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Economics of the Two World Wars*
Stephen Broadberry
Department of Economics,
University of Warwick,
Coventry CV4 7AL,
United Kingdom
S.N.Broadberry@warwick.ac.uk
and
Mark Harrison
Department of Economics,
University of Warwick,
Coventry CV4 7AL,
United Kingdom,
and
Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace,
Stanford University
mark.harrison@warwick.ac.uk
Length: 8789 words.
* Draft entry for the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, second
edition, in preparation for Macmillan Publishers.
First draft 10 August 2006. This version 22 September 2006.
Economics of the Two World Wars
INTRODUCTION
The two world wars of the twentieth century were events in a single process of
reaction against globalisation that was prolonged and, from time to time,
violent.
From 1815 to 1914 trade and capital flows increased alongside global
productivity. Everywhere, economic development tended to reduce local risks.
At the same time, falling trade and transport costs exposed farmers, firms, and
labouring households to new instabilities and risks that originated faraway, in
countries and markets across the world. Where governments and politicians
embraced these long-range risks, liberalisation fostered engagement in the
global economy. Where political entrepreneurs mobilised reaction against
them, however, resistance gained ground.
By the end of the nineteenth century, leaders of several newly
industrialising countries were seeking to insulate their economies from global
risks through tariff protection. German leaders, for example, aimed at national
security through trade within a closed region based on a colonial empire. To
secure this empire they launched a naval arms race; the arms race precipitated
the formation of two Eurasian alliances that confronted each other in World
War I. By the end of the war, four great imperial regimes lay in ruins: the
German empire of the Hohenzollerns, the Austro-Hungarian empire of the
Habsburgs, the Romanovs’ Russian empire, and the Ottoman empire in the.
Near East.
After World War I, the instabilities intrinsic to the global economic
order increased. The weakness of the formerly dominant British economy and
the isolation of Germany and Russia undermined global market integration.
The slump of 1929 sent deflationary ripples around the world and accelerated
the disintegration. As the world market shrank, the great powers struggled
over national shares. In the 1930s the world economy broke up into several
relatively closed trading blocs. The British, French, and Dutch reorganised
their trade on colonial lines. With Hitler in power, Germany resumed the
perspective of regulated trade within a colonial region in central and eastern
Europe, and this led to rivalry with other interested regional powers. Italy
established bilateral trade with the smaller states of the former Austro-
Hungarian empire, and also set about winning an African empire. The
Japanese competed with the Americans, the Dutch, the British, and the Soviet
Union for influence in East Asia and the Pacific. The Soviet Union developed
a closed economic space behind the frontiers of the former Russian Empire
and defended it against the Japanese.
The worldwide trade disintegration contributed to the causes of World
War II. The economies of the Axis powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan were
First draft 10 August 2006. This version 22 September 2006.
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too small to prosper without specialisation and external sources of food, fuel,
and other materials. A common thread in their course of external aggression
was the attempt to secure these supplies by imposing a colonial regime upon
trading partners. In this sense the national policies that led to World War II
were a continuation of those that had led to World War I.
The second war continued some of the themes of the first, but it was
not just a repeat. The object of the first war was regional – to control Europe,
the Atlantic, and the Near East. The second war was a struggle for global
domination in the full sense. The first war was certainly fuelled by racial
identities, but no one aimed at genocide, as they did in the second. The first
war ended inconclusively, with a ceasefire and a peace treaty that tried to
punish the aggressors, but there was no unconditional surrender and in
Germany, those who wanted to try again eventually took power. In 1945 the
aggressors were crushed militarily and morally, their surviving leaders were
put on trial, and what they stood for was excluded from public life.
In this chapter we pursue the similarities and differences of the two
wars in terms of economic history. We have two main themes. First, what is
the power of the economic factors compared with others in helping to explain
the outcomes of the two wars? Second, of the possible economic factors that
should be considered, which contribute most to the explanation of the results?
These are not new questions, of course; here, we outline briefly some
alternative views.
Historians of the two world wars tend to narrate their story as a
complex interplay of forces that worked at many levels. They tell a story of
warfare that was increasingly mechanised and waged for years on end by
massed forces. Nonetheless, war was waged by people, not by numbers.
Economists, in contrast, have tended to give the centre stage to the numbers,
conceding less to aspects of warfare such as leadership, discipline, heroism,
and villainy. Raymond Goldsmith (1946: 69), an economist who helped to
manage the United States war economy in his youth, once observed that:
The cold figures of the output of airplanes, tanks, guns, naval ships,
and ammunition, particularly when they are reduced to the still colder
form of indices of aggregate munitions production of the major
belligerents, probably tell the story of [World War II] as well as
extended discussion or elaborate pictures … They back to the full the
thesis, dear to the economist’s ear, that whatever may have saved the
United Nations from defeat in the earlier phases of the conflict, what
won the war for them in the end was their ability – and particularly that
of the United States – to produce more, and vastly more, munitions
than the Axis.
To many historians this view remains unappealing; Richard Overy (1998), for
example, has objected that it leaves no room for “a whole series of contingent
factors – moral, political, technical, and organizational – [that] worked to a
greater or lesser degree on national war efforts.”
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The opposition between cold figures and hot blood is false to some
extent. Of course, leadership and psychology mattered. But they mattered less
than in previous eras because they had become problems that both sides could
solve. In both world wars, multi-million armies took the field and stayed there
for months and years, giving and taking appalling losses, without
disintegrating. Since the moral fabric of military life could withstand the
pressure, numbers of men and the volume of supplies assumed the decisive
role.
If economics did matter, exactly what was it about the economies of
the Allies that gave them superiority? In Goldsmith’s tradition, size mattered
and only size. Niall Ferguson is a historian who gives economics the attention
it deserves. Noting the overwhelming size advantage of the Allies in
population and production on the eve of World War I, he remarks (1998: 248),
“To the economic historian, the outcome of the First World War looks to have
been inevitable from the moment [the British] opted for intervention.” Given
this advantage, he argues, the war should have been over quickly; the only
explanation for the Allied failure to conclude the war much sooner is Allied
mismanagement, so Ferguson concludes that the Allied economic
preponderance was “an advantage squandered.” As a result, economic
advantage came into play only after much time had passed and the military
advantage of the aggressors had almost won the day.
