HOW THE WAR AFFECTED BRITISH COMPETITIVE STRENGTH
The Great War changed abruptly the problems of the British makers. For five years it gave a respite from Continental competition, during which, after an initial period of uncertainty, demand was urgent whether on account of the war or (at its close) of reconstruction. The search for markets was replaced by a search for raw materials. Instead of association to keep prices up there was State control to keep prices down. The State intervened, too, to secure an unheard-of pooling of knowledge and resources, and to promote an unparalleled expansion of productive capacity. The industry and its customers were forced at long last to accept the basic process without irrational reservations, and the East Midland ore resources were systematically explored. State control was lifted in the spring of 1919; the urgent demand had dried up by the close of 1920, and by then Continental competition had reappeared. "The industry", according to the Economist, "had escaped from the hot-house atmosphere of war conditions to the colder but more invigorating breezes of free competition."1 But the war conditions naturally left a permanent mark. It is the purpose of this chapter to examine how the competitive strength of the British industry was changed between 1914 and 1921. The corresponding changes in rival centres are examined in the second part of the chapter which follows.
The war forced the British steelmakers to make extensive, if not radical, structural and technical changes, and it is this aspect____________________