The tempo and rhythm of world events and world history are not captured in the linear and bland books one reads in schools and colleges where the sense of the stormy forward turbulence of the world is not communicated. Here’s an example that does communicate this “crazy dynamics”:
“The world supply of gold was diminishing, as the effects of the gold rushes in California and Australia in the 1850s and 1860s passed. This coincided with the decision in the 1870s of many of the leading countries to follow Britain’s example to use gold rather than silver as the basis of their currency — Germany in 1871, France in 1876 for example — so that the demand for gold rose just as the supply was temporarily declining. This in turn led to some doubt about the use of a gold standard and to much discussion about ‘bi-metallism’ and about the possibility of restoring silver to its place as the metal on which the world’s currency should be based, though this movement had more success in the United States than in Europe, where gold has now established itself firmly. By the 1890s however the discovery of new gold deposits in South Africa, Western Australia and Canada put an end to these discussions and uncertainties, as far as currency was concerned, for some fifty years.”(James Joll, Europe Since 1870: An International History, Penguin Books, 1976, page 35)
These twists and turns and accidents or contingencies don’t communicate the real semi-turmoil surrounding all the decisions, which we can infer from the comment by a German politician in 1871, “We chose gold, not because gold was gold, but because Britain was Britain.” (Ian Patrick Austin, Common Foundations of American and East Asian Modernisation: From Alexander Hamilton to Junichero Koizumi, Select Publishing, 2009, page 99.)
“The establishment of London as the most important center in the world for shipping, banking, insurance-broking and buying and selling generally, as well as the growth of British industry, had been based on a policy of free trade.”(James Joll, Europe Since 1870: An International History, Penguin Books, 1976, page 34)
The gold standard itself, dominated from London led to intricate problems: Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919-1939 (published in 1992) by Barry Eichengreen, the leading historian of monetary systems, shows the downstream pitfalls of the gold standard.
In other words, the de facto emergence of Britain/London as the world commercial and policy center and the relation of this emergence to empire and international tensions and rivalries, means it is very problematical for any country to steer a course other than staying in tandem with British moods and ideologies, such as free trade. Any country by itself would find it difficult to have a more independent policy. (Friedrich List of Germany, who died in 1846, wrestles with these difficulties somewhat.) The attempts to find “autonomy and autarky” in the interwar years (Germany, Japan, Italy) led to worse nightmares. The world seems like a “no exit” arena of ideologies and rivalries.
The “crazy dynamics” and the semi-anarchy of the system, which continues to this day and is even worse, means that policy-making is always seen through a “dark windshield.”