There is much truth in this, but we will take a more nuanced view of
what it was about economic life that could be decisive in warfare. The
belligerents’ economies differed not only in the volume of national resources
but also in their quality. The main factor in quality was the level of peacetime
economic development, which we measure by average real incomes per head
of the population. Richer countries could mobilise production, public finance,
soldiers, and weapons out of proportion to their general economic capacities;
in other words, the level of economic development acted as a multiplier of
size. For Britain in both world wars, control of the vast but impoverished
population and territory of India, for example, mattered little compared with
access to the rich markets of the United States.
1. WORLD WAR I
From an economic viewpoint, World War I can be divided into two phases. In
the late summer of 1914, both sides hoped for a quick victory with a limited
commitment of resources to the war effort. This first phase is summed up in
the memorable phrase “business as usual”, which was common currency in
Britain at the time (Lloyd, 1924). It was hoped that the war could be fought
along similar lines to previous centuries, with a clear distinction between
soldiers doing the fighting and civilians getting on with normal life. However,
from late 1916 both Britain and Germany stepped up mobilisation in the
direction of “total war”. In total war, industry was mobilised to provide
unprecedented amounts of munitions, and industrial workers became as vital
to the war effort as soldiers. During this second phase, keeping up production
and avoiding economic collapse became central to management of the war.
The first economy to collapse was on the Allied side; the Bolshevik
Revolution of 1917 took Russia out of the war and led to a Soviet Republic
4
(Gatrell, 2005). In 1918, falling output in Turkey, Austria and Germany, led to
the collapse of the Central Powers and the break-up of their empires (Pamuk,
2005; Schulze, 2005; Ritschl, 2005). France also suffered a late collapse of
output, but was shored up by the other Allies (Hautcoeur, 2005).
1.1. Size and Development
The Allies mobilised more soldiers and produced more of most weapons than
the Central Powers, as can be seen in Table 1. Furthermore, the degree of
Allied superiority increased with the complexity of the weapons. Only in guns
did the Central Powers have numerical superiority, while the Allied
superiority in tanks reached a factor of nearly 90:1.
Table 2 shows that the balance between the two sides varied over time,
as the alliances’ compositions changed. In 1914, the Triple Entente of the
United Kingdom, France and Russia could also draw on their colonies and
were joined by other countries including Serbia, the British Dominions,
Liberia and Japan. By November 1916, the Allies had been joined by a second
wave of countries, including Italy, Portugal and Rumania. By November 1918,
although Russia had dropped out, the Allies had been strengthened by the
United States and a further wave of countries. By this time, the Allied side
included 70 per cent of the world’s prewar population and 64 per cent of its
prewar output. The scale of resources that could be mobilised by the Central
Powers varied less over time. Austria-Hungary started the war, joined
immediately by Germany and shortly after by the Ottoman Empire. By
November 1915, Bulgaria had also joined, but Italy, defaulting on its treaty
obligations, joined the Allies.
It is important to consider the level of economic development of
individual countries as well as the volume of output that the two alliances
could draw upon. Britain, for example, with a prewar population of 46 million,
had average incomes of nearly $5,000 (at 1990 prices), but its colonies,
excluding the Dominions, had a prewar population of 380 million, mostly in
India, with average incomes of less than $700. Thus the colonies, with nearly
8 times the population of Britain, produced only about the same volume of
output. But the colonial output was less available for fighting the Germans
because most of it was needed to meet the subsistence needs of the colonial
population. Furthermore, this population was difficult to mobilise because of
its distance from the theatre of war and the level of development of colonial
administration. Even within the Triple Entente, the low level of development
in Russia limited the Allied mobilisation. The Central Powers were similarly
hampered by the low level of development of the Ottoman Empire and
Bulgaria, and even the Hungarian half of the Habsburg Empire.
Comparing the information for the two alliances in Table 2, it is
possible to calculate size and development ratios for three benchmark dates in
Table 3. The ratios are calculated for each alliance as a whole, and also for the
great powers only. The rationale for the latter is that if, as we argue, poor
colonies did not count for much, it is helpful to see how the ratios look if we
do not count them at all. The table establishes a striking result: judging by
economic size, the Central Powers were doomed to defeat. In November 1914,
5
the Allies had access to 5 times the population, 11 times the territory and 3
times the output of the Central Powers. Looking only at great powers, the
Allied advantages in population and output were smaller, but larger in
territory, reflecting the fact that German and Turkish colonies tended to be in
the sandy deserts of Africa and the Middle East. However, the Allied
advantage was limited by relatively low average incomes in Russia and the
British and French colonies. Allied incomes were less than two-thirds the
average level of the Central Powers, or 80 per cent if attention is confined to
the great powers, counting Russia as a great power.
By November 1916, the Allied advantage had grown moderately in
terms of population, territory and output, but the Central Powers continued to
have an advantage in average incomes. By November 1918, however, the
situation had changed dramatically, largely as a result of the United States
replacing Russia. The Allied advantages in population, territory and output all
increased markedly and, for the first time the Allies enjoyed an average
income advantage if attention is restricted to great powers. Although it took
some time for the American presence to be felt on the battlefield, it sealed the
Central Powers’ fate.
1.2. Development and Mobilisation
The ratios in Table 3 are based on the assumption that during the war, the real
output of a given country did not change. The reason for this assumption is
statistical: it is difficult to track GDP changes in wartime in the poorer
countries. What information we have suggests that Table 3 must understate the
actual swing in favour of the Allies during the war, because output increased
in the United States and Britain, but fell in the less developed economies of
the Central Powers. This can be seen in Figure 1, which plots the change in
GDP during 1913-1917 against the level of per capita income in 1913 for nine
countries. The relationship is strongly positive, reflecting the fact that rich
countries were better able to mobilise output than poor countries. The biggest
decline was in Russia, which was also the poorest amongst these countries in
1913, and collapsed in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. There were also
substantial falls in output in Austria-Hungary, France and Germany, which all
started the war with lower average incomes than Canada, Britain, New
Zealand and the United States.
