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Financing the First World War [Paperback]

Hew Strachan

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Book Description

14 Oct 2004 The First World War
To Arms is Hew Strachan's most complete and definitive study of the opening of the First World War. Now, key sections from this magisterial work are published as individual paperbacks, each complete in itself, and with a new introduction by the author. This volume is the first full history of how the war was financed. It resulted in hyper-inflation in the 1920s and, in due course, in New York's displacement of London as the world's money market. Its effects are still with us today.

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About the Author

Hew Strachan is Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How combatant nations actually paid for WWI 10 Jun 2005
By George Coppedge - Published on Amazon.com
This exhaustively researched book by Hew Strachan examines how the principal combatant nations during WWI (UK, France, Russia, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) raised funds to pay for the war. Chapters in the book include: The Gold Standard, Financial Mobilization, The Loss of Budgetary Control, Taxation, Domestic Borrowing, and Foreign Borrowing.

'The Gold Standard' explains the widely-accepted theory and practice of the pre-war international gold standard, which all the combatants were on prior to the war. In 'Financial Mobilization' Strachan relates how each nation rapidly reacted to the 1914 August crisis, through overnight doubling of interest rates, suspensions of gold convertibility, restrictions on international funds transfers, closing of stock exchanges, etc. The following chapter, 'The Loss of Budgetary Control' recounts how the immediate, insatiable, and highly volatile demands of total war continually frustrated attempts at financial forecasting, planning, and budgeting.

In 'Taxation', Strachan does a great job of investigating and explaining different taxation schemes, not merely used to finance the war but also to control spiraling inflation. Specifically, he discusses various taxes - income tax, war profits tax, consumption tax, supertax, luxury tax, land tax, state monopolies, etc. - and how well they performed in raising money and controlling inflation.

The last two chapters, 'Domestic Borrowing' and 'Foreign Borrowing', explain how gov'ts loaned from banks, issued treasury bills, and floated war bonds. In addition, they discuss their effects on instigating/controlling inflation, interest rates, money supply, creditworthiness, and their ability to procure badly-needed foreign goods.

For a relatively short book (227 pages), Strachan manages to cover a lot of ground - it is packed full of information. I enjoyed the book, but I found it difficult to follow some of the financial jargon (and I have a finance degree). Also, the chapters should be subdivided by nation. This thorough book cries out for some supplementary materials, specifically a glossary of terms and numerous supporting charts/graphs. Without graphical comparisons, it is quite difficult to grasp the magnitude of difference between the combatants. The book has an outstanding bibliography. Overall, I recommend the book, but you will probably need a finance dictionary or online reference tool to understand everything.
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