To start lets us define a socialist economy. I will follow those, on both sides, involved in the socialist calculation debate and define socialism as the state ownership of the means of production. Nothing strange in this.
This raises the question of what is ownership? Here I follow Grossman and Hart (1986) in defining ownership in terms of control rights. You "own" an asset insofar as you have control rights over that asset. As Grossman and Hart put it
We define a firm to consist of those assets that it owns or over which it has control; we do not distinguish between ownership and control and virtually define ownership as the power to exercise control.This terminology seems consistent with standard usage. For example, Oliver Wendell Homes (1881) writes,
But what are the rights of ownership? They are substantially the same as those incident to possession. Within the limits of policy, the owner is allowed to exercise his natural powers over the subject-matter uninterfered with, and is more or less protected in excluding other people from such interference. The owner is allowed to exclude all, and is accountable to no one but him.Clearly, in fact by definition, under socialism the state has residual control rights. Who then had control rights under the Nazi government? In particular, did private individuals have control rights over "their" assets? Adam Tooze in his book “The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy” (well worth reading, all 800 pages of it!!) makes a number of comments with regard to state involvement in the economy and control over business: to take a few examples,
Now capitalism's deepest crisis left German business powerless to resist a state interventionism that came not from the left but the rightand
The first years of Hitler's regime saw the imposition of a series of controls on German business that were unprecedented in peacetime history.and
As we have already seen, the New Plan, which effectively regulated the access of each and every German firm to foreign raw materials, created a substantial new bureaucracy, which controlled the vital functions of a large slice of German industry.and
Managing this burdensome system of controls was the primary function of a new framework of compulsory business organizations imposed by Schacht between the autumn of 1934 and the spring of 1935. In each sector, the existing multiplicity of voluntary associations was fused together into a hierarchy of Reich Groups (for industry, banking, insurance, and so on), Business Groups (Wirtschaftsgruppen, for mining, steel, engineering and so on) and Branch Groups (Fachgruppen, for anthracite as opposed to lignite mining, and so on). Every German firm was required to enrol. Each subdivision in each Business Group was headed by its own Fuehrer. These men were nominated by the existing associations, vetted by the Reich Group and appointed by Schacht. The primary role of the Business Groups was to act as a channel between individual firms and the Reich Ministry of Economic Affairs. Decrees came down from the Ministry via the Business group. Complaints, suggestions and information travelled upwards from the firms, via the Business Groups to Berlin. The organization was tireless in the production of publications, guidelines and recommendations for the best practice. On the basis of emergency decrees first issued during the latter stages of World War I, the Business Groups were also empowered to collect compulsory reports from their members, establishing an unprecedented system of industrial statistics. After 1936 they were authorized to penetrate even further into the internal workings of their members, with the introduction of standardized book-keeping systems.and
So far-reaching were the regime's interventions in the German economy - starting with exchange controls and ending with the rationing of all key raw materials and the forced conscription of civilian workers in peacetime - that one is tempted to make comparisons with Stalin's Soviet Union.and
[...] though there clearly was a dramatic assertion of state power over business after 1933, naked coercion was applied selectively [...]What this points to is a high level of state control over business. While control over business was widespread, ownership was not taken over by the state in the manner of the Soviet Union. In Germany “ownership” formally remained in the hands of private individuals. But while it is true that "formal" ownership remained with private individuals, a question has to be asked as to what happened to "real" ownership. As Aghion and Tirole (1997) point out for the case of organisations, there is a difference between formal authority (the right to decide) and real authority (the effective control over decisions). Formal authority need not confer real authority.
A similar situation can occur with ownership when the state regulates business activity. Formal ownership (the right to decide) may not confer real ownership (the effective control over decisions) in so much as many of the control rights normally associated with ownership are not in the hands of the formal owners. Formal owners may be left with only residual income rights and a limited range of control rights. Given the level of regulation of the Nazi economy, many of the rights usually thought of as making up (real) ownership had been effectively usurped by the state. Avraham Barkai writes in his book "Nazi Economics: Ideology, Theory, and Policy", Oxford: Berg Publishers Ltd., 1990.
In an off-the-record talk with a newspaper editor in 1931, Hitler defined the basic principle of his economic project: "What matters is to emphasize the fundamental idea in my party's economic program clearly-the idea of authority. I want the authority; I want everyone to keep the property he has acquired for himself according to the principle: benefit to the community precedes benefit to the individual ["Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz"]. But the state should retain supervision and each property owner should consider himself appointed by the state. It is his duty not to use his property against the interests of others among his people. This is the crucial matter. The Third Reich will always retain its right to control the owners of property.So while formal ownership remained with the private sector, this was little more than just an empty shell since real ownership had been (mis)appropriated by the state.
At the Fraser Institute economics professor Steven Horwitz has a brief essay on Fascism. On the topic of the economics of fascism, Horwitz writes,
What emerged as the fascist economic system then was a combination of the socialist rejection of capitalism and the nationalist rejection of internationalist socialism. It’s not coincidental that “Nazi” was short for National Socialist German Workers Party. The very name suggests that the fascists started from a socialist premise (including the emphasis on being a “workers” party), but added the “nationalist” (and specifically “German”) twist.In short, I would argue that you can reasonably see the Nazi economy as being socialist.
Rather than have full-blown socialism as we saw in the early years of the Soviet Union, the fascists generally preferred hybrid forms that often maintained the appearance of elements of capitalism but with a much larger role for the state in allocating resources. A look at the Nazi Party platform of 1920 shows the very strong influence of socialism in the economic planks, including objections to the earning of interest, the desire to nationalize industries, the confiscation of profits, and land reform. Not all of these were put into place when Hitler gained power, but the Nazis’ antipathy toward capitalism is quite clear, even as they often co-opted big business into their power structure in during their reign. The trappings of private ownership were often preserved, but the Nazis used the power of the state to try to ensure that private ownership was used as a means toward the national ends that they defined.
The Italian model was similar in its broad outlines, though different in its execution. The Italians were more clear than the Germans about the way in which market competition was destructive of national goals. They didn’t see Russian socialism as a solution for the reasons noted above. Instead, they argued for industry-level partnerships among labor, capital, and the political class. The idea was that by working collectively, these cartel-like organizations could resolve questions of what to produce, what price to charge, what wage to pay, and the like all without the need for cut-throat competition among firms or workers, or the use of strike threats between workers and capitalists. By putting national interests first, these collectives could plan out production industry by industry and ensure a cooperative peace among Italians. So, once again, the system kept some of the trappings of capitalism, such as nominally private ownership, but set them in a system where collective planning of a limited, and nationalistic, sort was the overarching structure.
Both of these systems are probably most accurately called “corporatism.” In such a system, we get these sorts of private-public collaborations in which private ownership is combined with state control and privileges for labor, and where all are expected to serve some larger national goal. It looks like private ownership, which is often the source of the claim that fascism is a form of capitalism, but the degree of distrust of the unplanned order of free markets and the de facto power that falls into the hands of the state to set goals both point to it as being more accurately a form of socialism or planning.
- Aghion, Philippe and Jean Tirole (1997). ‘Formal and real authority in organizations’, “Journal of Political Economy”, 105(1): 1-29.
- Grossman, Sanford J. and Oliver D. Hart (1986). ‘The costs and benefits of ownership: a theory of vertical and lateral integration’, “Journal of Political Economy, 94(4): 691-719.
- Holmes, Oliver Wendell (1881). “The Common Law”, Reprint. Boston: Little, Brown, 1946.