REMEMBER the unknown heroes. Do not stint the congratulations to the Dawes Committee, to the Reparation Commission,--and to the governments which, besides permitting the Commission to appoint the Dawes Committee, showed the best of good faith by going to the unusual extreme of permitting their representatives upon the Committee to express a real opinion. But remember especially the unknown heroes, practical economists and students of government finance who worked with the Committee, but in the background out of the limelight. Without them no committee of business men, however eminent, could have formulated a report worth cable charges across the Atlantic.


The essence of the Committee's plan consists in the distinction between (1) the payments by Germany to the Allies which are all to be made in Germany with German money, and (2) the transformation of these payments by the Allies into foreign currency.

Simplified on very broad lines the plan may be stated somewhat as follows:

In part from railroad and industrial earnings (in the form of interest upon securities delivered to the Allies), and in part from taxation, Germany is, during the first five-year period, the period of reconstruction, to pay to the Allies in German money amounts fixed by the Committee itself. These payments increase gradually until in the fifth year they reach a so-called "normal" of 2,500,000,000 gold marks.

At this stage the "index of prosperity," described later, comes into play. If this index shows an increase in prosperity the payments, always from the same sources, are each year to increase beyond the normal by about one-half the percentage of increase then shown by the index. After a second five-year period, the payments are to increase each year beyond the normal to the full extent of any increase in prosperity then shown by the index.

All these payments are domestic payments, paid to the Allies in Germany in German money. It is this fact alone that makes them surely possible. If they were required to be made in foreign currency, or if, when received, they were to be transformed by the Allies into foreign currency without restriction, no stabilization of currency or balancing of budget would be possible, and the payments themselves would inevitably soon cease.

To prevent this disaster, the Committee provides that the payments shall be transformed into foreign currency only to the extent to which this can be done without endangering the stability of the new German currency. If they cannot be safely transformed, and if for that reason they accumulate to the extent of 5,000,000,000 gold marks, the payments by Germany are to be reduced enough to stop the accumulation.

A new Bank of Issue and a new currency, of course; changes in railroad organization; arrangements for issue to the Allies of railroad and industrial securities; an international loan of 800,000,000 gold marks, partly to help the bank, and partly to finance deliveries in kind before Germany herself can finance them; control of certain revenues as security for the international loan and the payments; an effective but not obstructive supervisory organization;--these are details of the machinery provided for working out the plan.


The report is the first authoritative statement of fundamentals in reparation history. Whatever its immediate fate, it constitutes a milestone. A step has been taken from which there is no turning back. The financial needs of the Allies, our wishes and our prejudices, Germany's responsibility for the war, her overworked printing press, the escape of her capital, extravagance in her cafés and by her tourists, her smoking chimneys, her magnificent plant, her genius for organization, will never again be sufficient in themselves to convince anybody that Germany can pay in full. Anyone hitherto satisfied to stop thinking at some one of these points must know now that, after giving to all of them their full weight, there remain limiting economic factors, which, if not taken into account, will kill the goose.

What has happened? Secretary Hughes said at New Haven in December, 1922:

"There ought to be a way for statesmen to agree upon what Germany can pay, for no matter what claims may be made against her, that is the limit of satisfaction. There ought to be a way to determine that limit and to provide a financial plan by which immediate results can be obtained and the European nations can feel that the foundation has been laid for their mutual and earnest endeavors to bring about the utmost prosperity to which the industry of their people entitles them. If statesmen cannot agree, and exigencies of public opinion make their course difficult, then there should be called to their aid those who can point the way to a solution. Why should they not invite men of the highest authority in finance in their respective countries--men of such prestige, experience and honor that their agreement upon the amount to be paid and upon a financial plan for working out the payments, would be accepted throughout the world as the most authoritative expression obtainable?"

Not a profoundly original thought; just plain common sense, and, therefore, an exceptional flight of statesmanship,--not because statesmen have no common sense, but because the simple things which if they were plain citizens responsible only to themselves they would do without thinking twice, are difficult for statesmen.

What Secretary Hughes suggested is what has happened. Men of the highest authority and prestige, experience and honor, have agreed upon a financial plan for working out the payments, and this plan is, and will remain, the most authoritative expression obtainable.