Another measure of mobilisation which varied with the level of
development is the change in government outlays as a share of GDP. This
reflects the extent to which governments were able to convert output from
peacetime uses to the war effort through taxation and spending. Figure 2 plots
this measure of fiscal mobilisation during the first year of the war against
prewar average incomes for eight countries. The relationship is positive, but
not as clear cut as for production mobilisation. In particular, it is necessary to
control for distance from the main theatre of war in Europe, with the New
World countries of Canada, Australia and the United States mobilising less
resources through taxation and public spending than the European countries.
Perhaps the most direct measure of mobilisation is the share of the
prime-age male population recruited into the military. This measure, plotted in
6
Figure 3 against average incomes in 1913, is available for a relatively large
sample of countries. Again, we find a relationship that increases with prewar
prosperity and decreases with distance from the main theatre of war. The
figure is plotted in three distance bands, comprising the frontline Eurasian
states, peripheral European countries isolated from the frontline by land or sea
(Britain and Portugal), and non-European states. Cumulative numbers
mobilised are shown as a proportion of males aged 15 to 49. Controlling for
distance (i.e. within each distance band), there is a positive relationship
between military mobilisation and the level of development. But dropping a
band also lowers the mobilisation rate substantially.
Figures 1 to 3 show us that the level of development acted as a
multiplier of size. Rich countries were able to mobilise production, public
finance and soldiers out of proportion to the size of their economies measured
by GDP.
1.3. Mobilisation and Agriculture
Why did being poor matter for large countries like Russia, Austria-Hungary
and Turkey? During World War I, the answer can be found in the performance
of the agricultural sector, since these countries all ran short of food long before
they ran out of guns and shells (Offer, 1989). Broadberry and Harrison (2005)
attribute this to the negative impact of peasant agriculture on mobilisation.
One of the most striking attributes of relative poverty was the role of
subsistence farming. Contemporary observers were aware of these differences
and interpreted them as follows: when war broke out, a country such as Russia
would have an immediate advantage in that most of the people could feed
themselves; moreover, the diversion food supplies from export to the home
market would actually increase Russia’s advantage. In contrast Britain would
quickly starve (Gatrell and Harrison, 1993). This diagnosis could not have
been more wrong. In practice a large peasantry proved to be a great
disadvantage in mobilising resources for war. Meyendorff (cited by Gatrell,
2005) described what happened in Russia as “the Russian peasant’s secession
from the economic fabric of the nation”. And not only from Russia, for Italy,
Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Germany all had large peasant
populations that proved extremely difficult to mobilise for much the same
reason. In wartime peasant agriculture behaved like a neutral trading partner.
Why should the Netherlands trade with Germany at war, given the latter’s
reduced ability to pay, except under threat of invasion and confiscation?
Peasant farmers, trading with their own governments, made the same
calculation. Thus the Russian economy looked large, but if the observers of
the time had first subtracted its peasant population and farming resources they
would have seen how small and weak Russia really was.
The peasant’s propensity to secede is clearly visible from a comparison of
the richer and poorer countries’ experience. When war broke out British and
American farmers were offered higher prices, responded normally to
incentives, and boosted production. The fact that British farming had already
contracted to a small part of the economy made its expansion easier: there
were plentiful reserves of land unused or little exploited, and the high
7
productivity of farm labour meant that large increases in farm output could be
achieved with few additional resources (Olson, 1963; Broadberry and Howlett,
2005).
In the poorer countries, in contrast, wartime mobilisation took resources
away from farming, particularly young men and horses for the army. Once in
the army these young men and horses still needed to be fed, which required a
diversion of food supplies from rural households to government purchasers.
But the motivation for farmers in the countryside to sell food was reduced, not
increased. These were subsistence farmers who grew food partly for their own
consumption; what they sold, they took to the market primarily to buy
manufactured commodities for their families. But war dried up the supply of
manufactures to the countryside. The small industrial sectors of the poorer
countries were soon wholly concentrated on supplying the army with weapons
and kit. Little capacity was left to supply the countryside, which faced a steep
decline in supplies.
Consequently, peasant farmers retreated into subsistence activities and the
economy began to disintegrate. There might still be plenty of food, but it was
locked in the countryside. The farmers preferred to eat it themselves than sell
it for a low return. What food it could get, the government gave to the army
for a simple reason: hungry soldiers will not fight. Between the army and the
peasantry the urban workers were caught in a double squeeze. As the market
supply of food dried up, urban food prices soared, and an urban famine set in.
In terms of the economics of famines, the primary cause was not a failure of
production but the urban society’s loss of food entitlements (Sen, 1983; Offer,
1989).
Aware of this, public opinion might blame unpatriotic speculators or
incompetent officials. But the truth was that a poor country had few genuine
choices. The scope for policy to improve the situation was more apparent than
real, and government action often made things worse: the Russian, Austrian,
and German governments all began to ration food to the urban population, for
example, while attempting to buy food from the farmers at purchasing prices
that were fixed low for budgetary reasons. To repeat: in richer countries the
government paid more to the farmers, and this worked, but in poorer countries
the government tried to pay less and this had entirely predictable results: the
farmers’ willingness to participate in the market was further undermined.
In summary, in wartime poor countries suffered the consequences of
peasant agriculture, which was essentially a deadweight on their mobilisation
efforts. Economic mobilisation led to urban famine, revolutionary
insurrection, and the downfall of emperors in Russia, Austria-Hungary,
Germany and Turkey. The same process began in France, which still had a
large peasant sector in 1914, but Allied support nipped it in the bud.
