The Economic Consequences of the Peace eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 207 pages of information about The Economic Consequences of the Peace.

When first the virgin soils of America came into bearing, the proportions of the population of those continents themselves, and consequently of their own local requirements, to those of Europe were very small.  As lately as 1890 Europe had a population three times that of North and South America added together.  But by 1914 the domestic requirements of the United States for wheat were approaching their production, and the date was evidently near when there would be an exportable surplus only in years of exceptionally favorable harvest.  Indeed, the present domestic requirements of the United States are estimated at more than ninety per cent of the average yield of the five years 1909-1913.[5] At that time, however, the tendency towards stringency was showing itself, not so much in a lack of abundance as in a steady increase of real cost.  That is to say, taking the world as a whole, there was no deficiency of wheat, but in order to call forth an adequate supply it was necessary to offer a higher real price.  The most favorable factor in the situation was to be found in the extent to which Central and Western Europe was being fed from the exportable surplus of Russia and Roumania.

In short, Europe’s claim on the resources of the New World was becoming precarious; the law of diminishing returns was at last reasserting itself and was making it necessary year by year for Europe to offer a greater quantity of other commodities to obtain the same amount of bread; and Europe, therefore, could by no means afford the disorganization of any of her principal sources of supply.

Much else might be said in an attempt to portray the economic peculiarities of the Europe of 1914.  I have selected for emphasis the three or four greatest factors of instability,—­the instability of an excessive population dependent for its livelihood on a complicated and artificial organization, the psychological instability of the laboring and capitalist classes, and the instability of Europe’s claim, coupled with the completeness of her dependence, on the food supplies of the New World.

The war had so shaken this system as to endanger the life of Europe altogether.  A great part of the Continent was sick and dying; its population was greatly in excess of the numbers for which a livelihood was available; its organization was destroyed, its transport system ruptured, and its food supplies terribly impaired.

It was the task of the Peace Conference to honor engagements and to satisfy justice; but not less to re-establish life and to heal wounds.  These tasks were dictated as much by prudence as by the magnanimity which the wisdom of antiquity approved in victors.  We will examine in the following chapters the actual character of the Peace.


[1] In 1913 there were 25,843 emigrants from Germany, of whom 19,124 went to the United States.

[2] The net decrease of the German population at the end of 1918 by decline of births and excess of deaths as compared with the beginning of 1914, is estimated at about 2,700,000.

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The Economic Consequences of the Peace from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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