The essential of any reparation plan is that it shall be capable of restoring financial confidence, that confidence in Germany's financial recovery and stability which both Germany and the outside financial world lost, not at a given moment, but progressively as the effect of the old reparation system came to be fully realized. The restoration of financial confidence is the real test by which to measure the accomplishment of the Dawes Committee.

The Committee, naturally, recognizes and emphasizes this necessity:

"The solution of the double problem submitted to us implies indeed the restoration of Germany's credit both externally and internally," etc.


"More important still is the fact that the success of our proposals to attain financial stabilization depends essentially upon the return of confidence. Without this the return of German capital invested abroad, the attraction of foreign capital for the purposes mentioned in the scheme and of foreign credits for the current conduct of business, and even the proper collection of taxes, will alike be impossible. Such confidence cannot be attained unless a settlement is now made which both Germany and the outside world believe will give an assurance that for a considerable period neither its finances nor its foreign relations will be endangered by renewed disputes. Such an assurance, as we shall see, does not mean making the charge on Germany a uniform one over a period of years, nor even deciding beforehand what the charge shall be in each of these years. But it does mean settling beforehand the method by which increases shall be determined."

The Committee's emphasis on the necessity of restoring confidence is most useful. But equally useful is the impression of sincerity which the report as a whole makes upon the reader. The reader feels that these men believe what they say. They have really tried to forget politics and prejudice, and to solve a problem. The Committee was in substance an arbitral tribunal on matters of highest international importance which had long been the subject of heated controversy. The ring of sincerity which pervades its report is no small part of the Committee's accomplishment.

This ring of sincerity is all the more important because the tribunal is not, from the point of view of a German, an unbiased tribunal. It would have been better if neutral representatives had been included in the Committee. Its conclusions would not have been substantially modified, and would have seemed more convincing to the Germans. It is natural, when you have the power to do so, to want to control the tribunal which is to decide your own case; but when one essential is that the other party shall have confidence in the decision, your control of the tribunal is a handicap. The obvious conviction of the Committee will help greatly to overcome this handicap.

The presence of Owen Young and General Dawes upon the Committee--though citizens of an "Associated Power"--adds great weight to its conclusions. It would be a mistake to attribute the Committee's success wholly to them, but it is an equal mistake not to realize that it would be impossible without them. We know that the unanimity in which they participate does not mean what unanimity has so often meant in the past in decisions presented to the Germans--the unanimity of half-baked, futile compromise in which, to make ostensible unanimity, political considerations were allowed to control economic reality. Neither of these Americans lacks sense or courage. They would have stood alone if that had been necessary. A German may be excused for not knowing all this as well as we do, and yet with but little exercise of the imagination he too can see that Messrs. Young and Dawes were in one sense a separate tribunal. They occupied a position of real independence, because their dissent would have been serious, not to themselves, but to any plan from which they dissented, and to the currencies of the other countries represented on the Committee. There was no serious possibility that pressure upon Messrs. Young and Dawes would persuade them to yield any conviction.


Under the Committee's plan, the restoration of confidence depends upon two provisions. They are new, a complete departure from the old system. They are basic. They take nothing from the Allies which it was possible for them to get; they take nothing from Germany which she ought not to pay as a result of the arbitrage of war; yet they leave hope and incentive to Germany and to every German a chance for a place in the sun.

These two provisions are the real guarantees of confidence, and so the real guarantees of the plan's success. They may be summarized as follows:

First, Germany's payments are all to be in German money. They are to be limited to Germany's taxable capacity. Germany is to be taxed at least as high as the other countries, but she need not fear that extreme taxation which means financial ruin.

Second, and more important, transfer of her payments into foreign currency is limited to such amounts as can be transferred without disturbing seriously the stability of Germany's new currency; that is, without causing serious fluctuation in the rate of exchange.

The importance of this second guarantee is so great that the Committee's statement of it should be emphasized:

"But the limits set by the economic balance, if impossible of exact determination, are real. For the stability of a country's currency to be permanently maintained, not only must her budget be balanced, but her earnings from abroad must be equal to the payments she must make abroad, including not only payments for the goods she imports, but the sums paid in reparation. Nor can the balance of the budget itself be permanently maintained except on the same conditions. Loan operations may disguise the position--or postpone its practical results--but they cannot alter it. If reparation can, and must, be provided by means of the inclusion of an item in the budget--i.e., by collection of taxes in excess of internal expenditure--it can only be paid abroad by means of an economic surplus in the country's activities."

