Review of Mark Wilson’s Destructive Creation

The new issue of Dissent has a review by me of Mark Wilson’s Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II. (At the Dissent site the review is still paywalled.)

World War II is a weirdly neglected topic in US economic history. Lots written about the Depression, of course, and then we seem to skip straight to the postwar period. But there’s a lot to learn from the wartime experience, including some important lessons for today’s debates around potential output and the responsiveness of labor force participation and productivity to demand conditions. Wilson’s book is not helpful on those particular questions, but it has a lot of interesting material on its own topic of how relations between private business and government shifted during the war. Anyway, you can read the review here.



5 thoughts on “Review of Mark Wilson’s Destructive Creation”

  1. Very fascinating review. Thank you! I especially love the line from the War Industries Board head who replied “Oh well get a second lieutenant or somebody to run it.” lmao

  2. I’ve long thought the two world wars should be of greater interest to economists. They are usually cited as examples of Keynesian stimulus, but – World War II especially – is also a set of examples on planning and its strengths and limits and of the role of government straegy in shifting economies from one trajectory to another. It was not just that the government invested, it invested in modernising the economy – in advanced factories, in aircraft, in oil, in vehicles, in radio and radar and in training people to run all these things (a modern armed force is not so much a fighting machine as a training machine for a very large logistics exercise).

    A similar case could be made for Britain in the C18, where deliberate government action provided the stimuli that pushed the industrial revolution. There would be much value in looking at the comparative record both for Britain and its rivals and those engaged in WW II.

    1. Exactly. I think it’s Hugh Rockoff who argues that the US and UK actually had more central planning and more fully mobilized economies during than the Axis countries or the USSR.

  3. The UK certainly. The US less so. There was a large amount of improvisation in the USSR (although bolstered by the experience of crash industrial development in the 30s) – the catastrophic losses of the first year left no choice.

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