1.4. War Losses
After World War I, there were several attempts to calculate the costs of the
war. However, these studies fell out of fashion, tainted by association with
8
inflated demands for reparations, and because later writers became interested
in any positive developments that could be identified as arising out of the
carnage and destruction. Thus in his popular survey of World War I Hardach
(1987: 286) argues that Bogart’s (1920) estimates of the costs of the war have
not been revised in the light of later evidence because “the whole basis of
calculation has been recognized as inappropriate”.
There are good grounds to be sceptical, however, about the revisionist
view that associates war with accelerated economic development. Milward
(1984: 17-18), a leading revisionist, cites Bowley (1930) as a pioneer of
revisionism, but Bowley (1930: 21-23) himself pointed out how difficult it is
to show that any wider changes were actually the result of the war and would
not have occurred anyway in its absence. Classifying developments as (a)
mainly unconnected with the war, (b) accelerated or retarded by it or (c)
apparently arising out of it, Bowley was himself reluctant to put anything
other than the key elements of Bogart’s “cost of war” calculations such as loss
of life and destruction of capital into category (c). He did mention the new
economic relations between Europe and the United States in this category, but
with hindsight we can see that the process of U.S. overtaking was already
under way well before 1914 (Abramovitz, 1986; Broadberry, 1998).
Table 4, accordingly, provides updated estimates of the destruction of
human and physical capital as the costs of war within a national balance sheet
framework provided by Broadberry and Howlett (1998). The first element, the
destruction of human capital, is measured by war deaths relative to the
population aged 15 to 49. This differs from the true proportion of human
capital destroyed by the war to the extent that younger cohorts had more
human capital investment, particularly through education. Although Germany
suffered the most casualties in absolute numbers, the proportionate losses were
higher in France, Serbia-Montenegro and Roumania among the Allies, and in
Turkey and Bulgaria among the Central Powers.
The domestic physical capital losses in Table 4 build upon the work of
Bogart (1920), who estimated property losses on land and shipping and cargo
losses. These are expressed as a proportion of physical capital from modern
historical national accounting sources. The French figures draw on estimates
of losses from the Reparations Commission and capital stock data from Carré
et al. (1976: 151). Although these probably overstate French losses, alternative
estimates by Villa (1993) yield implausibly low ratios, given the concentration
of fighting on French soil (Hautcoeur, 2005: 199). Russia’s losses were
proportionately high, more because of the small size of the prewar capital
stock than a large absolute amount of wartime destruction.
For some countries in Table 4, we can estimate the change in overseas
assets and national wealth. Nearly a quarter of British overseas investments
were liquidated during the war, so that the reduction of national wealth was
proportionally much greater than the loss of physical capital. The loss of
French overseas assets was proportionally very high due to heavy exposure to
Russian loans, so that, as in Britain, the share of national wealth lost in the war
was proportionally greater than the share of physical capital lost.
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Finally in Table 4, we have added in Germany’s reparations bill as a
proportion of prewar capital, since it represented an increase in overseas
liabilities and hence a reduction in national wealth just as much as the
liquidation of Britain’s overseas assets meant a reduction in national wealth.
Of course the extent to which Germany actually had to pay these reparations is
much debated, but that does not alter the effect on the national balance sheet
as it stood immediately after the Treaty of Versailles. These figures include
the A+B+C Bonds, which added up to a total of 132 billion Gold Marks.
2. WORLD WAR II
Like its forebear, World War II may be divided into two periods. In the first
period, economic considerations were less important than purely military
factors. This was the phase of greatest success for the powers of the Axis, and
it lasted from 1937 when the war began in the Pacific, or from 1939 in Europe,
until the end of 1941 or 1942; the exact turning point differed by a few months
among the different regional theatres. In this first period, Germany and Japan
had advantages of strategy and fighting power on their side. As a result, they
were able to inflict overwhelming defeats upon an economically superior
combination of powers. In early 1942, Richard Overy writes (1995, p. 15), “no
rational man … would have guessed at the eventual outcome of the war.”
This phase ended, however, without the decisive victory that
previously appeared within the Axis powers’ grasp. What ended it? On the
surface it was the military failures, not economic weaknesses, of the Axis,.
Beneath the surface, however, economic fundamentals reasserted themselves:
while the Allies had given ground everywhere, their morale had stiffened,
their economies were not exhausted, their cooperation was taking effect, and
their industries were supplying the front with a rising flood of munitions that
would eventually overwhelm the adversary.
In the second period of the war, which began in 1942, the early
advantages of the Axis evaporated. There was a brief stalemate. A war of
attrition developed in which the opposing forces ground each other down, with
rising force levels and losses. Superior military qualities came to count for less
than superior size, wealth, and economic mobilisation. Economic superiority
let the Allies take risks, absorb the cost of mistakes, replace losses, and
accumulate overwhelming force. This turned the balance against the Axis and
won the war.
This narrative does not support the claim that only economics
mattered. Economic factors were decisive, however, in the context of a simple
fact. The Axis leaders had the chance to use the other factors to decide the
war, and they failed. Their failure gave the Allies the chance to bring
economics decisively into the equation.
2.1. Size and Development
Table 5 shows the volumes of combat resources that each side delivered to the
theatres of World War II. A comparison of the totals with those in Table 1
10
shows a staggering increase: a quarter of a million tanks and half a million
aircraft, for example, compared with 170,000 aircraft and less than 10,000
tanks in World War I. One thing remained the same, however, across the two
wars: the Allies supplied a greater volume of combat resources than their
combined adversaries in almost every respect.
The Allied advantage did not hold at all points of time and place. As
Goldsmith remarked, the prewar rearmament of the Axis powers gave them an
early start and this, combined with their purely military advantages, accounts
for their early success. A balance struck at the end of 1940, for example, when
France had dropped out, the United States remained neutral, and the Soviet
Union was still Germany’s partner of convenience, would show a picture of
Allied disadvantage. By 1942, however, reinforced by America and Russia,
the Allies outnumbered and outgunned the powers that they faced in every
major theatre. This was true even on the eastern front where Germany and the
USSR confronted each other. These two powers were of similar economic size
measured by GDP and industrial production, but the Soviet Union was
substantially poorer in terms of the average incomes of its much larger
population. Although this disadvantage was enlarged by devastating military
and territorial losses in 1941 and 1942, the Soviet Union fielded a bigger army
and supplied it more generously. We return to this anomaly below.