The mere statement in the report of its two basic principles would not restore confidence. Germany and the outside financial world must feel sure that these principles are not to be violated, not merely in the next few years, but in the long future. For this reason, while providing that Germany's payments shall increase as her capacity to pay increases, the Committee points out emphatically that

"increased demands to correspond with increasing capacity should be determined by a method which is clearly defined in the original settlement, and which is capable of automatic, or at least professional, impartial, and practically indisputable application."

The words which the writer has italicized sound strangely sweet to one who has dwelt in the House of Reparations.

The machinery provided for protecting the second guarantee of confidence is simple. When Germany has made her payments in German money, she has fulfilled her obligation. The problem of transforming this German money into foreign currency is up to the Allies. This task is entrusted to a "Transfer Committee," which is to determine from time to time whether the accumulated domestic payments can, without endangering the stability of German exchange, be transformed into foreign currency. This question cannot be determined in advance. It depends on judgment of conditions at any given time. The machinery is appropriate and adequate.

But the proposed organization of the Transfer Committee is obviously a relic of what the late Signor Bertolini, Italian delegate on the Reparation Commission, in humorous vein dubbed "The System of Interallied Distrust." It is composed of six members: the Agent for Reparation Payments, Chairman; one representative each of Great Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, and America. Here are five too many members. One man would do the job better. Any one man of any nationality would feel bound to impartiality; while with six members, too many will feel free, almost bound, to pull and haul for supposed advantage. But no single decision by this Committee, however constituted, will have far-reaching consequences. Any serious mistake, immediately advertised to the world by its reflection in the exchange rate, is sure to be corrected. We can be confident that this machinery will work.

The other, the first mentioned, guarantee of confidence is the limitation of Germany's payments to the Allies to Germany's taxable capacity.

The Dawes Committee guarantees the application of this limiting principle, first by itself determining that certain named payments are within Germany's taxable capacity. The determination by the Committee of these definite amounts should, as Secretary Hughes said, "be accepted throughout the world as the most authoritative expression obtainable."

The payments, so determined by the Committee itself, increase during the five-year period of reconstruction, reaching a "normal" of 2,500,000,000 gold marks annually at the end of the five-year period. Any increase beyond this "normal" in subsequent years depends on an "index of prosperity" practically automatic in its operation. This index of prosperity is the average increase of six sets of statistics, "railway traffic, population, foreign trade, consumption of tobacco, etc., budget expenditure, and consumption of coal," over their average for certain prior years (chiefly 1926--1929). As we see by reference to the annex, the "etc." means something to which the Volstead Act, combined with the Monroe Doctrine, prohibited more specific reference. The annex shows also that budget receipts are included as well as expenditure.

These determinations of the Committee, with their possible increase by application of the index of prosperity, are guarded in four ways:

First, during the reconstruction period by a provision for slight readjustment, if the judgment of the Committee proves to have been either too optimistic or too pessimistic.

Second, by a permanent provision for readjustment, if and whenever the value of gold changes by as much as ten percent.

Third, by a provision that any increases resulting from application of the index of prosperity shall during the second five-year period be limited to about half of Germany's payments, i.e., to the payments derived directly from taxation.

Fourth, by the specially important provision limiting the accumulation of Germany's payments, which, it must be remembered, are all made in Germany in German money to the Agent for Reparation Payments, who is the Allies' agent. If these paymen s cannot all be transformed into foreign currency without seriously affecting the rate of exchange, and if the accumulation for this reason reaches 5,000,000,000 gold marks, then payments from the German Treasury are reduced enough to stop accumulation beyond the 5,000,000,000 marks limitation. But the payments increase again whenever exchange conditions permit the transformation of larger payments into foreign currency. If the trade balance is good, and the exchange situation proves strong enough to enable all the German payments to be transformed into foreign currency, there will be no occasion to worry about Germany's ability to make the full payments. If the exchange situation is not strong, this limitation upon their accumulation in the hands of the Agent will come into play just when it is most needed.


