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8 - The Age of Dislocation (from 1914 to 1950)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Edward B. Barbier
University of Wyoming
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In November 1918 the first world war terminated; in September 1939 the second world war began … It was an age of dislocation and experiment … The dislocation stands out clearly. In all of these twenty-one years there were not more than five, the five which ended the twenties, that men felt to be years of normal prosperity.

(Lewis 1949, pp. 11–12)


As the above quote indicates, the economist W. A. Lewis dubbed the twenty-one-year period from 1918 to 1939 as the “age of dislocation and experiment.” However, as the Latin American economic historian Rosemary Thorp has suggested, Lewis’s description could easily be extended to 1945 or 1950, and thus also encompasses the three “international shocks” experienced by the world economy: World War I, the Great Depression and World War II.

Certainly, the years 1914 to 1950 witnessed dramatic disruptions to the global economy. As the previous three chapters have suggested, since 1500 the world had embarked on an unprecedented phase of Global Frontier expansion, which reached its apex with the remarkable forty-year “Golden Age” of global resource-based development from 1870 to 1914. But the outbreak of World War I in 1914 brought the latter period of global growth in trade, resource exploitation and new economic opportunities to a close. The ensuing thirty-five-year period, which included the Great Depression and World War II, further added to global economic disruptions during the “Age of Dislocation.”

Scarcity and Frontiers
How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation
, pp. 463 - 551
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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