There is much talk this year about WWI and its causes. Contrary to what one might think, at the beginning of 1914 few people could conceive of a serious conflict. The current events in Ukraine have increased the interest even further, since almost daily parallels are drawn between then and now – some justified, some less so. Moreover, with every analysis each author reveals his implicit personal and usually overly simplistic (“the good and the bad guys”) reading of history.
WWI really was a watershed event in history in many ways. The end of the great european monarchies is one of those big game-changers that is often quoted, resulting in multi-decade long chaos in the young democracies on the continent, with the well-known consequences. Are there parallels to be drawn to the turmoil in still comparably young democracies like Ukraine and Russia?
For those interested in the intricacies of banking and finance, WWI marks the beginning of the end of the classical gold standard: contrary to what many believe, the gold standard did not end during the great depression, when Americans were forbidden to hold gold or when Britain abandoned the gold-peg it had reintroduced in 1925. Nor did it end in 1971, which marks the end of Bretton-Woods system designed by Keynes. Instead, according to the great French economist Jack Rueff, it was quietly abandoned at the 1922 Genoa conference, when the “gold exchange standard” was officially introduced. This is the year when the US-Dollar’s role as world reserve currency was established. This is also the year when the “roaring twenties” took off. Coincidence?
Just like for most people, my interest in this time of world history is rising by the day. The following three-hour lecture by Ralph Raico is a very, very good start on the topic. A word of caution/motivation: there will be a lot of surprising facts and you might find your established views on the subject challenged more often than not!
Ralph Raico is one of my favorite historians. A student in Ludwig von Mise’s seminar in NY, he is that rare bird, a historian who knows economics and which consequently puts him into a unique position among historians to not just enumerate facts or give simplistic explanations, but thoroughly analyze economic motivations behind events. Besides, I also find him funny and entertaining. Here is the link:
As Ludwig von Mises pointed out in his fantastic book “Theory and History”, historical analysis without a theoretical grasp of economics is useless at best and dangerous at worst, the equivalent of “data mining” in the econometric field. The book, in my view, is a must read for historians and economists as well as the educated layman. It can be purchased here:
I really hope you enjoy the lecture as much as I did.