The unknown hero who devised the foregoing machinery knew his business. The principles underlying the problem have long been common property, but the method of guaranteeing the application of these principles is new and convincing. It gives the Allies all they can get. It guarantees the fundamental factors necessary for Germany's financial reconstruction and maintenance. It is a method "which is clearly defined in the original settlement, and which is capable of automatic, or at least professional, impartial, and practically indisputable application."

These guarantees--because they ensure confidence--make possible the new Bank of Issue, a most important detail, but nevertheless merely a detail. Without them the new bank-note would have no more permanent effect towards restoring currency stability than the Rentenmark, and without them the new railroad stock and bonds, and the new industrial bonds, also details, would be as valueless as the bonds provided for in the treaty, or the "C" bonds of sacred memory.

These guarantees of confidence make possible and wise the proposed international loan, a very substantial amount but a bagatelle in comparison with the ends which we in the United States, as well as our friends abroad, devoutly seek. This loan is safely protected by the plan, but it cannot be too often and emphatically pointed out that the American investor is not eager for German loans, and will subscribe, even to a loan that is safe, only in order to contribute to a settlement which helps our Allies towards reparation and the world towards general economic prosperity, and peace.

The Committee points out clearly that:

"The amount required for the service of this first and any subsequent loans must be deducted from the sums which in subsequent years can, in accordance with our plan, be placed at the disposal of Germany's creditors. In effect the loan is only an anticipation of the sums subsequently available which, it is necessary to emphasize, represent in our opinion, the maximum burden and therefore one not capable of increase."

The guarantees of confidence make possible the elimination of the insistently urged two-, three-, or four-year definite moratorium, not only undesirable politically, but practically. They make it possible even for the French army to stay unobtrusively in the Ruhr for the temporary period necessary to fulfil the French promises to themselves; for those who doubted French intentions can now be sure that France is not determined to destroy Germany. If she were, she would never have allowed the Dawes report to be promulgated, to say nothing of accepting it.

And more than all, the guarantees of confidence make it possible for the plan to work--i.e., for confidence to be restored--although the total obligation of Germany is not changed, either by reduction of the 132,000,000,000 gold marks to a lower and definite figure, or by fixing the time when the annuities provided in the plan shall cease. That desirable consummation is not an immediate necessity; it will come of itself sooner or later by commutation of the annuities into a funded external debt of Germany. But the guarantees make certain that whatever amount may then be arranged, it will not be 132,000,000,000 gold marks. It will not be too great or too small. It will be measured by Germany's capacity to pay, and the capacity will be very substantial. That is the essential.

If financial confidence could not be restored without determining immediately either the amount which Germany is to pay or the number of years during which she shall continue to pay, it would be necessary to make one of these determinations now, in order to avoid worse consequences. But, if economic conditions permit, justice requires that so long as France and Belgium (to mention only the most obvious illustration) are severely handicapped by the devastation of the war and the burdens of reconstruction, they shall share in Germany's prosperity, if she is prosperous. The Dawes Committee was not permitted to discuss the sum or the period of years, but it should not be forgotten that if the Dawes Committee had thought such determination necessary in order to restore confidence they could not have signed the report. The report therefore necessarily expresses their opinion on this point, with which the writer is in accord.

The old reparation program, with practically unlimited obligations, with no reliable safeguards, and backed by armed force, was admirably calculated to produce a financial reign of terror in Germany. As realization grew, it did progressively produce that reign of terror, accompanied by financial ineptitude and anarchy comparable to the political ineptitude and anarchy which accompany a political reign of terror. The conditions which created this terror have had far more to do with the present deplorable status than have the loss of German resources and the actual payments made by Germany. It is safe to say that if the safeguards of the Dawes report had been embodied in the original treaty system and applied in the spirit of the Dawes report, Germany would have paid far more than she has paid in the last five years, and would have been in far better condition today to continue payment.

