Coming to a closer view of the question, we must distinguish between the immediate effects of the war which are already in evidence and the ultimate effects which will but begin to unfold themselves after the return of peace. Some of the latter results will grow out of the immediate effects; others will be more directly due to the events following on the conclusion of the war. It will also be advisable to distinguish between the economic reactions of the war, and the broader social consequences. At such an early stage it would be presumptuous and tempting Providence to attempt to forecast the future in any detail or to try to trace the play and interplay of the various forces going towards the making of the future. This chapter will be concerned with broad tentative generalisations on quite simple lines.
One of the things which struck the intelligent working man during the early days of the war was the rapidity with which the State acted in the face of the crisis. In next to no time large measures of State control and action were put successfully into operation and those who had advocated co-operative action in the past with but indifferent success were amazed at the swiftness with which the nation can act in the hour of need. The drastic action of the State cannot be better illustrated than by the steps which were taken to meet the sudden commercial deadlock which the war precipitated. A discussion of these financial measures will at the same time enable us to understand how, through credit, war strikes at the industry and trade of the modern world.
The Austrian ultimatum to Servia was followed by the paralysis of the world’s international system of finance. Before the end of July many important stock exchanges were closed, and by the 31st the London Stock Exchange for the first time in its history was also compelled to close. The remittance market collapsed and with it the fabric of international trade. Widespread bankruptcy and ruin seemed imminent; so serious did the state of affairs become that moratoria were declared not only in several European countries but in parts of America, and in many continental countries specie payments were suspended. In a word, the possibility of war had thrown the delicately poised credit system of the commercial world out of gear; the declaration of war had brought it to a standstill. Into an explanation of its working it is not possible to enter; it is sufficient for our immediate purpose to realise that the foreign exchange machinery by which the supply of commodities from other countries becomes practicable on a large scale was for a time altogether unworkable. London as the financial centre of the world has immense sums owing to it and in its turn owes large sums. The ultimate effect of the collapse of credit, which depends on confidence, was that London could neither receive nor make payment.