Economic historians have long known that a key plank of Nazi economic policy was autarky. They took the usual nonsense about the dangers of foreign trade seriously, and tried very hard to eliminate Germany’s “dependence” on the rest of the world. What I only learned recently, however, was that by 1940 Hitler had had a change of heart:

The course of the war shows that we have gone too far in our efforts to achieve autarky. It is impossible to try and produce everything we lack through synthetic processes or other measures. (Hitler to Minister of Munitions Fritz Todt, June 20, 1940, reprinted in Nazism, 1919-1945, vol. 3)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Hitler decided that Bastiat was right after all. No, Hitler’s epiphany was that the real danger was not “depending” on foreign products, but paying for them!

We must follow another path and must conquer the things we need but lack. The one-off commitment of man-power which that will require will not be as large as the manpower which will be continuously needed for the synthetic plants. Thus, our aim must be to secure all those territories which are of special interest to our defence economy through conquest.

I’ve been reading about the history of Nazi Germany for decades, but statements like these still astonish me. The bounty of the world was on sale at bargain prices, and people like Hitler couldn’t help thinking “There must be an easier way. I know – let’s kill each other.”