In 1920, after the first World War, John M. Keynes wrote “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” on his dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles and calls out to those who are drafting the treaty to think of the potential economic consequences it would have on Germany and Europe as a whole. Keynes was an established economist in England and most notably would revolutionize the ideas seen in macroeconomics. Throughout the chapter Keynes writes in a style of urgency and fear as he sees the stability of Europe at risk.
Right from the beginning of the chapter, Keynes believes the treaty does not promote the idea of ‘good neighbors’ for the defeated states. He believes the arrangement reached in Paris was not based on the future of economics in Europe, but rather on political folly ((Keynes, Economic Consequences of Peace)) . After such a dramatic and long war, it seems that the victorious states wanted to extensively punish those who stood against them in the so called ‘heat of the moment’, without taking account of its long-term effects. Keynes goes on to express how European countries have become economically interdependent on each other and how this treaty would disrupt each country’s economy ((Keynes, Economic Consequences of Peace)) . With declining trade and commerce comes a lower standard of living, or even the possibility of starvation. On the topic of starvation, Keynes makes the statement, ” Men will not always die quietly”, inferring that revolution and instability could develop in certain countries.
Keynes is very concerned with how the treaty will specifically effect Germany, stating that those who sign this treaty will be responsible for the death of millions of Germans. The treaty would cause Germany to lose all of its colonies, merchant fleet and foreign investments ((Keynes, Economic Consequences of Peace)) . In basic economic terms, the demand of the German people will become greater than what can be supplied according to Keynes. He predicts that Germany will regress in its industrial development, and as a result negatively impact the rest of Europe.
I find this reading to be related to the discussion we had in class about the effects of propaganda. It seems that the allied powers could not forgive the countries they had defeated and still viewed them as barbarians or inhuman.
Were the conditions in the Treaty of Versailles towards Germany too harsh after WWI? Do wars need propaganda?
John Maynard Keynes, an English economist, wrote his piece ‘The Economic Consequences of the Peace’ in 1920. It was a reaction to the Treaty of Versailles which ended World War I. Keynes seems adamant in his prose that Europe was excessively punished following the Great War, seen when he wrote “This treaty will sign the death sentence of many millions of German men, women and children” ((Keynes, ‘The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1920)). Keynes wrote with the Allies as his audience as they were the authors of this treaty and should be held responsible for these ramifications. The intent of this work was to underscore how excessively the treaty would reduce Europe’s power economically, with “no provisions for the economic rehabilitation of Europe” ((Keynes, ‘The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1920)). This statement alludes to Keynes’ message that not only will Germany be set up for future failure, but also the whole of Europe.
After shifting from agricultural to industrial with the Industrial Revolution, Europe was no longer capable of supporting its population’s food demands in its own; it required outside help through the purchase of food through trade. And without the financial assets to do so, Keynes predicted the future prevalence of famines and the death of millions of Germans.
Keynes writes in defense of Germany mainly because he is a European. With the livelihood of one of Europe’s largest powers in jeopardy and so much on the rest of the continent at stake, Keynes’ only option is to make the Allies aware of the drastic measures enforced and their implications across Europe.
As we see shortly after the Treaty of Versailles, the United States was struck by the Great Depression which affected Europe in some critically negative ways as well. Would have or could have these effects on Europe lessen if the doctrine of the Treaty of Versailles were less debilitating and shown a little more forgiveness towards Germany? Do you have any thoughts as to why these reparations and reductions were so excessive?
The language used in Nikolai II’s abdication says quite a bit about the man himself. Though he led Russia through a period of strife and turmoil, he uses clever writing and unclear statements to try to avoid being blamed for any of Russia’s issues.
Right from the start, Nikolai is trying to throw blame off of himself by saying, “We” before using his actual name. This promotes the idea that he was not solely responsible for the strife of the Russian people. Following this, in the second paragraph he says, “…it pleased God to send Russia a further painful trial.” when referring to the February Revolution and the unhappiness of the Russian people. He uses this sentence immediately after he spoke of Russia struggling against a powerful enemy in a bloody war, associating the nation of Russia struggling militarily against a hated foe with the “internal troubles” that had begun in Russia. This clearly throws the blame onto the revolution that is forcing his abdication.
Next, he states that the people must, “…conduct [the war] at all costs to a victorious end.” This subtly implies that if the people continue to do that which he began, they will be victorious, and it also implies that the losses that incurred in the war are not due to his leadership or decisions. He continues this by saying that, “The cruel enemy is making his last efforts and the moment is near when our valiant Army… will finally overthrow the enemy.” This clearly implies that Russia is not struggling in the war at all; instead, it tells the reader that the Russian military is nearing victory and that the war will be won because of the leadership of Nikolai.
These are some of the many examples of deceptive language that Nikolai uses in his abdication letter so that he may absolve himself of blame and escape from punishment by the Russian people.
In this article, Keynes talks about the Treaty of Versailles, and it’s failure to address the economic issues of a post-Great War Europe. He states that victorious Allied powers fail to realize that the stability of Europe, and thereby the stability of both France and Britain as well, is reliant on a complicated system of continental and global trade, which the Treaty attempts to disintegrate.
He focusses on Germany and uses them as a representative of post-war Europe. He believes that the booming population levels, in relation to the rapidly increasing pre-war industrial levels, would not be able to survive with the territorial and financial sanctions the Treaty proposes. His prediction is proven by Mazower in his text “Dark Continent”. Mazower states that because the smaller Central and European nations did not have sufficient resources, they suffered in the post-Great War period. It was only with American loans were they able to initially recover, and thus through American liquidation during the Great Depression they were thrown back into economic turmoil. Alternatively, Russia was self-sufficient during the interwar period, and thus was an economic success, admittedly with a large human cost (Mazower, p.124-5). Finally, Mazower states that while autarky was a good short term plan, in the long run it was detrimental to the Russian economy (Mazower, p.119), especially in comparison to the trading-centric post-World War Two continental economies.
While Keynes’ criticisms are economically valid, he fails to address the volatile political situation of 1919. A perfect example of this revenge-based politics is the War guilt clause written into the Treaty of Versailles. This was unnecessary addition economically, but was an important political addition, especially to the democratic governments in Britain and France. In my opinion, Keynes, while economically correct, fails to acknowledge the context of the Treaty signing, and thus fails to provide viable alternative solutions.