terça-feira, 17 de agosto de 2004

1914 and the World We Lost

"Ninety years ago this month, on June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated by a Bosnian-Serb nationalist in the city of Sarajevo. It served as the spark which set off the events that started World War I later that summer. It also ended the predominantly classical-liberal epoch of the nineteenth century and ushered in roughly the last hundred years of collectivism, interventionism, and war.

What the epoch before 1914 was like was concisely expressed by John Maynard Keynes in his 1919 volume The Economic Consequences of the Peace:

"What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914! The greater part of the population, it is true, worked hard and lived at a low standard of comfort, yet were, to all appearances, reasonably contented with this lot. But escape was possible, for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average, into the middle and upper classes, for whom life offered, at a low cost and with the least trouble, conveniences, comforts, and amenities beyond the compass of the richest and most powerful monarchs of other ages.

The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference.

But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice."

However imperfectly, throughout all that was called at that time “the civilized world,” the rule of law prevailed and the rights of individuals to their life, liberty and property were widely respected. Governments rarely consumed more than 10 percent of the wealth of their citizens and subjects—leaving the remaining 90 percent to be consumed, saved, and invested as those citizens and subjects considered most useful, advantageous, and profitable. Freedom of trade generally prevailed among these nations, with the tariff barriers that existed being minor stumbling blocks to the competitive flow of goods and services around the world. "

Published in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty - June 2004 by Richard M. Ebeling

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