FROM the second quarter of the eighteenth century economists evolved the idea that war was an almost unmitigated economic disaster. By the end of the century that view had become almost generally established and, excepting the notable dissent of Malthus, it remained more or less unchanged in Britain until the outbreak of the First World War. The earliest writers to consider the impact of that war on the economy took, therefore, an unrelievedly gloomy view of its results. They would have echoed what was already becoming received opinion when Samuel Johnson published, in 1749, his imitation of Juvenal’s tenth Satire:
Yet Reason frowns on War’s unequal Game, Where wasted Nations raise a single Name, And mortgag’d States their Grandsires’ Wreaths regret, From Age to Age in everlasting Debt.
Many of them did indeed afterwards echo this idea almost exactly. ‘Thus the Great War’, wrote Hirst and Allen in 1928, ‘brought a load of debt, taxes and misery incalculable. The expenditure during the four years that it lasted reached a total incomprehensible and inconceivable to the ordinary mind’.