I don't recall where I heard in an interview or read in an article that there is a causation between economic crises and the two world wars, is there is historical truth in that?

For the second war is kind of common wisdom that Germany went into economic crisis because of the 1929 stock market crash and then went on to start WWII, but for WWI even if there was a lot of regional economical crises there were no generalized and synchronized ones like the one started by the 1929 stock market crash.

Is there a correlation or causation between generalized economic crises and World wars?

  • 4
    The economic crisis of 1929 helped create conditions that allowed Hitler's Nazi party to come to power. It did not in and of itself caused WW2 -- there were many more important factors. Aug 31, 2012 at 13:11
  • @Sardathrion Agree with you, but maybe without it Germany would have gone the way it had after WWII. Aug 31, 2012 at 13:13
  • 1
    World War I reparations led to some serious war debt for Germany. This led to a whole fiasco where the nations borrowed money to pay of debts and it just went in circles for quite a while.
    – Luke_0
    Aug 31, 2012 at 13:28
  • 4
    Depending on how you define an economic crisis and how you define a war, it's easy to show correlation. Since independence, the U.S. alone has experienced at least a dozen panics, recessions, and depressions (and 4 years of McKinleynomics); and undertaken hundreds of military operations. But the question as worded is impossible to answer quantitatively, as there have been only two world wars, too small a sample size to prove a direct relationship with anything.
    – choster
    Aug 31, 2012 at 14:11
  • 1
    sample size is awfully small for statistical significance
    – MCW
    Sep 24, 2022 at 18:46

3 Answers 3


There's a good argument to be made that the Great Depression caused WWII. The German Republic was brand new, and the economic devastation was far more than its tenuous prestige could support. As an alternative, extremist parties like the communists and the Nazis, neither of which wanted a Republic at all, were greatly strengthened. In the 1930 election enough Germans voted for the anti-republican parties that it wasn't possible for the Republic to create a government without them. The Nazis were invited into the government, and Hitler's ambition did the rest. In happier economic times this would not have happened.

WWI on the other hand, was mostly the result of the surpassing incompetence of the German monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Here's an excerpt from his wikipedia page to give you an idea:

German foreign policy under Wilhelm II was faced with a number of significant problems. Perhaps the most apparent was that Wilhelm was an impatient man, subjective in his reactions and affected strongly by sentiment and impulse. He was personally ill-equipped to steer German foreign policy along a rational course.

He fired Otto von Bismarck, easily the most talented German politician and diplomat of the age (in fact, the man responsible for there being a German Kaiser in the first place), and instead surrounded himself with people who could be counted on to tell him only things he wanted to hear. The subsequent disconnect from reality had rather sad effects.

The spark that started the war happened in Austria-Hungary. But rather than try to contain things, Wilhelm at every stage fanned the flames. He became convinced that Russia, France, and England were all in cahoots against him, and then proceeded to take pre-emptive measures that ensured that in short order they were.

  • 1
    The Napoleon's France was in an even more belligerent situation still though no WW. Aug 31, 2012 at 15:10
  • 2
    About the only thing missing from making the Napoleanic wars "world war"s is the involvement of US troops in Europe. I've seen it argued that isn't enough of a difference, and they should qualify too.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 31, 2012 at 15:28
  • @T.E.D. I don't know why this popped up in the active queue just now, but there are clear parallels between Wilhelm and a certain person at the moment.
    – Spencer
    Sep 24, 2022 at 14:10
  • @Spencer - Yeah, I've lately become convinced that people only really learn from the history they've personally lived through. So we as a species are likely doomed to inflict folly of this kind upon ourselves once every 5 generations or so.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 24, 2022 at 17:26
  • 1
    Well, it would have gotten bumped up to the top of the active questions list when LLC came through 2 days ago and fixed a couple of (doubtless quite annoying) spelling errors in my answer. So that's what likely got it noticed. As for the downvotes, perhaps in this era of Putinist aggression people aren't as receptive to economic explanations for war as they were 10 years ago? Just a theory.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 26, 2022 at 13:22

In their book "Generations," William Strauss and Neil Howe argue that there is a correlation between economic crises and American wars.

A decade-long economic crisis "no taxation without representation" in 1765–1775 led to the American Revolution; the Depression of the 1850s led to the Civil War, and the Great (and global) Depression of the 1930s led to World War II (with America being one of the greatest participants in both the depression and the war).

  • 3
    What about WW1? Not meant to be flippant, just curious. Aug 31, 2012 at 13:16
  • @Sardathrion: From an American point of view, World War II was more tied to political crises associated with colonialism. Unless you argue that the issues surrounding colonialism constituted an economic crisis.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 31, 2012 at 13:21
  • @TomAu (assuming you meant WW1), this American's point of view is different. Details in answer.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 31, 2012 at 13:57
  • @T.E.D.: I did mean WWI but your answer supported my theory of "political" crises, including Algeciras, started by our old villain, Kaiser "Bill."
    – Tom Au
    Aug 31, 2012 at 18:09
  • @TomAu - Right. I just don't think colonialisim had a lot to do with it period.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 31, 2012 at 19:11

Correlations? Yes. Causations? No.

War and economy are different metrics. Both world economic crisis and world wars are huge historical events with multiple, far-reaching causes. Is there then a direct path, from a general crisis to a world-wide war? Well, no.

Timeline of Economy and wars, Colonial America, HistoryTimeline.com

Put simply, since war and economy do not work at the same "plane", you can have a huge, broad, deadly war and still have huge economic growth, like in colonial America, or in Afghanistan, or in Persia prior to Alexander's conquests. Afghanistan has been a country on permanent civil war since the '80 has economically grown consistently, at a fast pace. This principle works from local wars to worldwide wars.

Also, a single "causation" to large scale events, like world wars, cannot be ascertained. Even when an economic crisis sets the stage for a large conflict, you cannot rule out the technological advances, diplomacy, or any other factor that leaders leveraged to actually decide to go to war (aka: true, direct causes).

Many examples in the timelines I build for HistoryTimeline.com have given me the idea that that wars and economy are obviously related, but that they really have different natures, and can be quite unnafected. Many, many times war is brought by economic growth. Just some examples: Nigeria after decolonization (oil prosperity), the conquest of Old Kingdom of Egypt, also the Islamic conquests.The Islamic conquests, truly a world war of their time, are a good example. They targeted prosperous areas so they could tax them.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.