Thursday, January 19, 2017

An Agro-Technical Appendix, V: Evil as Strategy

Someone had to go and make Rimmer an admiral, didn't they?

Unlike apparently every other person on Earth, I've really got no problem with the Empire building one death star after another, and getting them blown up, one after another. It's a dysfunctional regime, guys. That's what dysfunctional regimes do. If you need an explanation, just borrow a cynical line about someone's interest/income, whatever. If the Dark Side is all about evil and genocide, then regimes dominated by the Dark Side are going to be impervious to the idea that genocide is bad policy. Dark Siders like doing genocide: Rationalisation to follow.

The Third Reich wasn't dominated by Sith lords because Sith lords don't exist. So what's going on? The leadership's dysfunction is easily explained. They were the usual lot of over-promoted narcissists. The two questions are: how did people like that achieve power; and; Why genocide? The answer is that the Nazis promised to do stuff for people that other parties wouldn't. Weimar struggled for years over (agricultural) land reform because big owners and small had divergent interests. The Nazis promised to give both big and small what they wanted --and a pony! This is a trick that narcissists can do, because they don't give a shit about anything but postive reinforcement right now now now now. Since the big farmers largely wanted their  old Polish estates back, the outlines of policy were clear enough. The problem was not having stuff that belonged to foreigners, so the solution was taking stuff from foreigners. What would happen to the foreigners? They would, like all the other "useless mouths" and whatever other pejorative label we like today, just go away. (They're crude and nasty and backwards, so it's practically a good deed to shoot them in the back of the head. Am I being subtle enough here?)

There. No more subtle.

So, no Sith, but, nevertheless, a policy of genocide. I doubt that my summary of an argument about the roots of Nazi genocidal policy is going to sound anything more than glib and unconvincing tot he vast number of scholars who investigate these questions, so take my contribution for what it is worth. Where I can possibly push forward is by  asking how evil as strategy worked out. Not very well, is the well-known answer, but there's some interesting details in the corners of the situation.

A story in two images: Hitler as paladin in shining armour. 

This is a reference to many other images, from Ulrich von Hutten to Prince Eugen, but since the Leader of the German People is wearing something called "Maximilian plate," after Maximilian I, here is  Imperator to compare with Leader.
Alle Erde ist Oesterreich Untertanen
The first image is usually cited as presenting Hitler as a crusader. (I tend to think "Don Quixote," but that is probably too kind to Hitler.)  Max,who did spend his career jousting with windmills, is here presenting himself as the Conquering Sun. He has an agenda, and this is important. It embraces the reforms he pushed through the 1495 Diet of Worms, and above all the Common Penny. This Empire-wide tax was meant to fund wars, including crusades. Hitler, on the other hand, did not ask for money. His crusade was supposed to pay for itself, remedy the deficiencies of German agriculture and solve the social problem. It would also have the effect of "exterminating" the indigenous population of this vast East, arguably a goal in its own right. Again, I feel inadequate in the face of an overwhelming literature to which I've scarcely attended, a ringside seat at the sausage-making factory aside.

As Hitler understood the problem, the root cause of the deficiencies of German agriculture was the lack of arable land in Germany. Germany lacked, stop me if you've heard this one, "elbow room." As the stronger power, at the racial apex of human evolution, Germany had a right to this crucial, and limited resouce. For, after all, it is because this wide Earth is finite that "Food supply grows linearly, population grows exponentially." Again, by seizing land and grain in Ukraine, he would solve both problems, while generating a surplus of food that would feed the German people. He would even make money on the project by forcing Ukraine to pay for its own occupation. There is no particular controversy over the results, which hardly extended beyond  a great many deaths. He didn't get the money, nor the grain, nor even the genocide. Nazi effectiveness proved overrated. Sad, even. 

Max's project is pretty obviously different. He was moving the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in a direction that would turn out (to dodge desperately around teleology) to be that of the modern nation state. In retrospect, it was a charmingly naive project, and so obviously flawed that we probably underestimate the extent of its actual successes. 

The administrative circles of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, as laid out in the 1500 and 1512 Diets. Let's see Charles V screw this up!

It wasn't all bad for Hitler. Unlike Soviet Russia, supposed beneficiary of the unlimited manpower of the East; or the United States, with its miracle of mass production, the Hitler regime actually had access to something nearly as good as cloning vats. The German language was spoken well outside the borders of 1938 Germany, and there's this dirty little secret about German-Polish bilingualism that we won't talk about because that might take us uncomfortable places. A population of 80 millions grew to one in excess of 100l and, if that failed, it could draw on the labour, forced or otherwise, of all occupied Europe. Even justify it! The Flemings were Germanic-speakers after all, and you can see Flanders on the map there, part of the Burgundian Circle. (The Walloons, incoveniently, speak French. But "French" is from "Frank," so there is probably some monkey business, here.)

This talk of an expanding Germany is incongruent. Before the war, the ruling conceit was that Germany had too many people. One might count military strength in numbers capable of bearing rifles, but when it comes to economics, population only seems to multiply "distressed areas" and "disadvantaged populations." (Although while it  had too many people, it was also not having enough children. Nazi contradictions are contradictory.)