The relative economic sizes of the powers and their colonial
possessions are shown in Tables 6 and 7. If we consider the world as it was on
the eve of the war, then the populations available to the Allies – principally
Britain and France with their colonies and dominions, but also including
Poland and Czechoslovakia – amounted to nearly 690 million people
occupying nearly 48 million square kilometres. The total output of this
territory is estimated at one trillion dollars in 1990 prices. Against them stood
the nearly 260 million people and more than 6 million square kilometres
available to the Axis powers – Germany, Italy, and Japan, with the Italian and
Japanese empires and annexations at the time such as Austria, Korea, and
Manchuria. The people and their lands on the side of the Allies exceeded those
available to the Axis power by several times.
The size of this advantage is more statistical than real, although a real
advantage remains after the statistics are stripped out. Africa and South Asia,
poor, undeveloped, and relatively sparsely settled, made up the greater part of
the Allied advantage in size. When we turn to total output, it turns out that the
Allied GDP exceeded that of the Axis territories by only one third; this is
because average incomes across the Allied territories – less than $1,500 in
modern prices – stood at only one half the $2,900 level of the Axis territories.
Here is an ironic comment on the colonial aspirations of the Axis powers:
what they wanted so much, and did not yet have, was access to millions of
square kilometres of poorly integrated, low-yielding farmland and remote
semi-desert.
As before, since poor colonies did not count for very much, we also
count the resources on either side considering the great powers only. The
Allied size advantage now disappears since Germany, Italy, and Japan
11
together had twice the population and one and a half times the territory of
Britain and France – but it is replaced by a development advantage: the GDP
per head of the Allied powers exceeded that of the Axis powers by one half.
Tables 6 and 7 also show how this balance evolved from 1938 to 1942,
when the domains under control of the Axis powers had reached their maximal
extent. As their forces swept across Europe and the Pacific region the
population under Axis control tripled, while territory and peacetime output
potential doubled; the addition of hundreds of millions of east European and
east Asian farmers led the average development of the Axis empires to decline
somewhat, from $2,900 to less than $2,500 in modern prices. Britain, in
contrast, lost its allies France – with its empire – and Poland, but was joined
by the Soviet Union and the United States. Between 1938 and 1942, therefore,
the Allied population and territorial sway increased somewhat, but its
peacetime output rose by three quarters (from one to 1.75 trillion dollars). This
is before taking into the wartime doubling of United States output. Joining the
richest and poorest of the great powers into a single coalition had a mixed
effect, of course, but the net result was an increase in the measured average
level of development across all the Allied territories from less than $1,500 in
modern prices to more than $2,200.
Table 7 converts these figures into ratios of Allied advantage or
disadvantage. We see that in 1942, when things were at their worst, the Allied
powers alone had nearly twice the population, more than twice the output, and
more than 20 times the territory of the Axis powers. All they had to do was not
to lose; given enough time, this economic preponderance would surely bring
victory. The weakest link in the Allied chain was poor Russia, with its
hundred million low-productivity peasants and seven million square
kilometres of permafrost. Germany had forced Russia out of World War I;
could the same not happen again?
2.2. Development and Mobilisation
As with World War I we will consider three dimensions of mobilisation:
production (the increase in total output that was achieved during the war), the
government’s fiscal leverage (the extent that output was mobilised through
government spending and taxation out of peacetime uses into the war effort),
and military mobilisation (the degree of mobilisation of the population into
uniform). Each of these was powerfully influenced by the prewar level of
development of the economy.
Figure 4 shows production mobilisation plotted against prewar average
income. Under the pressure of war, rich countries expanded their economies;
poor countries tended to collapse, and the collapse proceeded further, the
poorer they were. Figure 5 shows the speed of fiscal mobilisation. The slope
of the relationship with prewar economic development has the same positive
sign: only rich countries achieved significant fiscal mobilisation, but there is
an exception: the Soviet Union. Some underlying figures are provided in Table
8: these confirm that the Soviet Union achieved a level of mobilisation of
GDP into the war effort – three fifths at its peak – that was typical of much
richer countries. Germany and Japan achieved similar degrees of mobilisation
12
only in the last spasm of the struggle that preceded immediate collapse and
defeat.
The Soviet anomaly demands explanation. A relatively poor country,
Russia collapsed in World War I and the Soviet Union could have been
expected to do so again in World War II, but did not. The course of inward-
looking industrialisation that Stalin pursued between the wars does not appear
to be a sufficient explanation. More important was Stalin’s victory in the
destructive struggle to collectivise farming, which ensured state control over
wartime food supplies and prevented the peasants from seceding from the war
effort (Gatrell and Harrison 1993). As a result the Soviet economy carried a
disproportionately heavy economic burden in World War II without
collapsing.
Finally, Figure 6 shows military mobilisation; again, the rich countries
mobilised much higher proportions of their population into military uniform.
The figure also shows the moderating effect of distance: controlling for prewar
incomes, the countries separated from the fighting by oceanic distances put
fewer men into the fighting forces. But the effect of distance was less in World
War II than in World I, suggesting that the interwar decline of transport costs
had brought about a more truly global struggle.
2.3. Inter-Ally Cooperation
In terms of cooperation within the opposing coalitions, World War II saw a
repeat of World War I with some differences. In both wars the German-led
coalition failed to achieve significant economic cooperation among the
powers, each of which aimed primarily to exploit its own internal and colonial
spaces. The Allies, in contrast, achieved fuller cooperation. During the first
war, this involved pooling the industrial and commercial resources of Britain
and America with the fighting strength of France, Italy, and Russia; the result
was to permit the aggregate military power of the Allies to be produced more
efficiently. The main instruments of pooling were war credits from America to
Britain, France, and Italy, and from France and Britain to Italy and Russia.
