The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
"Masterful.... [A] painstakingly researched, astonishingly erudite study.... Tooze has added his name to the roll call of top-class scholars of Nazism." (Financial Times)
An extraordinary mythology has grown up around the Third Reich that hovers over political and moral debate even today. Adam Tooze's controversial book challenges the conventional economic interpretations of that period to explore how Hitler's surprisingly prescient vision - ultimately hindered by Germany's limited resources and his own racial ideology - was to create a German super-state to dominate Europe and compete with what he saw as America's overwhelming power in a soon-to-be globalized world.
The Wages of Destruction is a chilling work of originality and tremendous scholarship that set off debate in Germany and will fundamentally change the way in which history views the Second World War.
This audiobook contains a downloadable PDF of tables and figures from the book.
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|Listening Length||30 hours and 19 minutes|
|Narrator||Adam Tooze, Simon Vance|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com.au Release Date||03 August 2021|
|Best Sellers Rank|| 5,552 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
3 in Economic Conditions (Audible Books & Originals)
7 in German History
11 in Economic History (Audible Books & Originals)
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Top reviews from Australia
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The reviewer has a Bachelor of Theology majoring in Moral Theology and Ecclesial and Economic History.
Mr Tooze's account of the war echoes Mr Churchills detailed account of the war.
Every ration of bolts and butter were scrutinised by the British PM, according to his memoirs.
Mr Tooze provides evidence that the Nazis were economic cretins a bit like the wolves of Wall Street.
Mr Tooze writes politely and evidenced based.
The tome is detailed regarding the individual choices in retrospect which were both immoral and economically dumb.
The book is best read as a clash between folk who use clubs and batons and those who read books.
The field of historic forensic accounting is new.
Mr Tooze has made a massive contribution.
War is not justified unless on moral reasons.
The fight against Nazi ideas immoral as they remain are best left to rational discussion.
Mr Tooze asserts the primacy of fact, ideas and the best of human nature.
Top reviews from other countries
Needless to say, the book is interesting precisely because coal, steel and (to a lesser extent, presumably for lack of data) wheat, oils and fat are the currency in which author Adam Tooze deals in Nazi Germany’s motivation, timing and the conduct of WWII, including its worst crimes.
In broad terms, and yes, I’m oversimplifying (read the full 675 pages to get the actual detail –you will not regret it) the author’s reading of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and “second book” forms the basis on which he gets into the dictator’s head to arrive at the following a priori judgements:
• The world’s mightiest empire, the British Empire, was about to be usurped by the United States of America, chiefly thanks to the immense success of American capitalists such as Henry Ford in developing the methods of mass production. This opened an opportunity for Germany to side with the US in the struggle for primacy and become the biggest European power. (Significantly, the author points out that this was not an enormous deviation from his Weimar Republic predecessors’ world view.)
• In the early 20th century, Germany was a less-developed economy than France or Britain from a manufacturing perspective and could not hope to catch up without a concerted, state-driven effort, which would have to start with the end of WWI reparations and the reclaiming of the Ruhr. (Again, this was hardly a radical view for a German statesman to hold at the time.)
• Germany, given its early 20th century borders, was doomed to lack of self-sufficiency in agriculture. For a number of reasons (all detailed in the book), redistribution of land would simply not suffice. (True enough, but also true of many other industrial powers)
• To achieve self-sufficiency, (and here’s where it all starts to go horribly wrong) it was necessary for Germany to expand eastward. Along the lines of the American ideology of the frontier a militarized Germany would have to re-claim the fertile plains of Poland and the Ukraine. This would entail driving out the current, lesser human inhabitants of these lands, along the lines (p. 469) of what had happened to the American “Indians.”
• The two arch-enemies of Germany in its efforts to achieve its destiny would be 1. the “Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy” and 2. a chiefly “British / free markets / Jewish conspiracy” orchestrated by the likes of (American and 100% secular!) Louis Brandeis that for example favored free trade and whose appointed puppet in the world of politics was (p. 665) none other than Franklin Roosevelt.
The reign of the National Socialists (including industrial policy, economic policy, monetary policy, decisions regarding both when to start war and how to wage war, all the way through to the fate of the conquered peoples) is recounted through the prism of these basic judgements and always with an emphasis on Germany’s ability to produce coal and steel.
The book has three parts: before the war the protagonist is Goering and the story is told of how he and Schacht combined their efforts to bring about rearmament, which would have rendered Germany ready to fight by sometime in 1943-44, had Hitler been patient enough to wait.
