Monday, August 4, 2003

Brennen quotedbit of George Orwell:

Hitler’s conquest of Europe, however, was a physical debunking of capitalism.

I can’t agree with this.

Orwell’s argument appears to be that the fascist system — “a form of capitalism that borrows from Socialism just such features as will make it efficient for war purposes” — worked incredibly well. It created great economic prosperity, and it turned Germany from a gasping, starving wretch after World War I into a global superpower in the course of a decade.

But look more closely at that scenario. I contend that fascism succeeded because of Germany’s terrible state after WWI. From what I’ve read, fascism dissolved all small business and ordered the rest to join the Reich Chamber of Economics, creating a loose command-and-control economy. To placate the workers, it created the German Labour Front, which organized cheap holidays and leisure activities. That was enough to placate the workers.

The workers liked this, but they liked it because it offered much more security and prosperity than the previous decade under the Weimar Republic. Nazism was a step up.

However – and I think this is crucial – how long would it have lasted? Workers were forced to work long hours for low pay without complaint (unions were illegal). Their freedoms to work in different areas were restricted. How long would the workers have tolerated it?

And, please, let’s not drag out the tired excuse that people are stupid and will tolerate anything, or I’ll drag out the bloodied corpses of all the riots and revolts of history (heck, fascism was a people’s revolt). At the very least, some people would have gotten very tired of this after awhile, and they would have whipped up the masses.

There’s another side to this, too. Orwell writes:

War, for all its evil, is at any rate an unanswerable test of strength, like a try-your-grip machine. Great strength returns the penny, and there is no way of faking the result.

I disagree with this, too. Orwell seems to be suggesting here that the best test of an economic system’s worth is its ability to wage war. I can’t even fathom why someone would believe this.

Let’s use a martial arts analogy. Take the world’s strongest man, someone who can lift nine hundred pounds or so (that’s not an exaggeration). Put him in a fight with a martial artist who can only bench-press two hundred pounds, but has the knowledge and stamina of a martial artist. Who do you think will win?

I’d put my money on the martial artist. For all his muscle, the world’s strongest man won’t have the stamina of a martial artist. He won’t have the resilience of a martial artist. Kick the martial artist, and he gets back up. Kick the world’s strongest man, and he’s in serious pain. Put them both in a fight for ten minutes, and then see who’s exhausted and who has the reserves to keep on fighting.

Similarly with countries, I think. Take a country that’s best at war, and find out what happens when there’s a famine. Or pull out major foreign investment and see how well it does (shades of Gasaraki here). How about the death of the central planner?

What would happen? I don’t know. But I don’t think we can know, and that’s why I disagree with Orwell that a nation’s ability to fight war is a strong indication of its ultimate worth to the human race.

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