To the editor:
World War I lasted from August 1914 to November 1918. Tens of millions died; 50 miles of utter desolation stretched from Switzerland to the Channel. The wealth of entire nations had been swallowed.
France, a victor, by 1918 was bankrupt, having borrowed heavily from the United States and Britain. It wanted those debts paid by Germany as war reparations. But Germany could not pay both for reparations and for the American wheat it needed to prevent starvation. So the French demanded that if German money went to pay for wheat, then France’s debt to Britain and the United States should be forgiven.
But the upper classes of France were not bankrupt; in fact, the war had made them richer. French politics, however, got in the way. France was not willing to tax itself to pay its debt. In 1919, at the Versailles Peace Conference Winston Churchill was led to comment: “France was going bankrupt as a nation, but the French were growing wealthy as individuals.”
Today a Goldman Sachs vice president, the head of the company’s “United States equity derivative business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa” resigned, calling the firm “morally bankrupt.” The company responded saying despite his auspicious title the man was really a nobody, lower on the pecking order than at least 12,000 other Goldman employees, and knows not what he says. As proof, Fox News quoted Goldman sources saying the man: “never made more than $750,000 a year.”
So quoth another aristocrat: “Let them eat cake.”