Goering and his minions (as the book progresses it’s increasingly faithful party members like Autobahn-layer Todt who replace technocrats) are “credited” with both “laying down the law” with the industrialists, using coercion and threats and making them complicit in the crimes against humanity the regime had in store right from the beginning, but also allowing them to make solid returns on the necessary heavy investment by guaranteeing both volumes and profitability levels.
Schacht, on the other hand, is credited with succeeding in preventing the economy from running hot, in an environment where unemployment went from “worst ever” to literally zero. To do this, uniquely among developed nations, he never officially abandoned the gold standard, thereby creating a chronic lack of gold / currency, against which he had to suppress imports via a system like the one China runs today, whereby all transactions with foreign entities, and imports in particular, first had to be approved by the Reichsbank; a truly monumental endeavor.
A much darker corollary of this suppression, and the author goes into quite some detail on the topic, was that many Jews delayed their emigration until they could find a way past these controls in order to export their liquid wealth, to say nothing of the fact that it encouraged pogroms that were intended to persuade them to leave without having done so.
(N.B. the author has as good as expunged gold from the account, with zero loss to the story)
Adam Tooze takes the time to explain that the economic renaissance Germany went through in this period was entirely down to the rearmament effort. The sundry highways and vanity projects like the people’s radio and the people’s car were 99% propaganda and barely register in the numbers. Indeed, even investment in railways, the ultimate infrastructure of the period, suffered. This was actually a rare way in which the Nazis left Germany in 1939 less prepared for war than they found it. Also, rearmament took priority over consumption, which was suppressed in a large number of overt and covert ways.
From Goering’s preparations the author moves on to the decisions regarding the war itself. He does not get mentioned near as much as his lieutenants in the book, but the main character of the book at this stage is Hitler himself.
To cut a long story short, the decision to attack France came down to numbers: every day that went by, and despite the best efforts of the Germans, the finite capacity of the German war economy in conjunction with the squeeze from the balance of payments situation meant that the allies were producing steel at a rate that eclipsed that of the axis powers. In other words, every day that went by the French would be better able to defend themselves. So the best time to attack was the earliest possible! The trigger came when the Ribbentrop – Molotov agreement allowed Hitler to relax about the “Jewish-Russian conspiracy.” That was his chance and he grasped it with both hands.
The story Tooze tells next is fascinating: for all the talk about technological advances, the German army mainly moved on foot. WWII was the last war fought in Napoleonic style, not the first war of the modern era. And the swift conquest of France was down to the utter genius of von Manstein, who moved his army through the Ardennes and caught the British and the French napping. The myth of German “Blitzkrieg” was invented after the fact and was convenient to both the allies (who could claim to have lost to a new, mechanized, foe, rather than having been beaten on strategy) and to the Germans, who could suddenly believe they were conducting a winnable war.
The conquest of France / Holland / Belgium / Luxembourg also changed the balance very significantly in the race for armaments, of course. Germany could suddenly dream that it was no longer waging a war at a material disadvantage. The fascinating story is told about how Germany did not violate the market system in availing itself of these resources. Quoting from p. 388, “Exporters in each country were paid, not by their customers in Germany, but by their own central banks, in their own currency. The foreign central bank then chalked up the deficit to Germany’s clearing account in Berlin. The Germans received their goods, the foreign suppliers received prompt payment, but the account never settled. At the end of 1944, the Reichsbank recorded almost 30 billion Reichsmarks owing to members of the clearing system.” (nothing like a bit of history to drive one’s understanding of what Hans Werner Sinn is talking about when he complains about Target 2)
But the balance was not changed enough and Germany did not have the naval ability to conquer Britain, so in 1941 the exact same logic that had dictated the invasion of France dictated the invasion of Russia, this time on a very deliberate Blitzkrieg basis. In the conclusion to the book the author claims that Hitler's twisted ideology must also have played a part in this decision. In my view it’s the one bit of the book that’s probably a bit contentious. Yes, Hitler was ideologically driven to clear Germany’s Lebensraum of “lesser peoples,” but I find it hard to believe that even a madman of his caliber was fearful enough of what “world Jewry” might have had in store for him to precipitate an attack on Russia with inadequate resources that depended entirely on the hope of delivering a knock-out punch. In all probability, he’d started drinking some of his own “Blitzkrieg” cool-aid. Tooze himself backs up the idea that Hitler consciously shifted to Blitzkrieg (p. 667), if only because that was the only workable plan that would allow him to wage war on two fronts.
Militarily, the rest is history, as they say, and it’s recounted here well (with coverage for North African campaign to boot). Special emphasis is given to the extermination of the Jews in the Ukraine and Belarus. It appears that some 11.3 million were specifically targeted for extermination! The author chooses not to comment on whether the operation in which they perished (called Taifun) was a military blunder, given that it diverted the German war effort away from the prime objective of taking Moscow and dealing Stalin a blow he would not recover from, or a sine qua non, given Hitler’s intentions to exterminate the Jews.
