Part One of the book is a detailed account of the founding of the International Chamber of Commerce in the aftermath of the Great War of 1914–18, and of the wretched provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
This part of the book covers, however, some of the most interesting territory. It describes a new international business institution from an age when international business was, itself, a new thing, discovering what its opportunities were.
For business, the priorities were clear: to get the world market — then almost exclusively the North Atlantic region — “back to normal” after the immiserating destruction of the Great War.
But reconstruction and “back to normal” were not necessarily governments’ priorities.
For some political leaders in Europe the top priority was to determine and enforce “restitution” levies on the losing Central Powers; Germany especially. For others, such as the French Commerce Minister Étienne Clémentel, the war time system of allocated supply and transport seemed a more efficient arrangement to meet post-war challenges than “business as usual”. For US President Warren Harding — who not only endorsed but ran on a “back to normal” platform — the priority was to disentangle the US from Europe.
Then there were massive public and inter-governmental debts incurred during the war that stood in the way of the trade financing needed for Europe’s reconstruction.
So the new International Chamber of Commerce was forced at the start to mount a major effort to convince governments to take a more commercial — non-retributive — approach to the vexed issue of war reparations.
It’s an intriguing story in which both the public and the private interests of ICC leaders no doubt motivated them. But it’s a depressing tale about public policy and intergovernmental collaboration.
To help you navigate your way through it — or possibly to help you to decide whether you might like to skim thorough some chapters of the book — here’s a synopsis of Part One: “Two Terrible Decades” (PDF file 148KB ).
A link to the first part of the book is available in the previous post.