World War’s Winners and Losers

Participants’ Economic Gains and Losses in Terms of Gross Domestic Product

Gains and Losses in Global GDP Share for World War I (1914-1918)

Image: Gains and Losses in Global GDP Share for World War I (1914-1918)

Who won the First and the Second World Wars? History says German lost both, and the United States of America won both. Economic data supports the historic record. Comparing participants by their share of global GDP, or gross domestic product, I’ve identified which countries benefited most from either world war.

The First World War

Gains and Losses in Global GDP Share for World War I (1914-1918)Graph 1. Gains and Losses in Global GDP Share for World War I (1914-1918).

How to read the graph: the graph shows the absolute gain/ loss in global GDP share, which is itself a %. For example, Germany lost 3% of its absolute global GDP share, namely down from 11% to 8%. Relatively speaking, that would have meant a loss of 28% (3%/11%) of its gross domestic power relative to the world.

Germany (-3%), France (-2.6%) and India (-2.3%) appear to have been the biggest economic losers of the First World War, although India’s GDP had already been in decline naturally and did not seem to have been impacted by the war.

The economic winners of the First World War were Japan (+1.7%), Italy (+2.5%), United Kingdom (+3.5%) and the United States (+8.5%). At the time of the war, they were Entente Powers that opposed Germany. France lost despite being an ally.

See here for a list of World War I participants. In the graph above, I only included those with significant gains and losses.

The Second World War

Gains and Losses in Global GDP Share for World War II (1939-1945)

Graph 2. Gains and Losses in Global GDP Share for World War II (1939-1945).

After World War II, the United States (+22%) emerged as the sole victor. Its main ally, the United Kingdom (+0.9%) under Winston Churchill, only gained a small piece of the global economy. The war’s losers count Fascist Italy (-2.4%), Imperial Japan (-3.5%) and Third Reich Germany (-7.2%). As during the First World War, allied France incurred a loss, of -3.4%.

It is important to note that aforementioned gains and losses quickly disappeared again after the war was over, when the global economic balances reverted back to their respective trend lines. France recovered shortly after the war, as did Germany during the 1950s.

See here for a list of World War II participants.

Conclusion

War can be profitable, but only if you win by remaining relatively unharmed oneself. The United Kingdom was heavily bombed during WWII, but America was not. Countries occupied by axis powers, such as France, generally lose economically, since the aggressor plunders their economies.

Both world wars funded the rise of the U.S. Military-Industrial-Complex that would police the world for decades to come. The incredible economic benefits to be gained from winning world wars make it a very attractive proposition to try and challenge world order.

On a disturbing note, I don’t think the potential of nuclear war will deter challengers. It’s expensive to feed billions of people. Military strategists will likely be willing to sacrifice the urban lower classes in order to divert resources to military victory. The belief in lasting peace is grounded in denial.

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World War’s Winners and Losers by Mathijs Koenraadt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.