But this is not a military history per se, so it shifts to Albert Speer and Fritz Sauckel and the way they conducted the losing war against the Soviets. In particular, and in keeping with the book’s unwavering theme, it is the story of how they went about producing the steel and armaments necessary to conduct that losing war.
This is, by some margin, the part of the book where I learned the most and by an even bigger margin, the most important work of historical research to be found in this tome.
The story is told of the millions of Slavs, chiefly, who were uprooted from their lands and sent to work in keeping the German war machine running. Their working conditions, the means by which they were rewarded and how they were actively worked to death.
What you get here, more than in any sci-fi movie or, indeed, 21st century computer game, is a picture of what Europe would have looked like after a Nazi conquest: a world where the able bodied of the slave race man the engine room of the master race. Tooze goes out of his way to mention that it is under this light that we should look at Schindler, even. (p. 524)
The author goes beyond penning an indictment of Speer, here: he takes you through the factories and camps and back to the times when wars were not yet fought for territory, but to bring back slaves.
It is ironic that this should be the most poignant element of a war allegedly fought for Lebensraum.
And it is doubly ironic that, in the author’s view, at least, this “third front” could be precisely where Hitler lost his war: had he spared the lives of the millions of slaughtered Jews and millions of starved Red Army prisoners and turned them to slave labor some two years earlier, his millennial plans could well have become our nightmare.
Agree or disagree, this was a monumental read.
It struck me as quite an uneven book in parts, partly because it can be read at a number of levels. On the most basic of levels it states the obvious - that there was no way that Germany could win a protracted war and was doomed after the Wehrmacht stalled at the gates of Moscow given the industrial might of Britain, Britain's empire, the USSR and the USA ranged against Germany.
But there's a deeper level of understanding to be gleaned if the reader keeps in mind Tooze's Preface where he says:
"The originality of National Socialism was that rather than meekly accepting a place for Germany within a global economic order dominated by the affluent English speaking countries, Hitler sought to mobilise the pent-up frustrations of his population to mount an epic challenge to this order. Repeating what Europeans had done across the globe over the previous three centuries, Germany would carve out its own imperial hinterland; by one last great land grab in the East it would create the self-sufficient basis both for domestic affluence and the platform necessary to prevail in the coming superpower competition with the United States.... The aggression of Hitler’s regime can thus be rationalised as an intelligible response to the tensions stirred up by the uneven development of global capitalism, tensions that are of course still with us today. (xxiv-xxv)"
Then there's another level if you contemplate the development of capitalism and an industrial economy in Germany and how the Third Reich was completing Germany's bourgeois revolution - if one thinks of that in a consequentialist sense.
Some of the writing is superb - Chapter 16 'Labour, Food and Genocide', for example, is a master class in dialectical history writing.
Starting the war itself was a gamble inspired by the growing arms race with France, Britain and America. Combined, the Allies were out-spending Germany yet they could better afford it as it represented a much smaller percentage of their overall earnings. The Germans were operating at the maximum armaments productive capacity through the 1930s and achieved brief superiority over Allies in only some areas, ie the Luftwaffe. The gamble in 1939 was based upon the perception of a very brief window of opportunity for a quick victory before the Allies started out-gunning Germany. That window closed quickly.... Regardless of popular myth, the Nazis were never short ingenuity. Yet even with millions of slave labourers (to propel Speers alleged “armaments miracle”) they could not build what they wanted for lack of steel and oil. Spikes in output in one industry came at the expense of another from where the raw materials were diverted. The German Navy & domestic consumption suffered. In the end the numbers never stacked up. They simply could not get access to the quantity of resources that the combined American, British & Soviet economies had. Even if money was no object this mattered little.
The author casts himself as a revisionist historian yet his revelations are far from shocking (IF you understand them - since they are somewhat esoteric). Still, he does reveal many interesting facts as he goes back to look at real statistics rather that self-serving post-war memoirs. For example the popular myth about the lack of women in industry: Germany always had a higher percentage of women in the workplace than the Allies. He also reveals the crushing economic logic behind the “Hunger Plan” that was to wipe out millions of lives without needing a single person to step inside a gas chamber. Nazi Germany was never run for the benefits if its people. It was quickly converted to a war economy until its inevitable destruction. This re-interpretation, through the eyes of an economist, is quite revealing. Lessons for today?
It can resort to statistical dryness at times but that shouldn’t distract from the fact it is one of the best books ever written on the Nazis.