The amount was not enough to keep Russia in the war to the end, but enough
that postwar repayments significantly complicated postwar international
finance and trade.
The second time round, inter-Ally cooperation assumed a larger scale.
The main form it took was the transfer of industrial goods – equipment
(including vehicles), materials, fuels, and processed foodstuffs – from the
United States to Britain and from both countries to the Soviet Union. Although
the U.S. legislative framework called it “Lend-Lease,” the goods were actually
supplied free of financial charges, the aim being to promote the Allied
partnership. Pooling of the resources counted in Tables 6 and 7 augmented
their value, increased the Allied advantage, saved lives and resources, helped
to prevent Soviet defeat, and brought forward the Allied victory.
Allied cooperation was not problem-free. The main issue was that,
while it saved lives and brought forward victory, it did so asymmetrically. By
keeping the Russians in the war, it saved primarily American and British lives,
13
and the Russians felt this deeply. On the other hand, the victory that it brought
forward was brought to Berlin by the Red Army, and was much more
favourable to postwar Soviet power than would have been the case without
western assistance – a source of wartime chagrin and postwar recriminations
among the donors.
2.4. War Losses
World War II was fought on a global scale but half a dozen countries saw
most losses of wealth and population. Nearly all the 55 million premature
deaths, for example, are accounted for between the USSR (25 million), China
(10 million), Germany (6.5 million), Poland (5 million), Japan (2.4 million),
and Yugoslavia (1.7 million). Table 9 summarizes the data for the great
powers as percentages of prewar populations and assets.
The figures show the heavy loss of life in the Soviet Union, followed
by German and Japan, and also the widespread destruction of property in the
same countries. Everywhere, it seems, human capital was destroyed at a higher
rate than physical capital. The survivors were endowed, therefore, with a ratio
of physical to human capital that was advantageous by prewar standards,
provided that mismatches resulting from the wartime distribution of combat
could be smoothed out. Table 9 takes no account of accelerated wartime
investments in industry; in western Germany, for example, industrial capacity
was added at a faster rate than bombing took it away, so that West German
industry ended the war with a larger and newer stock of equipment than before
(Abelshauser 1998: 168).
3. ECONOMIC GROWTH
Evidently, wartime economic mobilisation tended to make the rich richer and
the poor poorer. Thus, both wars tended to polarize the global distribution of
income. It is of some interest, therefore, to examine whether postwar recovery
and long-term economic growth succeeded in reversing this pattern.
Figure 7 suggests that each war was followed by recovery and that
those economies most damaged by the wartime experience recovered most
rapidly. It takes 1929 as the benchmark date for measuring recovery from
World War I, and 1973 as the benchmark for recovery from World War II. It
shows that, the more a country’s average income fell during each war, the
more it tended subsequently to rise. Thus, at least some of each war’s negative
effects were transitory.
A more complex picture emerges when we turn to long term economic
growth. To what extent did the postwar recovery return each country to a path
of convergence on the global productivity frontier? Figure 8 suggests that after
World War I there was little or no convergence. Some countries that were
already rich did much better after the war than some countries that were
already poor. In contrast, World War II was followed by convergent economic
growth. This suggests that the Allies designed a much better international
environment for genuine convergence after 1945 than after 1918.
14
4. CONCLUSIONS
In this essay we have shown that economics mattered, and we have shown
how. Given time, resources won the two world wars. In mobilizing resources,
the richer market economies had a significant advantage. It was more
important to be rich than self-sufficient; probably, most prewar efforts to
protect jobs or diminish national dependence on trade in the name of strategic
self-sufficiency were counterproductive. Poor economies, especially those
with a large peasant population, tended to collapse under the stress of total
war, although they tended to be less reliant on external trade. The main
exception is the Soviet economy in World War II; its exceptional resilience is
best explained by its rulers’ exceptional degree of control over the peasant
farmers.
The pattern should not be over-generalized. Broadberry and Harrison
(2005) have suggested that the power of the relationship between economic
and military performance is confined to a relatively short historical period.
The era of “total war” from 1914 to 1945 seems to have been unique. In both
world wars the main combatants were able to devote more than half of their
national income to the war effort. This is likely to have been impossible before
1914 because until then most people were too poor to be taxed at such rates;
most economies had the bulk of their resources locked up in forms of
subsistence agriculture that were resistant to mobilization; before mass literacy
and the telegraph, typewriter, and duplicator, commercial and government
services were too inefficient to do much about it. In short, in earlier stages of
global development total war could not be staged because too many people
were required to labour in the fields and workshops just to feed and clothe the
population, and it cost too much for government officials to count, tax, and
direct them into mass combat.
Since 1945 the economic factors in warfare may have lost significance
again. This is because nuclear weapons can give devastating military force to
any rich country however small, or any large country however poor, for a few
billion dollars. Hence the marshalling of economic resources played a much
more vital role in the outcome of the two world wars than was likely in any
period before or after.
15
Table 1 Allies vs Central Powers: Soldiers and Equipment in World War I
Allies Central
Powers Ratio, 1:2
(1) (2) (3)
Soldiers Mobilized, million 41.0 25.6 1.6
Weapons Produced:
Guns, thousand 59.9 82.4 0.7
Rifles, million 13.3 12.1 1.1
Machine Guns, thousand 656 319 2.1
Aircraft, thousand 124.5 47.3 2.6
Tanks 8919 100 89.2
Source: Broadberry and Harrison (2005).
