Economic Aspects of the War

Economic Aspects of the War

Bibliographic Details

New Haven: The Yale University Press, 1915

Book Review

The scope of Professor Clapp's book is far narrower than its title suggests. What Professor Clapp sets out to do is to treat, not as a lawyer but as an economist, the consequences of the progressive invasions of traditional neutral rights in the course of the European war. These invasions are matter of general knowledge, and the author's account of them serves chiefly to focus attention by assembling them in all their multiplicity. Both parties to the war have participated in the unlawful work.

Introduction to Economic Aspects of the War

The sowing of mines on the open sea, the war zone declaration and the ruthless employment of submarines constitute the chief encroachment by the Central Powers upon neutral rights on the high seas. The encroachments of the Allies make a longer list, naturally, in view of their superior ability of sea power to interfere with commerce. The extraordinary expansion of the list of absolute contraband, to include such articles of general industrial use as copper and rubber, the practical elimination of the distinction between civil and military use in the case of food supplies, the arbitrary imposition of embargoes against Germany upon Holland and Scandinavia, the irregular blockade of Germany under the various Orders in Council, make up an imposing array of grievances.

Context of Economic Aspects of the War

It is impossible to read Professor Clapp's indictment without gaining the impression that international law has been worked to the whim of the belligerent and to the prejudice of the neutral. It must, bowever, be said that one hesitates to accept Professor Clapp's case against the belligerents at par value. International law is a developing body of principles, and it would be unprecedented if no change in it occurred in the course of a great war involving the chief part of the civilized world.

Thesis Statement

There is such a thing as progressive development, as well as reaction toward barbarism and lawlessness. To determine whether a particular change, as, for example, the extension of the contraband list, is in the line of progress or is fundamentally reactionary, requires the resource of the best trained international lawyer. The c'onclusions of even so well informed a layman as Professor Clapp must be treated as tentative.

More about Economic Aspects of the War

There is no reason for a similar qualification of Professor Clapp's conclusions as to the economic effects of belligerent restrictions upon trade. The British policy with respect to cotton did unquestionably inflict serious loss upon American producers of this staple. The samne thing is true of the annihilation of American trade in copper with the Central Powers. The arbitrary character of British policy, in the mnatter of shipments officially regarded as lawful in the early months of the war, entailed serious losses, through delay and indefinable, noninsurable risks.

Analysis of the Text

The holding up in neutral ports of German exports to the United States inflicted serious losses upon our importers. And in many cases it would have been difficult to defend these interferences with trade on the ground of military necessity. Professor Clapp rejects utterly the doctrine that the war can be won through “economic pressure.” Germany cannot be starved.

Other Aspects

She will not be crippled through lack of copper and cotton for munitions. So provident a military organization as that of Germany has long since assured itself of sufficient provision of these staples; and besides, German science is quite capable of providing satisfactory substitutes. This estimate of the situation, which was violently disputed at the time when Professor Clapp's book first appeared, would probably now be accepted by most careful students of the economics of the war. As an immediately effective military measure, economic pressure is a failure. This does not mean, however, that it may not be entirely rational for the Allies to continue their restrictions upon trade with Germany and even make thein more stringent.

More on this Book Review

It is good military policy to seize everything possible, material or immaterial that is of ultimate advantage to the enemy, in order to have a broad basis for peace negotiations. The right to convey goods over the seas is one that the Central Powers must recover through the peace negotiations, at a price, if their opponents shall have succeeded in depriving them of it utterly. But while it is rational for the Allies to proceed ruthlessly to their goal of holding the seas, it may not be rational for neutrals to submit to a policy that prejudices their interests equally with those of the Central Powers. Professor Clapp would have the neutrals assume an energetic stand in the matter, and if diplomatic representations do not suffice, he urges an embargo upon exports essential to the Allies

Book Review Details

This legal book review was published in:

The American Journal of International Law,Vol. 10, No. 1 (Jan., 1916), pp. 191-192

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