Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/Note by the Director


The plans of the Division of Economics and History of the Carnegie Endowment have been transformed by the World War. Problems now calling for study transcend in importance those with which this division has been dealing and material for research and record so far transcends any that was formerly available that it will demand almost exclusive attention for some years to come. A new world has evolved suddenly out of the world which we knew, and the transformation extends to the foundations of government and of economic life.

The process of warfare itself is now so unlike that of former days that many military rules of the past have gone into the scrap basket. The late war ended when its deadliest tools had barely been brought into action. The peoples have fought as they had worked, by machinery; mechanical and chemical engines of destruction have decided the result and will decide in like manner the result of all wars of the future. Machine shops and chemical laboratories will so largely determine what armies shall win that fighting strength will be as much a matter of available capital and of science in applying it as of numbers of troops and strategy in directing them. It is safe to say that the death-dealing arts and instruments will far surpass in destructiveness those which made the late war so deadly, and to a soldier of the future the order to march into a cloud of poisonous gas and a whirlwind of missiles will resemble an order to plunge into the rapids of Niagara. This is one central and obvious fact which the war has taught us, and it has many corollaries, some of which have to do with the increased costs of war and the importance of the particular resources that make a nation powerful for offence and defence; but there are less conspicuous economic facts which are more fundamental, since they may determine where and when, if at all, wars shall hereafter occur.

Causes of warfare are always partly economic and those which incited the recent one were mainly so. The business plans of a powerful state reached to the ends of the earth and so crossed and interlaced the claims of other states that some writers, then and afterwards, pronounced the war inevitable. If we assume a settled purpose on the part of such a state to encroach on the rights of others, we may say that it doubtless was inevitable. The victory of the defending countries has saved them from an immediate and intolerable domination, but it cannot be taken as an assured fact that similar attempts will never again be made. The economic inducement continues and the means may at some time be forthcoming.

Within the several states war has democratized industry, giving to labour an increase of control a change that, if continued, will entail momentous consequences; but still greater effects have been produced on the relations of states to each other. The world as a whole has changed more than its component parts, and the new relation of the parts to one another is the critical element in the situation. The great increase in the economic functions of governments is one cause of this condition. Within the great international community in which the several states are units extensive economic functions have gravitated into the hands of governments and caused them to face each other as business rivals and to deal with each other in a multitude of ways in which the merely self-seeking policy of private business is intolerable. Power to invoke principles of justice and international law as interpreted by a competent court has become an indispensable means of allaying strife, and this fact exalts to supreme importance the high court of nations which has just been established. It magnifies also the importance of the economic facts and principles with which the law itself will have to deal. It is not merely individual men or private corporations who now meet each other in the rough and tumble of a worldwide mart but states themselves, each representing its own population and seeking to foster its interests as a zealous and faithful agent. The chances of friction that are inherent in ordinary commerce inhere to-day in vast international transactions and will increase in the measure in which the intercourse grows. All this means a great increase in incentives to warfare, on the one hand, and in the motives for preventing it, on the other. Private commerce unites more than it separates those who participate in it, and it remains to be seen whether international commerce will act in the same way; but, in view of what modern war means, the human race will deserve to perish, and much of it will probably do so, if the forces of strife are allowed to get the upper hand. Whether they will or not—whether the recent economic changes will tend to reduce warfare or to increase it—depends on the ability of nations to create and maintain the instrumentalities that in the new state of the world are necessary.

Certain it is that the feeling which prevails to-day, the world over, is not one of security. The dread of further war is greater than it was before 1914. In some areas war still prevails, in others peace is held by a precarious tenure, and in all it can be firmly established only by conscious and intelligent action by the states themselves. Mere exhaustion holds war dogs temporarily in leash, but it will take more than that to tame them as they must be tamed if peace is made to last.

We here confront a wide difference between the several states in comparative desire for peace and disposition to maintain it. One portentous fact is the grim determination of Russian communists to extend their system by crude force from state to state. Bolshevism is government by the few and largely the bad masquerading as government for and by the people. In its mother country, Russia, the economic measure by which it began its career was confiscation of private wealth—in itself an ultra-democratic measure. If this had brought in a true communism, it would have been a ruthless and unjust measure for creating a peace-loving state. A just and orderly democratizing of industry in the several states would give new strength to the forces of peace, and it would be highly improbable that any state so influenced would try to extend its system over foreign countries by military invasion. Democracy, socialism, communism, and bolshevism all appear in the aftermath of the war. The first of them makes for future peace and so does even the conservative element in the second, while all else in the series means certainty of civil strife and danger of international war.

The fact that during the war governments had to take on innumerable functions that were formerly in private hands has lent an impetus to socialism and to the perverted growths that have accompanied it, and it has created a new international system the meaning of which is profoundly significant, though he who runs cannot so easily read it. There are dangerous features in the system which the war evoked and, happily for mankind, there are available safeguards which were evoked with them and need to be retained if human effort can do it.

By a compulsion that there was no resisting, the war forced the nations of the Entente into economic co-operation with each other. Commissions centring finally in the Supreme Economic Council adjusted in a harmonious way questions that would otherwise have led to rivalry and conflicting action in purchasing war materials, securing ships, apportioning food, controlling railroads, financing the war and doing a multitude of other things with the one common purpose of victory. The special compulsion of the struggle is over, but it has left an aftermath of issues grave enough to make peace insecure unless something equivalent to the Supreme Economic Council survives in full efficiency. The agency that did so much to win the war may do as much to prevent another one, but to that end it will have to be guided by economic principles, and it is a saving fact that these still survive. The war has not abolished the law of demand and supply, though governments may forget it. In the coming era they must build better than they now know. Economic knowledge must either go in advance of action and prevent disaster or follow action and be learned from disaster. Beyond computation is the importance of attaining the knowledge and using it when evil impends and prevention is possible.

John Bates Clark,

New York,Director.
September 27, 1920.


In justice to the distinguished author of this work, it should be said that he completed it early in the year 1919, and that delays connected with the preparation of the English edition are mainly responsible for its late appearance. This will account for the fact that important events, such as the restoration of part of Sleswick to Denmark in 1920 and an interesting act on insurance against invalidity (May 1921), have not been mentioned. Moreover, in the interval since the manuscript was finished additional sources of information have been opened. The author, therefore, would gladly supplement the statements which this volume presents, although the trend of the evolution in Denmark described herein has not been essentially altered since the volume was written. But it seems best to issue it as it stands, complete as it well could be at the time when the manuscript was sent to America, and to leave for the future the task of presenting facts more recently made known.

J. B. C.

New York,
September 1, 1921.