economic faults, and, writing in 1920, Keynes foreshadows many of the consequences that these faults will have on Europe. The treaty doesn’t help to restore Europe’s economic vitality or create stability in Central Europe, leaving Europe liable for depression and bloodshed.

Mazower Critical Summary

In Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent, Chapters one to four serve as a strong introduction to the cultural, political and economic problems that plagued inter-war Europe. Mazower argues that the growth of fascism, nationalism, bureaucracy, and new economic systems came as a counter-reaction to the failures of democracy and capitalism in post-World War I Europe. Arguing that because of the slow-pace of democracy and the economic failures that the Treaty of Versailles brought, revolutionaries mobilized the population and seized control of the governments, instituting radical reforms and changes in all aspects of life-social, political and economic which guided Europe to recover and another world war. While Mazower does do an excellent job of balancing a generalization of Europe and using specific examples; however, these examples tend to focus on Germany and Russia too much at certain points. While his use of these general outliers do help to show the extremes that Europe faced during these critical years, they do not add anything to his thematic arguments or prove his generalizations of the continent.

Dark Continent has the benefit of coming after the collapse of the Soviet Union which allowed Mazower and other historians access to documents previously unavailable. This helps to create the impact that Mazower’s work has on the general historical community. Mazower relies primarily on secondary accounts mainly from the 1970s and 1980s with some outliers in the 1960s and 1990s as well. His primary sources are limited, but when they are used, specific examples and quotes are used to bolster his argument.

The major issue with Dark Continent is the problems of length and organization. In order to provide clarity, Mazower organizes his topics thematically rather than chronologically. In order for the reader to properly follow this text, a companion text emphasizing the chronology of events in inter-war Europe is extremely helpful, allowing the reader to better understand the relationship between Mazower’s themes and the overall history between the wars. However, because Mazower analyzes overarching trends in those years, the way he organizes his text is quite understandable.

Overall, Mazower adds an interesting perspective to the changes of inter-war Europe, bringing new light to a period which primarily emphasis the actual events rather than the thematic trends one sees during those years.

Sustainability: Internalizing the Economics of Society

“An activity is sustainable when all costs are internalized, because if the costs are too high, the activities stop. Low gas prices lead to more Hummers; taxing gas in some fashion to pay for environmental remediation makes sense, and is a pro-sustainability approach. This version of sustainability applies not only to the environment: labor practices are unsustainable if they breed unrest (or revolution) or fail to develop the labor force; additives that extend product shelf life are unsustainable if they diminish human life; corporate presence in a town may be unsustainable if the tax breaks that attracted the facility mean that it is not paying enough to keep the community thriving.” –Christopher Meyer (HBR Blog Network)

Sustainability, although typically used as an environmental term, can apply to all aspects of society. I find that the quote above accurately depicts the definition of sustainability, as it refers it as a much broader concept. Specifically, this article elucidates sustainability as a solid economic foundation. Sustainability is examined from an environmental standpoint while still mentioning the pertinent economic underpinning. The author also talks about the correlation between demand for products and the cost of those products. A particularly interesting segment of this author’s definition is the discussion of labor practices. It is intriguing to look at sustainability from a labor perspective, for this is the groundwork of a functioning and prosperous society. However, as the author mentions, a prosperous society does not necessarily equal a sustainable society. The key is to keep costs internalized and to avoid an overbearing corporate presence. This is sustainability.