Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF THE REVOLUTION

The Economic Problems of War. War, if it is prolonged and serious, always necessitates far-reaching readjustments in the ordinary economic life of the people. We may distinguish three outstanding economic problems that face a nation at such a time: (1) The foremost is the problem of producing and distributing the economic goods, both services and commodities, that are necessary for carrying on the war; (2) the problem of devising means of paying for the goods and services that the nation uses for this purpose--the question of financing the war; (3) the problem of supplying the ordinary economic wants of the people, since only a small proportion are ever actively engaged in the conflict, and it is desirable, as far as circumstances permit, that the noncombatants should be able to pursue their usual mode of life; if they have to undergo serious deprivations, disaffection may result. It should be noted that this last problem is made subordinate to the first; for the time being the political unit of organized society which we call the nation has set up one goal as its immediate and supreme objective--the winning of a war--instead of the many, varied, less definitely conceived and formulated-objectives that exist in time of peace. All other interests then become subordinate to this objective; even the sacrifice of life itself may be demanded.

The individualistic, competitive industrial society, motivated and guided by the desire for private profit, upon which we so largely depend to supply our innumerable economic wants in time of peace, is found not to provide the methods best suited to attain the supreme purpose which the nation sets up for itself in time of war. Yet the ordinary bases and organization of industrial society cannot be suddenly and entirely cast aside on the outbreak of war; even were this possible it would not be desirable. On the other hand, it is obvious that extensive and far-reaching modifications of the ordinary economic life of the nation are essential if its economic and other social resources are to be conserved and quickly mobilized so as to contribute the utmost possible to the attainment of the ideal which for the moment is supreme. By bearing in mind the economic resources and organization existing in the colonies together with the character of the three chief economic problems arising out of war, we may obtain a clearer understanding of the significance of the facts and the narrative of events, together with the lessons to be learned therefrom, to which we now turn.

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