Table 2. The Alliances in World War I: Resources of 1913
Territory, GDP in 1990
prices
Population,
million million
sq. km ha. per
head $
billion per
head, $
Allies
November 1914
Allies, total 793.3 67.5 8.5 1093.6 1379
UK, France, and
Russia only 259.0 22.6 8.7 622.8 2405
November 1916
Allies, total 853.3 72.5 8.5 1210.5 1419
UK, France, and
Russia only 259.0 22.6 8.7 622.8 2405
November 1918
Allies, total 1271.7 80.9 6.4 1760.6 1384
UK, France, and
USA only 182.3 8.7 4.8 876.6 4809
Central Powers
November 1914
Central Powers, total 151.3 5.9 3.9 376.6 2489
Germany and Austria-
Hungary only 117.6 1.2 1.0 344.8 2933
November 1915
Central Powers, total 156.1 6.0 3.8 383.9 2459
Source: Broadberry and Harrison (2005).
16
Table 3. Allies Versus Central Powers: Size and Development Ratios
Population
Territory
Territory
per head
Gross
Domestic
Product
GDP per
head
November 1914
Total 5.2 11.5 2.2 2.9 0.6
Great Powers only 2.2 19.4 8.8 1.8 0.8
November 1916
Total 5.5 12.1 2.2 3.2 0.6
Great Powers only 2.2 19.4 8.8 1.8 0.8
November 1918
Total 8.2 13.5 1.7 4.6 0.6
Great Powers only 1.6 7.5 4.8 2.5 1.6
Source: Calculated from Table 1.
Table 4. Destruction of Human and Physical Capital (% of prewar assets)
Physical capital
Human
capital Domestic
assets Overseas
assets Reparations
bill National
wealth
Allies
Britain 3.6 9.9 23.9 14.9
France 7.2 24.6 49.0 31.0
Russia 2.3 14.3 ...
Italy 3.8 15.9
United States 0.3
Central Powers
Germany 6.3 3.1 51.6 54.7
Austria-Hungary 4.5 6.5
Turkey and Bulgaria 6.8
Source: Derived from Broadberry and Harrison (2005: 28).
17
Table 5. Allies vs Axis: Soldiers and Equipment in World War II
Allies Axis Ratio, 1:2
(1) (2) (3)
Combatant-years, million 106.4 76.9 1.4
Weapons Produced:
Rifles and carbines, million 25.3 13.0 1.9
Combat aircraft, thousand 370 144 2.6
Machine Guns, thousand 4827 1646 2.9
Guns, thousand 1357 462 2.9
Armoured vehicles, thousand 216 51 4.3
Mortars, thousand 516 100 5.1
Major naval vessels 8999 1734 5.2
Machine pistols, thousand 11604 1185 9.8
Ballistic missiles 0 6000
Atomic weapons 4 0
Source: Harrison (1998: 14-16; 2005); Ordway and Sharpe (1979: 405-7).
Table 6. The Alliances in World War II: Resources of 1938
Territory, GDP in 1990
prices
Population,
million million
sq. km ha. per
head $
billion per
head, $
Allies
1938
Allies, total 689.7 47.6 6.9 1024 1485
UK and France only 89.5 0.8 0.9 470 5252
1942
Allies, total 783.5 68.0 8.7 1749 2232
UK, USA, and
USSR only 345.0 29.3 8.5 1444 4184
Axis
1938
Axis, total 258.9 6.3 2.4 751 2902
Germany, Austria,
Italy, and Japan only 190.6 1.2 0.7 686 3598
1942
Axis, total 634.6 11.2 1.8 1552 2446
Germany, Austria,
Italy, and Japan only 190.6 1.2 0.7 686 3598
Source: Harrison (1998: 3-9).
18
Table 7. Allies Versus Axis: Size and Development Ratios
Population
Territory
Territory
per head
Gross
Domestic
Product
GDP per
head
1938
Total 2.7 7.5 2.8 1.4 0.5
Great Powers only 0.5 0.6 1.4 0.7 1.5
1942
Total 1.2 6.1 4.9 1.1 0.9
Great Powers only 1.8 23.5 13.0 2.1 1.2
Source: Calculated from Table 6.
Table 8. The Military Burden, 1939-44 (military outlays, per cent of national
income)
1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944
At current prices:
Allied powers
USA 1 211314242
UK 15 44 53 52 55 53
USSR ……………
Axis powers
Germany 23 40 52 64 70
Italy 8 12 23 22 21
Japan 22 22 27 33 43 76
At constant prices:
Allied powers
USA 1 211324345
UK .. ………… ...
USSR .. 17 28 61 61 53
Axis powers
Germany 23 40 52 63 70
Italy ……………
Japan ……………
Source: Harrison (1998: 21).
19
Table 9. War Losses Attributable to Physical Destruction (per cent of assets)
Human assets Physical assets
national wealth industry fixed
assets
Allied powers
USA 1 0
UK 1 5
USSR 18-19 25
Axis powers
Germany 9 17
Italy 1 10
Japan 6 25 34
Source: Harrison (1998: 37).
20
Figure 1. Production Mobilization: Nine Countries, 1913 to 1917
-40%
-30%
-20%
-10%
0%
10%
20%
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000
GDP per Head in 1913, $ and 1990 prices
Change in Real GDP
,
1913 to 1917
Source: Broadberry and Harrison (2005).
Notes: Observations are, from left to right, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France,
Germany, Canada, UK, New Zealand, USA, and Australia.
Figure 2. Fiscal Mobilization in World War I: Eight Countries
-10%
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
0 100020003000400050006000
GDP per Head in 1913, $ and 1990 Prices
Change in Government Outlays,
Share of GDP, First Year of War
Canada
A
ustralia
USA
Source: Broadberry and Harrison (2005), supplemented by Austria-Hungary
from Schulze (2005).
Notes: Observations not labelled within the figure are, from left to right,
Austria-Hungary, Italy, France, Germany, and UK.
