Reconstruction, Recovery, and Collapse, 1919–1933

  • Robert W. Oliver


The rapid reconstruction of an advanced economy devastated by war or natural disaster requires the rapid replacement of physical facilities destroyed or rendered obsolete. This requires external assistance, for the import requirements of a reconstructing economy, in comparison with the recent past, are temporarily greater, and the export capabilities, temporarily less. The maintenance of tolerable living standards during reconstruction also requires the temporary provision by external sources of the food and raw materials the reconstructing economy would have been able to provide, directly or through imports matched by exports, if the devastation had not occurred. If external assistance is not available, reconstruction may be difficult. A substantial alteration in the structure of the economy may be required, and this process may be painful and slow, particularly if the monetary system works badly as it did in much of Europe following World War I. But external assistance, adequately provided and wisely used, can provide the imports required for rapid reconstruction. Just as strategic bombing, by imposing bottlenecks in a production system, can cause a greater reduction in total production than the percentage of the stockpile of capital destroyed, so external assistance, by removing bottlenecks, can induce a more than proportionate increase in total production.


Exchange Rate Central Bank Federal Reserve Price Inflation Credit Expansion 
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  1. 1.
    It was not until 1923 in the case of the Allied and neutral nations of the Continent and until 1925 in the case of Europe as a whole that industrial production reached the level of 1913. See League of Nations, Europe’s Overseas Needs, 1919–1920, and How They Were Met (Geneva, 1943), p. 8. By the end of 1948, pre-World War II (1938) industrial production levels had been regained in most of Western Europe. See Organization for European Economic Co-operation, 6th Report of the O.E.E.C. (Paris, 1955), p. 247.Google Scholar
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    ‘Unquestionably, short-term interest rate differentials and exchange rate fluctuations within the gold points [italics added] played a dominant role in directing the flow of private short-term funds between gold standard countries, even if the degree of mobility of the funds so motivated has sometimes been exaggerated.’ Arthur I. Bloomfield, ‘Short-term Capital Movements under the Pre-1914 Gold Standard,’ Princeton Studies in International Finance, No. 11 (International Finance Section, Department of Economics, Princeton University, July, 1963), p. 90.Google Scholar
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    See Peter H. Lindert, ‘Key Currencies and Gold 1900–1913,’ Princeton Studies in International Finance, No. 24 (International Finance Section, Department of Economics, Princeton University, 1969). See also Robert Triffin, ‘The Evolution of the International Monetary System: Historical Reappraisal and Future Perspectives,’ Princeton Studies in International Finance, No. 12 (International Finance Section, Department of Economics, Princeton University, June, 1964).Google Scholar
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    John Maynard Keynes, ‘The Stabilization of the European Exchanges,’ Reconstruction in Europe — The Manchester Guardian Commercial, Section 1 (April 20, 1922), p. 5. Keynes also wrote: ‘I see no other solution of stabilization practicable now, except this traditional solution — namely, a gold standard in as many countries as possible.’Google Scholar
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    For detailed accounts of the events of this period, see Benjamin M. Anderson, Jr., Economics and Public Welfare (New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1939); William Adams Brown, Jr., The International Gold Standard Reinterpreted (2 vols.; New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1940); Hal B. Lary and Associates, The United States in the World Economy, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Department of Commerce, ‘Economic Series,’ No. 23 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1943); League of Nations, The Course and Control of Inflation (League of Nations, 1946); League of Nations, Commercial Policy in the Interwar Period: International Proposals and National Policies (Geneva, 1942); League of Nations, International Currency Experience (League of Nations, 1944); Committee on Finance and Industry (The Macmillan Committee), Report, 1931, Cmd. 3897 (London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1931); and Clarke, op. cit. See also League of Nations, The Financial Reconstruction of Austria (Geneva, 1926). For a brief account of the plan for Austrian reconstruction, see Information Section, League of Nations, The Financial Reconstruction of Austria (Geneva, 1923).Google Scholar
