Britain, America and Rearmament in the 1930s: The Cost of by Christopher Price (auth.)

By Christopher Price (auth.)

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Despite the physical self-sufficiency of the United States economy, overcapacity in primary production actually made dependence on foreign markets, and the British Empire in particular, a fact of American political life in the 1930s. This situation was not new: Andrew Mellon, then secretary of the Treasury, had ‘observed in 1923 that with a “balance” among industries, the United Britain’s Unwelcome Recovery, 1931–36 31 States could do without exports. He admitted, however, that such a balance did not exist’,28 and when depression came it still did not exist.

The British economy could afford to run a current account deficit at no risk to domestic economic stability, and in fact a current account deficit contributed to the steadiness of the economy by preventing demand-pull inflation. Germany, by contrast, lacking Britain’s access to overseas supply was to experience severe ‘overheating’ of its economy by 1938, as demand outstripped productive capacity. In Britain, the fear of classical economists was that a balance of payments deficit would drain gold and foreign currency reserves and thus devalue the currency.

16 Strong growth helped Britain’s financial position by increasing the attractiveness of sterling for foreign investors which, allied to the advantages of the sterling bloc, ensured that foreign currency and gold continued to flow into London. The seemingly paradoxical increase in the strength of sterling as Britain’s trade gap widened demonstrated the fundamental strength of Britain’s economic position in the 1930s. The British economy could afford to run a current account deficit at no risk to domestic economic stability, and in fact a current account deficit contributed to the steadiness of the economy by preventing demand-pull inflation.

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