Tetsuji Okazaki, 13 November 2019

During World War II aircraft production in Japan increased sharply. This column, part of the Vox debate on the economics of WWII, examines the reasons for this ‘production miracle’, focusing on an aircraft manufacturing plant of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co., one of the two largest aircraft producers in Japan. The key to the production increase was the expansion of the supplier network. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries organized many suppliers to provide aircraft parts to its plants. However, in the final stage of the war, destruction of the supplier network by strategic bombing and an earthquake caused the collapse of the company’s aircraft production.

Price Fishback, 12 November 2019

The US became the ‘arsenal of democracy’ by producing a massive amount of military goods that raised real GDP by 72% between 1940 and 1945. Yet, multiplier estimates for this expansion in government spending are less than one. Long-range studies at subnational levels show that military spending was associated with small effects on per capita activity. Military spending in the context of a quasi-command economy crowded out private consumption and investment and forced people into the military. In essence, Americans sacrificed heavily to win the war, while their Allies sacrificed even more.  

Eric Golson, 11 November 2019

Neutrality has long been viewed as impartiality in war. This column, part of the Vox debate on World War II, asserts that neutral states in the war were realist in approaching their defence to ensure their survival. Neutrals such as Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland maintained independence by offering economic concessions to the belligerents to make up for their relative military weakness. Economic concessions took the form of merchandise trade, services, labour, and capital flows. Depending on their position and the changing fortunes of war, neutral countries could also extract concessions from the belligerents, if their situation permitted.

Walter Scheidel, 02 September 2019

World War II sharply reduced income and wealth inequality in many countries. This column, part of a Vox debate on the economics of WWII, describes how various factors converged to produce this outcome. Mass mobilisation raised demand for labour and reduced skill premiums, extremely high marginal tax rates cut into elite incomes and fortunes, aggressive government intervention curtailed corporate and investment profits and sought to protect workers, consumers, and renters. Returns of capital fell as international markets suffered interruptions and physical assets risked confiscation or destruction. Communist regimes expanded their reach. In market economies, the war experience promoted reforms regarding social welfare, unionisation and taxation that sustained several decades of greater equality.

Phillips Payson O’Brien, 03 September 2019

Allied victory in WWII is usually viewed through the lens of large land battles, from Stalingrad to Kursk to D-Day. However, battlefield losses of equipment in these ‘great’ land battles were relatively small and easily replaceable. This column demonstrates that the real effort of the major powers was put into the construction of air and sea weapons. The Allies used their air and sea power to destroy the Axis’s in a multi-layered campaign. This was the true battlefield of WWII: a massive air-sea super battlefield that stretched for thousands of miles. Victory in this super-battlefield led to victory in the war.

Alan Bollard, 05 September 2019

The World Wars precipitated unprecedented economic problems in all countries. This column, part of a Vox debate on the economics of WWII, describes how economists played a larger role in WWII than in any previous conflict. They advanced the methods of public finance and influenced the directions of the war effort. By the end of the war, economists were widely embedded in government and policymaking.

Cormac Ó Gráda, 02 September 2019

Of WWII’s warring powers only the Soviet Union suffered mass starvation, but as this column, part of a Vox debate on the economics of WWII, describes, it is a measure of the war’s global reach that 20 to 25 million civilians died of hunger or hunger-related diseases outside Europe. In Britain effective rationing ensured a ‘fair’ distribution of food supplies throughout the war and in Germany the famine conditions experienced in 1918-19 were not replicated, but Japan was facing semi-starvation at war’s end. In Europe, apart from Greece and the Soviet Union, famine mortality was modest, but 3-5% of the populations of faraway Bengal, Henan, and Java perished. 

Hein Klemann, 11 September 2019

Taken together, the economies of the Nazi-occupied countries were roughly twice the size of the German economy, but Berlin obtained less than 30% of its war expenditures from them. This column, part of a Vox debate on the economics of WWII, argues that in that sense exploitation failed, but the way Germany tried to exploit its empire had important consequences. In Western Europe, where productivity was higher and Berlin took a substantial share of production, mortality was limited and postwar recovery was rapid. In Poland and the USSR, where productivity was lower, continuous warfare and Nazi racism spread destruction and raised mortality, impeding recovery.