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    In Germany, for example, in 1926, following a difficult period of readjustment, there was a marked upturn in business activity which continued into 1928 when credit stringency was aggravated by the renewed reparations negotiations which led to the Young Plan and by a decline in long-term lending by foreigners (particularly Americans) to Germany. Difficulties continued and culminated in the famous credit panic of 1931. See Carl T. Schmidt, German Business Cycles, 1924–1933 (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1934). For a general account of economic conditions in Europe at this time, see League of Nations, The Course and Phases of the World Economic Depression (Geneva, 1931), pp. 13–115, particularly pp. 105–15 where the uneven economic conditions in Europe before 1927 are noted. However, ‘during the year 1927, the movement was much more uniform and general — internationally — than at any other time since the postwar depression. Currencies were stabilized and the gold standard or gold-exchange standards adopted by most of the countries which had not done so before. There was a clearly marked tendency toward expansion of production and trade.’ Ibid., p. 107.Google Scholar
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    The terminology ‘managed’ and ‘unmanaged’ is not entirely accurate. The question really is: What are the objectives of monetary management? For example, should money be managed so as to insure that the price level depends in the long run on the value of gold as a commodity? Should money be managed so as to insure that the value of each national currency is stable relative to other national currencies? See, e.g., Dennis H. Robertson, ‘How Do We Want Gold to Behave?’ The International Gold Problem, A Record of the Discussions of a Study Group of Members of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1929–31 (London: Humphrey Milford, 1931), pp. 18–24. An argument advanced by those who have advocated a world-wide gold standard has been that since ‘governing authorities lack wisdom, a managed currency will, sooner or later, come to grief.’ See John Maynard Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1924), p. 178. But some monetary ‘management’on the part of the Bank of England was required to maintain the gold standard during the nineteenth century. See Jacob Viner, ‘International Aspects of the Gold Standard,’ Gold and Monetary Stabilization, Lectures on the Harris Foundation, 1932 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932), pp. 3–39. See also Jacob Viner, ‘Clapham on the Bank of England,’ Economica, XII (May, 1945), p. 63: ‘It is a commonplace that England was during the nineteenth century the efficient manager of the international gold standard, and that the Bank of England was the agency through which this management was applied.’Google Scholar
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    During March and April, 1933, there took place in Great Britain an important debate in which Keynes sponsored the temporarily losing proposition that public finance should be used as an instrument of national recovery; and, since an unbalanced budget came to be associated with the New Deal in the United States, it has been conjectured that Keynes’ opinions on this subject were viewed with more favor in the United States than in Great Britain at this juncture of history. But Harrod has indicated his doubt on this score. See Harrod, op. cit., pp. 448–50.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 85. Several years later, in his Public Papers and Addresses, President Roosevelt wrote: After the conference met in London, it became more and more clear that the gold bloc nations were seeking action only to bring about a temporary and experimental stabilization affecting the relationship between their monies and monies of Great Britain and the United States, neither of which was at that time on a free gold basis … It is true that my radio message to the London Conference fell upon it like a bombshell. This was because the message was realistic at a time when the gold bloc nations were seeking a purely limited objective, and were unwilling to go to the root of national and international problems. The immediate result was a somewhat petulant outcry that I had wrecked the conference. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Public Papers and Addresses (New York: 1938), vol. II, p. 206; quoted by Crawford, op. cit., p. 56. At the time of the Conference, Keynes proclaimed the President to be ‘magnificently right,’ an opinion with which Professor Gustav Cassell of Sweden, among others, agreed. See Crawford, op. cit., p. 57.Google Scholar
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    The Gold Bloc consisted of the six countries still on the full gold standard: France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, and Poland.Google Scholar
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    For a statement on the experience of the Gold Bloc from 1933–36, see Professor Charles Rist, ‘Memorandum on the Depression Experiences of Gold Bloc Countries,’ The Improvement of Commercial Relations Between Nations and the Problems of Monetary Stabilization, Separate Memoranda from the Economists consulted by the Joint Committee of the Carnegie Endowment and the International Chamber of Commerce (Paris: International Chamber of Commerce, 1936), pp. 237–57.Google Scholar

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