Historian Niall Ferguson in the book Empire, and especially in The War of the World, demonstrates how World War I ended an almost century of free trade promoted by the British Empire. The result, aggravated by the 1929 Crisis/Great Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes (socialism and Nazi-fascism) was the creation of economically closed zones and territorial conquest as the only alternative to economic growth.
Between 1815 and 1914 the world market worked very well for the great European powers: they acquired raw materials from their colonies and semi-colonial regions (Latin America and China) and sold for these manufactured goods. Everyone benefited from the free access order created and sustained by the British Empire. However, the first world conflict changed the rules of the game. The costs of war made the British Empire what he hated most: protectionist. For the British this was not such a serious problem as they controlled almost 25% of the planet.
However, for nations that did not have such an empire (Germany and Japan) British protectionism was a serious problem. To protectionism was added the economic recession that began in 1929. Faced with a scenario of global recession and economic protectionism powers such as Germany and Japan found in territorial conquest a way out in the first half of the twentieth century.
Territorial conquest is a pre-industrial strategy of making the economy grow. It is now well known that a nation’s main resource is not the raw materials below ground but the people. It is not factory building that leverages the economy, but investments in education, science and technology. If even today there are people who think that using public money to subsidize national industrialists is good for the country and people who are against land reform it is not strange that in the first half of the twentieth century politicians argued that wealth was in the possession of land and land. that is therein. The discourse of territorial expansion, and the consequent extermination of peoples considered inferior by the Nazis, as a solution to Germany’s problems had the desired effect with the German people giving full support to Adolf Hitler’s genocidal project. Already Japan:
(…) had had great economic success in the 1930s, but its vital overseas markets depended heavily on good relations with Britain (as long as the British dominated India) and the United States. Among the great powers, Japan was the most vulnerable to the external disturbance of its industrial economy: its own trade empire was the best guarantee against the catastrophic effects of this situation. Indeed, the army’s high command, the dominant force in the Tokyo government, believed that the world would soon be divided into regional spheres and closed economic zones. John Darwin. After Tarmelane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires. 1400–2000 (Kindle Locations 7411–7415). Portuguese edition.
The creation of economically closed zones is what was foreseen for the rest of the twentieth century. In such a scenario territorial conquest (a zero-sum game) would be the lever of economic progress. This was especially harmful to the US, which was the largest economic power in the world. Each territory conquered by the Axis was less a market for US products. With the outbreak of World War II, the United States, overriding its empire and socialism, financially supported France, the United Kingdom and, from 1941, the Soviet Union, to ensure that markets remained open.
To break the Japanese war machine, the US suspended the shipment of oil to Japan; about 80 percent of the oil used by the Japanese came from Uncle Sam’s land. Because of this sanction, Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor naval base to preemptively defeat the US to continue its conquest of Asia. This attitude had the opposite effect, because from that attack the US put all its industrial force to destroy the Axis. At the end of the war the order of open access was restored, but it would have to confront the socialist bloc for the rest of the twentieth century until its victory symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is 30 years ago today, and the peaceful end of the USSR.
Both The Evolution of Trust and World War II show that cooperation is better than cheating. We can be rich by taking what is from others, but we will be truly rich if each person enjoys a dignified life and for this mutual cooperation is the best way for not only economic but human progress.