Margaret Scott

Economic Crisis and Regional Integration

In the 1930's, Germany and Japan resorted to forcible regional integration, not economic nationalism, in response to economic crisis. By contrast, in today's crisis, the largest members of the European Union, the best model and greatest hope for benign regionalism, have turned their backs on integration.

PRINCETON – Everyone now knows that we are in the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s. The protectionist responses are sadly familiar: protests against foreign workers, demands for trade protection, and a financial nationalism that seeks to limit the flow of money across national frontiers.

In the 1930’s, however, economic nationalism was not the only show in town. Many people started to think of regional integration as the answer to depression.

But the sort of integration that occurs in times of economic crisis is often destructive. The most unattractive versions of 1930’s regionalism came from Germany and Japan, and represented nothing less than a practical extension of their power over vulnerable neighbors, which were forced into trade and financial dependence on the basis of Germany’s Grosswirtschaftsraum or its Japanese equivalent, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. As a consequence of the horrors of the 1930’s, there remains substantial suspicion of concepts like “Greater East Asia.”

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