Barbara Biasi, Petra Moser, 26 May 2018

Copyrights grant publishers exclusive rights to content for almost a century. In science, this can involve substantial social costs by limiting who can access existing research. This column uses a unique WWII-era programme in the US, which allowed US publishers to reprint exact copies of German-owned science books, to explore how copyrights affect follow-on science. This artificial removal of copyright barriers led to a 25% decline in prices, and a 67% increase in citations. These results suggest that restrictive copyright policies slow down the progress of science considerably.

Stefano Gagliarducci, Massimiliano Onorato, Francesco Sobbrio, Guido Tabellini, 22 April 2018

During WWII the BBC was actively engaged in fostering opposition to the German occupation throughout Europe. This column uses data on variations in radio signal strength during the war to analyse the role played by the BBC’s “Radio Londra” programme in civilian and partisan resistance against the Nazi-fascist regime. The findings suggest that BBC radio played a significant role in coordinating resistance activities against foreign occupation, but only a minor role in mobilising the civilian population against the fascist regime.

Taylor Jaworski, 17 June 2017

Mobilisation for WWII is typically credited as having spurred the industrialisation of the American South, where industrial development had previously been stymied. Using newly collected data, this column revisits this hypothesis. Unlike earlier studies, the results do not support a decisive role for wartime capital deepening on the South’s post-war industrial development. While the results don’t rule out some positive effects of WWII investment, they suggest it may have had limited usefulness in post-war, non-military production.

Michael Bordo, 23 April 2017

Beginning in 1944, the Bretton Woods system played a major role in shaping the global economy in the post-war period. This column describes how although it was successful in bringing about exemplary and stable economic performance in the 1950s and 1960s, familiar confidence and liquidity problems, as well as inflationary pressure and central bankers’ responses to it, ensured that Bretton Woods was short-lived. Nonetheless, legacies of the system, like the dollar standard, remain with us and will likely be with us for some time to come.

Alan de Bromhead, Alan Fernihough, Markus Lampe, Kevin O'Rourke, 24 March 2017

With Brexit looming, and protectionist pressures mounting elsewhere in the developed world, the question of whether trade policy matters is taking on more significance. This column looks at the extent to which trade policy was responsible for the shift towards intra-imperial trade in the interwar period. Both tariffs and quotas increased the Empire’s share of British trade, suggesting that trade policy mattered more for interwar trade patterns than the cliometric literature has suggested.

Philipp Ager, Leonardo Bursztyn, Hans-Joachim Voth, 14 January 2017

During World War II, the German military publicly celebrated the performance of its flying aces to incentivise their peers. This column uses newly collected data to show that, when a former colleague got recognition, flying aces performed much better without taking more risks, while average pilots did only slightly better but got themselves killed much more often. Overall the incentives may have been detrimental, which serves as a caution to those offering incentives to today's financial risk-takers.

Gregori Galofré-Vilà, Martin McKee, Christopher Meissner, David Stuckler, 09 October 2016

In 1953, the Western Allied powers approved the London Debt Agreement, a radical plan to eliminate half of Germany’s external debt and create generous repayment conditions for the remainder. Using new data from the historical monthly reports of the Deutsche Bundesbank, this column argues that the agreement spurred economic growth by creating fiscal space for public investment, lowering costs of borrowing, and stabilising inflation.

Gerben Bakker, Nicholas Crafts, Pieter Woltjer, 05 February 2016

The Great Depression is considered one of the darkest times for the US economy, but some argue that the US economy experienced strong productivity growth over the period. This column reassesses this performance using improved measures of total factor productivity that allow for comparisons of productivity growth in the Depression era and in later decades. Contrary to Alvin Hansen’s gloomy prognosis of secular stagnation, the US economy was in a very strong position during the 1930s by today’s standards.

Timothy Guinnane, 13 August 2015

Greece’s crisis has invited comparisons to the 1953 London Debt Agreement, which ended a long period of German default on external debt. This column suggests that looking back, the 1953 agreement was unnecessarily generous given that Germany’s rapid growth lightened the debt repayment burden. Unfortunately for Greece, the motivations driving the 1953 agreement are nearly entirely absent today.

Johann Custodis, 18 September 2012

There were 35 million prisoners of war in WWII. This column presents new research on the use of their labour in Nazi Germany, quantifying the economic impact on the Nazi wartime economy.

Hans-Joachim Voth, Nico Voigtländer, 01 May 2012

The persecution of Jews during WWII is one of the darkest and most puzzling chapters of recent history. This column asks how economics can help our understanding, particularly of how people’s attitudes to Jews have changed over time. It argues that ‘cultural economics’ shows that there is more to understanding how people behave than looking at their incentives.

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