To much of the industrial world—especially to those engaged in commerce, trade, and enterprise—World War I seemed impossible to imagine beforehand, and like a bad dream as it happened. The British economist John Maynard Keynes, one of those who saw the war as a previously-unimaginable horror, was afterwards to write of the pre-World War I upper-class inhabitant of London:
for whom life offered, at a low cost and with the least trouble, conveniences, comforts, and amenities beyond the compass of the richest and most powerful monarchs of other ages...
And he wrote, the upper-class Londoner saw:
this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of economic and social life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice.
Read chapters 1 and 2 for five things:
- The magnitude of the crisis that Keynes thought faced Europe in 1919. What was that crisis, exactly?
- How extraordinarily fortunate Keynes saw Europeans as having been in the two generations before World War I began.
- What does Keynes see as the importance of economic (and social, and political) organization in Europe's pre-WWI blessings?
- What does Keynes see as the importance of psychology in Europe's pre-WWI blessings?
- Why does Keynes see the relationship between a prosperous Europe and its American colonies and ex-colonies as unstable as of the beginning of FWWI?
The overall picture is of an extraordinarily delicate but incredibly fragile system that had received an awful shock, and that needed immediate major surgery by sober technocratic experts. That's what Keynes thought that he and the rest of the British delegation were going to the peace conference at Versailles to do...