“It is extraordinary that the fundamental economic problems of a Europe starving and disintegrating before their eyes, was the one question in which it was impossible to arouse their interest,” wrote John Maynard Keynes in his polemical classic, The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Keynes was referring to “the big four”, the leaders of main allied powers that had defeated Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany during World War One – including British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. A Treasury official at the negotiation of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, a 36-year old Keynes then resigned in disgust, to rapidly write one of the most influential books of the 20th century.
The terms of the Treaty were far too harsh on Germany, Keynes argued. The leaders of America, Britain, France and Italy were imposing massive financial penalties to appease their compatriots, he said, that crushed Germany’s ability to recover. “Reparation was their main excursion into the economic field,” Keynes boomed, in a work that became an instant bestseller. “They settled it as a problem of theology, of politics, of electoral chicane, from every point of view except that of the economic future of the state whose destiny they were handling”.