Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991, Abacus, London, 1995, p. 46.

“The governments’ main problem, as they saw it, was fiscal: how to pay for wars. Should it be through loans, through direct taxation, and, in either case, on what precise terms? Consequently it was Treasuries or Ministries of Finance which were seen as the commanders of the war economy. The First World War, which lasted so much longer than governments had anticipated, and used up so many more men and armaments, made ‘business as usual’ and, with it, the domination of Ministries of Finance, impossible, even though Treasury officials (like the young Maynard Keynes in Britain) still shook their heads over the politicians’ readiness to pursue victory without counting the financial costs. They were, of course, right. Britain waged both world wars far beyond its means, with lasting and negative consequences for its economy. Yet if war was to be waged at all on the modern scale, not only its costs had to be counted but its production -and in the end the entire economy- had to be managed and planned.

Governments only learned this by experience in the course of the First World War. In the Second World War they knew it from the outset, thanks largely to the experience of the First war, the lessons of which their officials had studied intensively. Nevertheless, it only gradually became clear how completely governments had to take over the economy, and how essential physical planning and the allocation of resources (other than by the usual economic mechanisms) now were. At the outset of the Second World War only two states, the USSR and, to a lesser extent, Nazi Germany, had any mechanism for physically controlling the economy, which is not surprising, since Soviet ideas of planning originally inspired by, and to some extent based on, what the Bolsheviks knew of the German planned war economy of 1914-17. Some states, notably Britain and the USA, had not even the rudiments were of such mechanisms”.

José María López Jiménez

Especialista en regulación financiera. Doctor en Derecho

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