Two Terrible Decades” — a synopsis

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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *