Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/Summary and Conclusion

Summary and Conclusion

At this early date it is impossible to decide whether the government has acted wisely or unwisely in pursuing the policy outlined above. Criticism will scarcely condemn its efforts to check the exportation of goods which were needed by the populace, or to cut down by taxation the large incomes resulting from abnormal market conditions during the war, or to control prices and regulate the consumption of bread, sugar, butter, etc. These measures are interesting as proof of the enormous growth of the power of the state during the last generation. In France, in 1792-1793, attempts were made in vain to supply the nation with the necessaries of life. The Convention prohibited, under penalty of death and seizure of the produce, the exportation of grain and flour. On September 29, 1793, maximum prices were fixed for a number of goods, and the exportation of all raw materials was prohibited. Just as lighting was recently regulated in Denmark, so too it was prohibited in Paris to prevent a rise in the price of candles. But before the close of 1794 the law fixing maximum prices had to be repealed. In the modern community conditions are entirely different. Of course, there have been many violations of the law, both large and small, as well as many attempts at smuggling and profiteering. On the whole, however, it may be said that the laws have worked satisfactorily. Posterity will probably be more critical of the many measures regulating agriculture, as the branch where, as mentioned before, individualism has a strong influence. The question will be asked: Could not the powerful agricultural organizations have accomplished the task of securing the necessary supplies for the country without any interference from the state? Further, the measures that were adopted to relieve the pressure of high prices will be looked at askance. The increase of salaries for the hordes of functionaries who otherwise would have been unable to make both ends meet under the great increase in the cost of living will not be censured, and much has been said in praise of the efficient support given to the unemployed, although it need not have been done through the recognized unemployment societies whose whole rule of being, as above mentioned, was thereby quite upset. The main question will be whether, on the whole, it was prudent for the state to act as guardian of the population, and in that capacity to procure commodities at a cheap rate for the people and at a large cost to the state and municipalities, and whether so many direct grants should have been made. It will be asked whether a little less interference would not have been better. No doubt the consequence would have been that wages would have risen as prices rose. The working classes would then have needed no outside aid, and the upper classes would have had heavier expenses but lighter taxes. Most people will prefer such an arrangement, even though the result, whether surplus or deficit, be the same. It would have involved a greater increase in the salaries of functionaries; the officials and employees of the state and municipality would have had to be helped; but the administration, on the other hand, would have been much more simple. Many pros and cons may be put forward by critics according to the view they take of society. The many new laws, taken together, constitute a great advance toward state socialism; but it is a question whether this advance has not been so strenuous that wide circles of the population will not feel a reaction and breathe a sigh of relief when the former conditions are restored; or whether, indeed, the pendulum may not swing back beyond the limit attained before the war. The events of the war have influenced movements which were in process of gradual development before they began, and it is a question whether the slow but sure development then progressing might have been the happier for the country.

It must not be overlooked that strong forces are in operation to bring about an entirely new social order. While the Danish social-democracy is really a conservative party, the aim of which is gradually to secure real progress for the lower classes by means of energetic legislation, and as far as possible to co-operate with the other parties in so doing, for several years there have been elements within the ranks of the party which, under conceivable circumstances, may cause great trouble. The younger members of the party have often shown impatience with the slow and cautious methods of the older men. In Denmark, as in all other countries, the Syndicalistic Movement regards itself as the more genuine expression of the teachings of Karl Marx. Parliament is looked down upon as an anachronism, and there is a desire for immediate and vigorous action, which would bring us to the verge of anarchy. We cannot impeach the motives of these young men. They may be firmly convinced that the community will adjust itself wisely to unchartered freedom when the old bonds have been broken; that the people of their own accord will work unanimously in friendly co-operation for the common good; and that the resulting conditions will be happier than those under which we are now living. But it is to be wished that this end may be approached, not by the exhortation of the untaught masses, but by studious deliberation and quiet reflection on the lessons of history. These ideas were growing among the social-democrats of Denmark during the last years before the outbreak of the war, although the party was so strictly disciplined that it presented on several occasions a solid front to the other parties. During the progress of the war conditions naturally changed. Foreign elements, largely of Slavic origin, appeared in Copenhagen; and when Bolshevism conquered Russia it won much sympathy in certain quarters here. The Syndicalistic Movement thereby gained ground, though it met with strong opposition from the old social-democracy. Especially within certain trades these teachings, with their touch of idealism, supported, as it is, by the longing of youth for immediate action, have secured a firm foothold. The party has a press which openly defies all its opponents, and not the least the old leaders of the social-democratic party. For some time to come they may not essentially disturb the quiet development of affairs; but our day has been so full of surprises that here, too, we may look for the unexpected to happen. We are justified, however, in holding that few countries are better armed against sudden catastrophes than Denmark; and, if she is spared bolshevist or syndicalistic influence from without, she shows signs, as I hope will appear from this treatise, of a healthy and independent progress, on the lines of her past efficiency and the ideals of her population, toward the solution of the social problem in such a way that it may offer an example to be imitated in several points.