If the guaranteeing principles, which are the foundation stones of the Dawes report, are accepted, the long reign of terror will be ended. Exchange will be stabilized; the budget can be balanced; taxes, while high, will not be destructive. These are the conditions of sound finance, under which private citizens may work and save and prosper, under which foreign credit for commercial transactions may be obtained under pre-war conditions, under which foreign trade can flourish, under which reparations can be paid. The debt may remain as it is, but the impossible part of it, whether large or small, will not threaten either the state or the private citizen. No one who followed Austria's descent into the depths of the financial slough of despond, and then witnessed the transformation which followed when hope and, later, confidence succeeded despair, as the result of the League of Nations' Relief Plan, will ever doubt again the miraculous economic effect of hope and confidence. The Dawes plan means the same thing for Germany.

The Dawes report sums up the prospect well:

"Under this system Germany will retain her incentive to develop, as it retains the major part of the advantage of any increase of prosperity, while the Allies obtain a reasonable share in this increase and avoid the risk of losing through a premature estimate of future capacity."

The Committee demands from the Allied and German Governments and their peoples one intangible guarantee, good faith in the carrying out of its plan:

"Finally, convinced as we are, that it is hopeless to build any constructive scheme unless this finds its own guarantee in the fact that it is to the interest of all the parties to carry it out in good faith, we put forward our plan relying upon this interest. We hope the character of our plan will itself assist in securing this guarantee, which is essential for its execution, but in the main, of course, it must be for others to take such measures as are necessary to maintain or assure it."

And one very tangible guarantee:

"In the first place we regard our report as an indivisible whole. It is not possible, in our opinion, to achieve any success by selecting certain of our recommendations for adoption and rejecting the others, and we would desire to accept no responsibility for the results of such a procedure nor for undue delay in giving execution to our plan."


Lest we forget! There have been two outstanding earlier opportunities for doing just what the Dawes Committee has now done.

Nearly two years ago the Bankers' Committee, appointed in the same way by the Reparation Commission, and with J. P. Morgan as the American representative, met in Paris. If that Committee had been permitted to function, it would inevitably have said substantially what the Dawes Committee has now said, and its report would at that time have carried with it practical assurance of far greater immediate financial assistance than present conditions permit.

Again in October-November, 1922, when the Reparation Commission and the economic and financial experts were meeting at Berlin, when the mark had reached 8,500 to the dollar, when those experts reported the mark could be stabilized, the second great opportunity was missed. All that was needed even then was agreement as to the appointment of a committee like the Dawes Committee. And on December 29, 1922, sixteen months ago, Secretary Hughes, fully cognizant of what was going on underneath the surface, gave official expression at New Haven to the simple, obvious need.

Looking back at those two opportunities, any one will admit that Germany's power of accomplishment has been greatly weakened in the interval, and that this could have been and was foreseen. There is no doubt that officially, on both these two occasions and later, she urged a solution on the lines now proposed. The point upon which honest people will differ is whether Germany would at either time have genuinely accepted a settlement based on the principles of the Dawes report. The writer has no doubt that she would, on either occasion, but particularly at the end of 1922, and that, owing to intervening events, she would have accepted then in better spirit and her acceptance would have encountered less serious internal political difficulties than now.


A word as to the work of the McKenna Committee, to which was intrusted the task of investigating Germany's foreign assets, is not out of place. The report of this Committee, of which Henry M. Robinson of Los Angeles was the American member, is excellent, comparing in tone favorably with the Dawes report. The judgment of this Committee, that Germany's net investments abroad (liquid and non-liquid) amount to between six and seven billion gold marks--to which must be added their estimate of twelve hundred million gold marks of foreign currency circulating within the borders of Germany--is of good omen. These assets will aid the Dawes plan tremendously. They will be effective in connection with both budget balancing and currency stabilization; they will help the proposed international loan; they will help the Allies to realize upon the railway stocks and bonds and the industrial bonds.

The McKenna report is "the most authoritative expression obtainable" of the fact that the amount of Germany's foreign assets has been often grossly over-estimated; and also of the fact that, their flight from Germany being largely due to the financial reign of terror, they will come back to Germany when, and only when, financial confidence is reëstablished. The Austrian experience is a sure guarantee of this, and the Dawes plan now furnishes the necessary conditions.


We are justly proud that citizens of the United States have helped so effectively towards the solution of this European problem. We shall be more than disappointed if our European friends fail to take the sound, sensible advice which Messrs. Young and Dawes and their fellow members have given them.

But, are we willing to take this advice ourselves?

The principles of the Dawes report are just as applicable to France and to Belgium as to Germany. Are we of the United States willing to apply them to our claims against France and Belgium ?

