Adventures in Guardianland, Part 1: How British central planning defeated the Nazis’ free-market war machine
But that is to forget something. When leaders decide it is time for “the continuation of politics by other means”, then central planning – the source of all good things, to the Progressive’s mind – comes into its own.
Here is political economist Will Hutton, Principal of Hertford College, discussing the splendour of Britain’s wartime command economy in The Guardian last month. Hutton uses 1059 words to develop his theme, but it can be summed up by the following two paragraphs:
“One of the reasons the allies won the war was that we out-manufactured and out-produced Germany, Italy and Japan. The imbalances in power in some theatres of war are startling. Equally, Britain boasted great scientific and technological strength. Sophisticated radar identified German flight formations. The Spitfire and Hurricane – and, later, the Lancaster bomber – were more fit for purpose than their German counterparts and manufactured in greater volumes.
So, yes, we should and must salute the men in their flotilla of small boats who lifted tens of thousands of stricken British soldiers from the Dunkirk beaches. But much less fashionable is a salute to the superb performance of the British economy and the way its organisation was driven by government before and during the war. This is not part of our national mythology, for the obvious reason that it is very inconvenient for the prevailing orthodoxy. Public initiative, public endeavour, public direction of industry, planning and state co-ordination are never supposed to work, even though they did triumphantly, before the war, during it and after it.”
There are several things with which we might cavil. For example, the fact that we plucky Brits had the resources of a globe-spanning empire at our disposal may have influenced production somewhat. Then there is the odd idea that free market economics is the “orthodoxy” of our age, and that making the case for state planning is unfashionable. Where has Hutton been over the last decade? It is extremely fashionable to praise the virtues of a big, active government, and to sneer at free market economics. That is the orthodoxy of our age. Thirdly, while Hutton’s claim that the British government played an active role in the wartime economy is true, it is a trivial observation. Of course wartime economies are, to some extent, state-directed economies. What else could they be? There is no demand from private households for tanks and battleships.
And this brings us to the chief problem with Prof. Hutton’s argument for central planning. He seems to have forgotten that the Axis countries, being fascist regimes, had economies that were even more centrally-planned than our own. By 1940, command economists had already been wreaking havoc in Germany for some seven years, and in Italy for two decades. Almost immediately after coming to power, Hitler’s government embarked on a massive public works programme. In 1936, the first Four-Year-Plan (Vierjahresplan) was passed. It increased the extent of government control over all important sectors of the economy.
Far from being an example of the desirability of appointing people like Prof. Hutton to run your economy, WWII is a testament to why you shouldn’t.
I fail to see why we should adopt the then economic models of our erstwhile foes. We won the war, didn’t we?