A Look at Totalitarian Economics

Albert Speer‘s final work, Infiltration: How Heinrich Himmler Schemed to Build an SS Industrial Empire, is a good example of why I’m not a “completionist.” The first chapter or two, and the closing section “The Fate of the Jews,” are the most interesting. The rest is a rather dry chronicle of the industrial situation under Nazi rule during Speer’s tenure as the Reich’s Minister of Armament and War Production of concern only to the specialist. That said, this book makes it clear that totalitarian governments cannot achieve and maintain power without a degree of support or apathy. This was true not only of Germany but of Soviet Russia and other repressive regimes.

The fact is that human nature being what it is, there are people in any society who, given the circumstances, will go along with political oppression if only out of convenience. As Speer explains

The aim of this book is not to defend my own work by saying: We were not so bad; the SS was the villain. After all, this was one system, and we all belonged to it. From the standpoint of responsibility, it makes no difference whether the individuals in power disliked one another. Hence, it would be wrong to present the SS as the sole embodiment of evil. Certainly, I was one of those co-workers of Hitler’s who are called “technocrats” today.

Another well documented fact is how attempts by the Nazi apparatus to control German industry were riddled with waste, incompetence and corruption, thereby undermining Hitler’s long-term war effort. Even apart from racist policies, Speer does a good job of demonstrating that government-run industry (unsuccessfully attempted by Germany in World War I) had a poor track record. Finally, Infiltration shows that when the power of the centralized dictatorship was thwarted by non-Nazi business leaders, lives were saved. History tells us that the only effective answer to tyranny is the survival of economic and social structures that are independent of the state.

See related post: The Judgment of Albert Speer

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