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From EH.Net: Christopher Tassava On Jim Lacey, "Keep from All Thoughtful Men: How U.S. Economists Won World War II"

Christopher Tassava:

Lacey (a retired U.S. Army officer and current writer on defense matters) describes the bureaucratic fights between civilian experts and military staff over the extent and speed to which the American economy -- hardly firing on all cylinders as war began in Europe -- could be reoriented to produce the munitions necessary for a serious military effort. At the center of Lacey's story are three economists who, he shows, had far-sighted views of the true capacity of the American economy: the reasonably well known Simon Kuznets and two nearly forgotten figures, Robert Nathan and Stacy May.

Lacey capably uses archival and secondary sources to show that these three men, along with a small group of other civilians inside the federal bureaucracy, were able to use social-scientific methods, including, crucially, statistical techniques, to assess how large the U.S economy could grow, how quickly that growth could occur, and how much war materiel the economy could produce for use by the U.S. and Allied militaries. Lacey persuasively shows that Kuznets, Nathan, and May were able to forecast in late 1942, before the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, that June 1944 would be the moment at which the American “arsenal of democracy” would be able to produce sufficient materiel to launch a substantial invasion of Europe.

This date, of course, coincides with D-Day, which -- in Lacey's telling -- is due straightforwardly to the fact that the economists won their battle with their adversaries in the military. In what might now be termed “data-driven decision making,” Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall (and his lieutenants) duly altered his plans for a cross-channel invasion to reflect the forecast realities of American industrial production….

Lacey's contribution to economic history consists of his ability to plumb these debates, at least up to late 1942, more deeply than previous scholars. Much of the material in this study is covered more accessibly in other scholarship, such as Paul A.C. Koistinen's specialist-oriented "Arsenal of World War II: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1940-1945" (2004) or David Kennedy's popular "Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War", 1929-1945 (2001)…. Lacey's narrow focus is a strength insofar as he uncovers new documentary evidence to support his arguments, and makes considerable effort to debunk several “myths” of the war, including General Albert Wedemeyer's claim to have developed the “Victory Plan” that matched American industrial production to Allied military needs…