Bruce Bartlett has one of the most thought-provoking columns on economic history that I’ve seen in a while. In recent months, we’ve seen a number of lame attempts to compare Bush to Hitler. (Blogger Stephen Green is doing a good job of documenting these things.) I’ve seen a number of sites that display a series of Bush photos, each juxtaposed with a photo of Hitler in a similar pose … Bush is seen here eating a ham sandwich, and here’s Hitler eating a ham sandwich in 1937. Here’s Bush talking to some children, and here’s Hitler doing the same. See? Bush = Hitler! QED. Self-indulgent celebrities and hard-left ideologues have picked up on this tiresome Bush = Hitler meme, and the wave of moral equivalence crested with the recent controversy over MoveOn.org’s anti-Bush ad contest.
Meanwhile, Bartlett is seizing on this theme to take issue with some, both on the left and on the right, who want to compare Keynes to Hitler. He starts with Alexander Cockburn, quoting his most recent effort in The Nation:
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 …
Then, to pick an example from the opposite end of the spectrum, he points to an August 2003 column by Llewellyn Rockwell, longtime chairman of the Mises Institute. Here is the full text of the Rockwell piece that Bartlett is citing.
While I admire the Mises Institute and enjoyed the time that I spent at the Mises annual seminar in ’96, my take on Rockwell is that his writing style often loses focus due to its underlying anger. This is a classic example. And note that even he can’t help but juxtapose images of Keynes and Hitler, striking similar poses, just as those sophomoric “Bush = Hitler” websites do.
The money quote from the Rockwell piece, which Bartlett cites in his column, is this non sequitur:
Keynes himself admired the Nazi economic program, writing in the foreword to the German edition to the General Theory: “[T]he theory of output as a whole, which is what the following book purports to provide, is much more easily adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state, than is the theory of production and distribution of a given output produced under the conditions of free competition and a large measure of laissez-faire.”
I don’t see how the quote from Keynes is tantamount to “admiration of the Nazi economic program.” Taken in full context, Keynes is just pointing out that it would be much easier to implement an activist fiscal policy in a state that is already centralized and forceful than in a state that was characterized by decentralization and federalism, a point that I would take to be obviously true. How this is supposed to represent Keynes’ “admiration” of the Third Reich is not clear.
Yes, Nazi Germany, in a roundabout way, did employ policies that Keynes would have prescribed if he had been running Germany at the time. This does NOT mean that Keynes’ idea of “public works” was building prison camps. Bartlett is correct in concluding that there are enough substantive problems with Keynesianism that we don’t need to resort to ad hominem criticisms of the man himself — just as there are plenty of ways that one can oppose the policies of Bush without resorting to the same. I disagree with a lot of the policies of the Bush administration (campaign finance reform, Medicare “reform”, on and on) but I have better things to do than try to fit this opposition into some tortured “Bush = Hitler” framework.
To put the shoe on the other foot — Rockwell was against the war in Iraq, and so was Noam Chomsky, but that doesn’t mean that “Rockwell = Chomsky!” or anything close to it. It doesn’t mean that Rockwell “is an admirer of” Chomsky, or that Rockwell also agrees with Chomsky’s denial of the holocaust, or even that Rockwell would use his brakes if Chomsky was crossing the street in front of his car.
Now, when are we going to see the article that says, “Bush used Keynesian fiscal policy, and so did Hitler, therefore Bush = Hitler!”