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  • It’s Finally Over (sort of)

    Posted by David Foster on September 29th, 2010 (All posts by )

    The First World War, that is.

    The Telegraph reports that Germany has made the final payment on its reparation obligations for World War I. (Actually, it appears that the payments being made by Germany since the end of WWII were not technically the reparations themselves, but rather repayment of bonds that were issued under Weimar to help fund the reparations. See this link.)

    A Cato writer says: As Keynes rightly predicted, the unreasonably high French demands for financial reparations led to German economic weakness. The end result was hyperinflation, which was one of the principal causes of Hitler’s rise to power and the start of the Second World War. In spite of losing two world wars, Germany did eventually become the most powerful nation in Europe — through trade, capitalism and German ingenuity.

    Actually, the hyperinflation was by no means the inevitable result of the reparations payment—these would have been burdensome and painful to Germany regardless of how the economy was managed, but it was the severe mismanagement of economic policy that caused hyperinflation to result. See my post an architect of hyperinflation.

    Germans deserve great credit for their remarkable economic performance in recent decades, but, as Glenn Reynolds notes–and the Cato article did not–the U.S. military umbrella played an important part in enabling this to happen. The Marshall Plan was also a significant factor in the postwar recovery.

    The social and political effects of the Great War are, of course, still very much with us.

     

    9 Responses to “It’s Finally Over (sort of)”

    1. Robert Schwartz Says:

      This story may be apocryphal:

      Henry Kissinger was in China in 1972, laying the groundwork for President Nixon’s visit. At a meeting with Chinese prime minister Chou En-Lai, Mr. Mr. Kissinger asked the prime minister if he believed that the 1789 French Revolution had been a success. After mulling over the question for a few minutes, Chou En-Lai replied, “too soon to tell.”

      As it turned out, 1968 was the last act of the French Revolution, and 1989 and the Collapse of the Soviet Union were the final curtain.

      Here in the US it is reasonable to ask if the Civil War is over yet. Was the election of a black president the last act, or do we have a way to go. Is the last Confederate widow still collecting a pension?

      I recall a historian I once read (but not his name), who posited that the basic unit of memory was the grandfather’s time. We can know our grandfathers, and their memories can influence our world view, and so with our grandchildren. That would be 5 generations, maybe 150 years. We are at 150 on the Civil War, 220 on the French Revolution, 92 on the Great War, 65 on WWII.

    2. Joseph Fouche Says:

      At last, peace in our time.

    3. David Foster Says:

      “the basic unit of memory was the grandfather’s time”…this is true absent effective institutions for the transmission of cultural memory…even cultures without literacy usually have strong oral traditions, and literate ones have of course the teaching of history using books.

      There was a letter in Financial Times the other day from someone who had talked with a group of college graduates and found almost none of them knew who Lord Nelson was. In this country, David McCullough, speaking with an audience of 25 **history majors**, found that none of them knew who George Marshall was.

    4. Dan from Madison Says:

      “In this country, David McCullough, speaking with an audience of 25 **history majors**, found that none of them knew who George Marshall was.” – holy cow!

    5. David Foster Says:

      Dan…he said it was at a well-known school, too!

    6. Lexington Green Says:

      Inwas talking last night to some of my undergrad fraternity brothers at the U of C. They are a very good group of young men. But it was clear they knew very little history. They did not really even know the rough shape of the past, meaning what the major events were and when and where they occurred. They are taking B School courses as undergrads and all want to go into investment banking. A regrettable misdirection of our highest grade human capital.

    7. Mrs. Davis Says:

      Dartmouth!

      History is not just a subject that ought to be taught or read because it will make us a better citizen, although it will. Nor should we encourage young people to embrace history only because it creates more thoughtful and understanding human beings. Nor should we only share stories about the past because we will behave better. History should be taught for pleasure. The joy of history, like art or music or literature, consists of an expansion of the experience of being alive. And that is what education is largely about.

      Adapted from a speech given by the author. Courtesy of Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI.

    8. Jim Bennett Says:

      I believe the last Civil War widows’ pensions were paid out in the past decade. Are there any Spanish-America War or Philippine Insurrection widows out there? We will be paying WWI widows pensions for some time to come yet, I suspect.

    9. Scott Eudaley Says:

      There was a letter in Financial Times the other day from someone who had talked with a group of college graduates and found almost none of them knew who Lord Nelson was. In this country, David McCullough, speaking with an audience of 25 **history majors**, found that none of them knew who George Marshall was.

      It is not just history and not just the students. From a comment of mine at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

      I’ve lived in and around Berkeley for almost 30 years. I’ve met English professors who’ve read little Shakespeare (dead white guy). I’ve met philosophy professors who have read little Aristotle (another dead white guy). I’ve met Economics professors who’ve never (never!) read Bastiat, Schumpeter, Bohm-Bawerk, von Mises or Hayek (a host of dead white guys). I’ve met American History professors who’ve never read Montesqieu or Locke (among the worst of the dead white guys). I’m continually amazed at how ignorant some professors are about their own fields. The American people have noticed.