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The Economic Consequences of the Peace is a book published by
John Maynard Keynes in 1919. Keynes attended the conference as a delegate of the
British Treasury and argued for a much more generous peace. It was a best seller
throughout the world and was critical in establishing a general opinion that the
Versailles Treaty was a Carthaginian peace. It helped to consolidate American
public opinion against the treaty and involvement in the League of Nations. The
perception by much of the British public that Germany had been treated unfairly
in turn was a crucial factor in public support for appeasement. The success of
the book established Keynes' reputation as a leading economist especially in the
left. When Keynes was a key player in establishing the Bretton Woods system in
1944, he remembered the lessons from Versailles as well as the Great Depression.
The Marshall Plan after Second World War is a similar system to that proposed by
Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace.
The book was released in late 1919 and became an immediate bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic: it was released in the US in 1920. The scathing sketches of Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau proved to be very popular and the work established Keynes' reputation with the public as a leading economist. By 1924, the book had sold 140,000 copies with translations into 11 languages. It restored Keynes' reputation with the Bloomsbury Group which had been tarnished by his work for the treasury during war time. Keynes returned to Cambridge to work as an economist where he was regarded as the leading student of Alfred Marshall.
Impact on American participation in the League of Nations
As well as being highly successful in commercial terms in the US, the book proved to be highly influential. The book was released just before the US Senate considered the Treaty of Versailles and confirmed the beliefs of the isolationists or irreconcilables that American participation in world politics was not wise. As well, the book also heightened the doubts of the "reservationists" led by Henry Cabot Lodge over the terms of the treaty and created doubts in the minds of Wilson's supporters. Lodge, the Republican Senate Leader, shared Keynes' concerns about the severity of the Treaty on Germany and believed that it would have to be renegotiated in the future. The Economic Consequences of the Peace played a critical role in turning American public opinion against the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations although it was Wilson's poor management of the issue due to a number of strokes that would eventually ensure that America would not participate in the League of Nations.
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