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100 years ago: Reparations nonsense

05 February 2021

February 4th, 1921.

IT IS hard to know whether one should laugh or weep over the Paris decision respecting the German reparations. For the sake of an appearance of cordial agreement it would seem that the French and British representatives have united to impose upon Germany terms which none of them can really suppose will be executed. So openly insincere is the whole business that no responsible person appears to treat the affair seriously except when speaking in public. The Daily Mail, to be sure, came out with a table showing the British tax-payer precisely how much he may expect to get, ranging from 7½d. in the pound reduction of income tax next year to 1s. 10d. in the pound in ten years’ time. We do not question that the sum in money at which the German liabilities to the Allies are now assessed is moderate in the extreme. We suppose also that it is worth pretending that they are practicable, if only to satisfy the petite bourgeoisie and peasantry of France, to say nothing of our own dull-witted John Citizen. It is, however, worth while asking how the colossal sum is to be obtained if it be not in goods. It is perfectly obvious that Germany is no more capable of paying such a sum than any other nation would be, except out of the profits derived from trade. At present, however, the almost passionate policy of France and the somewhat half-hearted policy of Great Britain is to put every obstacle possible in the way of German trade. Further, there is the ridiculous provision in the new reparation terms of an impost of 12½ per cent. on German exports. Thus, on the one hand, imports of German goods are to be discouraged,. and on the other are to be taxed. Obviously, both systems cannot work satisfactorily, and obviously also every penny derived from the impost will be paid by the purchasers of German goods. Another form in which reparation might practically be made is by the employment of German labour, especially in the work of re-construction in devastated areas. Sentiment, however, is far too strong in France to permit of this being done, and so apparently we are thrown back on this unreal talk about money, as though indeed such sums as those in question are capable of being transmitted in cash. It is certainly hard to choose between tears and laughter.


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