21
Figure 3. Military Mobilization in World War I: Eighteen Countries and the
French Colonies
0%
20%
40%
60%
80%
100%
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000
GDP per head in 1913, $ and 1990 prices
Cumulative Mobilisation,
per cent of males, 15-49
Front Line Eurasia 0%
20%
40%
60%
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000
GDP per head in 1913, $ and 1990 prices
Cumulative Mobilisation,
per cent of males, 15-49
European Periphery
0%
20%
40%
60%
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000
GDP per head in 1913, $ and 1990 prices
Cumulative Mobilisat ion,
per cent of males, 15-49
Non-European States
Sources: GDPs per head in 1913 from Tables 1 and 2 or, if not listed there,
from Maddison (2001: 185); cumulative mobilization rates, 1914-1918, from
Urlanis (1971: 209).
Note: Observations are, from left to right: Front line Eurasia: Serbia, Turkey,
Russia, Bulgaria, Roumania, Greece, Austria-Hungary, Italy, France, and
Germany. European periphery: Portugal and UK. Non-European States:
French colonies, India, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, USA, Australia.
22
Figure 4. Production Mobilization: Eleven Countries, 1938 to 1942
-40%
-20%
0%
20%
40%
60%
80%
0 1000200030004000500060007000
GDP per Head in 1938, $ and 1990 prices
Change in Real GDP
,
1938 to 1942
Source: Harrison (1998: 10; 2005); Maddison (1995).
Note: Observations are, from left to right, the Soviet Union, Japan, Italy,
Finland, Austria, Canada, Germany (excluding Austria), Australia, UK, USA,
and New Zealand.
Figure 5. Fiscal Mobilization in World War II: Six Countries
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000
GDP per Head in 1938, $ and 1990 prices
Change in Military Outlays, Share
of GDP, First Year of War
USSR
Source: Harrison (1998: 21).
Notes: Observations are, from left to right, the Soviet Union, Japan, Italy,
Germany, the UK, and the USA.
23
Figure 6. Military Mobilization in World War II: Seventeen Countries
0%
2%
4%
6%
8%
10%
12%
14%
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000
GDP per Head in 1938, dollars and 1990 prices
Peak Mobilization into th
e
Armed Forces, % of 193
8
Population
Front Line Eurasia
0%
2%
4%
6%
8%
10%
12%
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000
GDP per Head in 1938, dollars and 1990 prices
Peak Mobilization into th
e
Armed Forces, % of 193
8
Population
T
rans-Oceanic States
Sources: Harrison (1998:3-9, 14); Correlates of War dataset, version 2.1, at
http://www.umich.edu/~cowproj; Singer (1979, 1980).
Note: Observations are, from left to right: Front line Eurasia: China,
Roumania, Bulgaria, USSR, Japan, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Finland, France,
Germany, and UK. Trans-Oceanic States: South Africa, Canada, Australia,
USA, and New Zealand.
24
Figure 7. Economic Recovery Following Two World Wars
80%
100%
120%
140%
160%
180%
200%
50% 75% 100% 125% 150%
War Damage: GDP Per Head in 1918, % of 1913
Postwar Recovery: GDP Per Head i
n
1929, % of 1918
100%
200%
300%
400%
500%
600%
700%
25% 50% 75% 100% 125% 150% 175% 200%
War Damage: GDP Per Head in 1945, % of 1938
Postwar Recovery: GDP Per Head i
n
1973, % of 1945
Source: Maddison (2001).
Note. Observations are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark,
Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway,
Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States.
25
Figure 8. Economic Convergence Through Two World Wars
100%
110%
120%
130%
140%
150%
0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% 120%
Prewar Lag: GDP Per Head in 1913, % of USA
Trans-War Convergence: GDP Pe
r
Head in 1929, % of 1913
100%
200%
300%
400%
500%
20% 40% 60% 80% 100% 120%
Prewar Lag: GDP Per Head in 1938, % of USA
Trans-War Convergence: GDP Pe
r
Head in 1973, % of 1938
Notes and Sources: as Figure 7.
26
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... Em vez de assumir a vitória como pressuposto -noção aparentemente compartilhada em algum nível entre os membros da cúpula nazista -, uma análise utilitária da situação deveria sopesar as reais chances de a Alemanha vencer o conflito mundial. Com efeito, o Eixo apreciou alguma vantagem inicial, que, no entanto, perdurou no máximo até o ano de 1942, quando a superioridade material dos Aliados se tornou evidente (Broadberry;Harrison, 2008). A realidade, porém, não demoveu Hitler de seus objetivos, tanto que o "milagre armamentista de Speer" ocorreu na segunda metade da guerra, quando seu desfecho já estava em grande medida definido. ...
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The war taught us much, not only that people suffered, but that those who have the best technology, discipline, and machinery come out on top; it is this that the war taught us, and it is a good thing it taught us (V. I. Lenin, cited by Bailes, 1978: 49). Introduction Russia's participation in the First World War began on 19 July 1914 and ended on 26 October 1917 (old style), when the Bolshevik Party seized power. In three and a quarter years Russia conscripted 10 per cent of its population and spent on average around 24 per cent of its national income in each year of war. Russia's premature departure from the war nevertheless brought but temporary respite from conflict. Civil war and foreign intervention erupted in the summer of 1918. Only at the very end of 1920 were peacetime conditions restored, by which time the political and socioeconomic system had undergone a profound transformation. Russia thus experienced a prolonged period of upheaval, characterised by the mobilisation of resources for war and revolution (Holquist, 2002). These processes were accompanied by demographic shocks, depletion of the capital stock, a rupture of external and internal trade, and (by 1918) the collapse of the currency. This chapter devotes particular attention to the behaviour of the major economic variables, providing a quantitative illustration of the impact of war up to and including the Bolshevik Revolution. © Cambridge University Press 2005 and Cambridge University Press, 2009.
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The soviet economic mobilization for World War II was relatively intense, if not efficient, both by international standards and by the Russian standards of World War I. By comparison with 1914, the Soviet capacity for economic mobilization had been enlarged by interwar economic growth (the increased size of the economy, and its higher development level). Soviet policy and system characteristics more appropriate to wartime also played a part. These findings are further demonstrated through comparative study of the respective roles of the Russian and Soviet civilian economies in the two wars.