After all the recent fuss about comparisons of George W. Bush to Adolph Hitler at the MoveOn.org website, you would think that those on the far left would lay off Hitler analogies for a while. But in the Jan. 26 issue of The Nation, columnist Alexander Cockburn puts yet another twist on the issue. Hitler, you see, may have been a nasty warmonger, but he was also far-sighted enough to adopt progressive economic policies that greatly benefited the German people.
As Cockburn writes, "Hitler, genocidal monster that he was, was also the first practicing Keynesian leader. ... There were vast public works, such as the autobahns. He paid little attention to the deficit or to the protests of the bankers about his policies. ... By 1936, unemployment had sunk to 1 percent."
Cockburn goes on to say, "Not just Bush but Howard Dean and the Democrats could learn a few lessons in economic policy from that early Keynesian."
At first glance, I thought Cockburn was totally off base. But as I looked into it, I found that respected academics have long drawn analogies between the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, generally considered the most important economist of the 20th century, and the economic policies of Nazi Germany.
For example, an article in the April 1975 issue of the prestigious Journal of Political Economy points out that German economists in the early 1930s were well aware of Keynes' work and were developing theories along parallel lines. These involved the now familiar prescription for economic depressions of large budget deficits, public works programs and easy credit.
A July 1992 article in the journal Explorations in Economic History found that German fiscal policy stopped being restrictive and turned "Keynesian" as soon as Hitler took power. Government spending increased almost immediately, helping to pull Germany out of the depression while America and Britain still maintained restrictive fiscal policies.
Furthermore, it turns out that Keynes' greatest admirers have long maintained that Hitler's economic policies were indeed Keynesian. In a lecture to the American Economic Association's annual meeting in 1971, economist Joan Robinson, a close colleague of Keynes, said, "Hitler had already found how to cure unemployment before Keynes had finished explaining why it occurred."
In 1977, John Kenneth Galbraith, the famous Harvard economist, wrote in his book, "The Age of Uncertainty," that Hitler "was the true protagonist of the Keynesian ideas."
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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