"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

We not only ought to take the Dawes report as our own guide, but we ought to go much further. The Dawes report is advice to France and Belgium, devastated by the German army, as to their claims against Germany for that devastation. It is based on the theory of getting from Germany all that is possible. We boast of our traditional friendship for France, of our sympathy and friendship for Belgium. We fought with them, not against them. Are we to insist on "all that is possible" from them? Is there no distinction, where our pocket-books are concerned, between them and Germany?


Germany ought for her own sake, and gladly, to accept the moderate control provisions of the Dawes plan. They are not pleasant, but they are not offensive or unduly onerous. They fall far short of an armed receivership which often has seemed the only alternative.

Germany ought for her own sake, after accepting the plan, to arrange some compact machinery to obviate the necessity for discussion by the Reichstag or committees or cabinets of anything except the most general legislative policies involved in the functioning of the Dawes plan. A German Reparation Dictator would be a good thing, but in any event there ought to be some small Reparation Executive Committee, not dependent on any cabinet or change of ministry. Germany ought to make impossible on her side, whether or not the Allies do anything of the kind, the exasperating discussions, quibbles, changes, uncertainties and delays in programs, protocols, decisions, valuations, deliveries, etc. No possible gain in these processes can counterbalance the harmful effect of the impression they create. They are inexplicable from the other man's point of view and breed suspicion and bad feeling. Speed in decision and administration by one small body in close contact with the Allies would do more to change the attitude of the Allies towards Germany than a billion dollars in cash, and further, would speed up the Allied organization, where difficulties very similar to these hamper efficiency, in spite of the fact that it is far easier to demand than to fulfil.

Germany, again for her own sake, ought voluntarily to pledge herself to abide by the territorial results of the treaty, except as they may in the future be changed by peaceful negotiation with the Allies.

These things are not parts of the Dawes plan and the Dawes plan will work without them. They are parts of the larger point of view, that it is up to Germany, purely in her own interest, to make a better impression than she has so far done.

The arbitrage of a war like the World War must mean something final. Defeated, she may stick to her own interpretation of past events; but Germany owes it to herself to understand that she lost not only the war, but good-will, respect and confidence. She is not humiliating herself further by doing the things necessary to regain this good-will, respect and confidence. Performing obligations now reasonably imposed and within her capacity is one way to accept the arbitrage of war and regain her former status. Showing by voluntary pledge her desire for peace by accepting territorial dispositions which do not suit her is another.

The writer knows too well that in speaking of Germany as a unit he cannot take account of the fact that many people in Germany believe all this and would be glad to do it, and that others have no idea of doing it and never will have. But he is impressed with the fact that the Dawes report furnishes to understanding Germans the opportunity to save their country.


The Allies have often been at fault. They have not cooperated with reasonable tendencies in Germany or with German Governments, but have blamed all alike indiscriminately, often for the results of the Allies' own mistakes. This is human nature, and time alone can bring so much of correction as human nature permits. But five and one-half years have now elapsed since the fighting ceased, and the Dawes plan gives opportunity for the display of better feeling on both sides.

A more generous disposition on the part of all of us is necessary. The Dawes plan, good as it is, is a stupendous undertaking, involving many and important complications, and sure in the nature of things to result in occasional disappointments and to need minor adjustments. If it were undertaken by the angels in Heaven, it would need divine grace to make all the angels work together for good. Blind partisans and demagogues will continue to insist that all Germans are devils incarnate; they will belittle every effort of reasonable Germans and will magnify the importance of the similar blind partisans and demagogues of Germany. It is for statesmen of the Allies--and Associated Powers--to lead their peoples towards a better realization of the Christian spirit,--or of true civilization, if one prefers,--to set the example by their own sympathy and cooperation with Germans of good-will, by helping such Germans to convince their compatriots that good-will really pays. "Noblesse oblige." So does Victory.

Alexander Hamilton "smote the rock of national resources and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth. He touched the dead corpse of Public Credit and it sprung upon its feet." This is almost too "high-falutin" for us moderns, but nevertheless Dawes and his Committee have smitten mightily and well. If Public Credit does not rise again; if the possible revenue does not gush, the fault will not be theirs.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now