Germans having different anxieties than Americans, the quintessential useless mouth in Germany was the peasant farmer inefficiently cultivating a too-small acreage. Statistically, the problem was focused on minimal proprietors who were almost certainly factory-working hobby farmers, but they don't count. When it was concluded in the summer of 1949 that the Greater German Reich needed 7 million empty acres of arable land to the 34 million within its boundaries, it was with an eye to the average farm holding of 2.1 arable hectares, this was supposed to mean the presumed 12 million German farmers, or 88% of the total, who were land-poor, and therefore poor, period.* A few years earlier, in the mid-1930s, when Germany was assessed as having 19 million hectares of arable land, basically the same as today, it was pointed out that neighbouring Poland had 18.6; and Canada, 23 million). Since Germany had more farmers than Canada, fewer than Poland, the German farmer was intermediate between Canadian and Pole --poor, but not destitute. Practically, no-one had to parse statistics to figure that out. The German peasant really couldn't afford the clothes, radios and other consumer luxuries that German industry wasn't producing, anyway. (Hmm.)

As we've seen the Nazis had stepped back from Weimar's anyways half-hearted land reforms. From that perspective, the global "2.1" figure was a nice misdirect, conflating very large estates with very small ones. Since structural reform was clearly the solution to Germany's backwards agricultural sector, Weimar's solution of reducing size of too-large inefficient estates, so as to increase the size of others, which were too small, was just not on.

As solutions go, it wasn't doomed for being bloodless and technocratic. It was doomed because there wasn't the land! Clearly, the only way to cure Junker-envy was by making all German farmers into Junkers. In practice, few true German citizens of the Reich suffered more during the war than the unfortunate few who volunteered, or were compelled to volunteer, to take on this role of Much-Further-East-of-the-Elbian landlords. But the theory is excellent!

Well, maybe. Because reality has pretty clearly disproven the theory. The German wheat harvest for 2016 is in but I prefer to look back at the 2015 harvest, for the very important reason that the Ministry press release is online, and leads off with some perfect Anglo-German:

The German cereal and rapeseed harvest has generated average yields this year. This is demonstrated by the current harvest statement of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture . . . Including grain maize, the German grain harvest will reach a value of approximately 48.2 million tonnes . . . Cereals for grain production were grown on a total of 6.54 million hectares, a slightly larger area than in the previous year. Cereal yields per hectare have been average in the 2015 crop year. If all cereals are taken together, the yield per hectare amounts to 73.7 quintals based on the measurements available to date, a figure which is 8.4 percent down on the previous year. The multi-year average (71.2 quintals per hectare) is exceeded by 3.6 percent . . . . Wheat is the most important cereal crop in Germany, with a harvest of 26.4 million tonnes, 5 percent less than in the previous year. Winter wheat, which also has the highest yield potential among cereal crops apart from grain maize, accounts for 98 percent of this quantity. A nationwide average yield per hectare of 81 quintals will be achieved this year for winter wheat. As in previous years, yields in northern Germany are much higher still, albeit slightly lower on light soils such as in Brandenburg or locations particularly affected by drought. . . At 3.35 million tonnes, the rye harvest for 2015 was much smaller than in the previous year (-13 percent). . . . Yields of winter barley, the cereal crop which ripens earliest, amounted to 76.9 quintals per hectare, thereby almost matching the figure from the previous year. Over a slightly larger cultivated area, the winter barley harvest of 9.7 million tonnes was much greater than in recent years (+15.2 percent compared to the multi-year average). Around 2.03 million tonnes of summer barley, the majority of which is used for the production of brewing malt, were harvested from a slightly larger cultivated area.
Speaking of quaint and colourful writing from the Interwebs, I sure hope that this link to the business pages of the Chicago Tribune for 3 September 1937 resolves. It's not the best source for the German wheat bread grain harvest of that year, as it is still preliminary results (11.4 million tons, but possibly adversely affected by recent rain). It's just that the article ends with an almost-completely unrelated story about German scientists being on the verge of perfecting a method of making edible fats out of wood pulp, the bridge between the two being that a disappointing harvest means that Germany will have to spend scarce foreign exchange on world grain again. 

It's a weird, weird world where the Germans can make edible fats from wood pulp at an economical price, yet can't export enough to cover their imports of Argentine wheat. I must say. 

Now let's look at some pretty pictures about how the modern German grain harvest is grown.


Agricultural land (sq km)
% of land area, Germany
Arable land (hectares)
% of land area, Germany
Permanent cropland % land
Forest area, sq km
Forest area, % land area
Land area, sq km

Nothing looks very different here. Germany has experienced the same agricultural miracle as the United Kingdom. Grain yield per acre is up enormously in spite of much lower labour inputs.Here's a great graph that I've scraped with banner ad included, because my conscience is bothering me. 

This is a highly synthesised measure, but assuming that the statisticians are doing it right, German "grain yield per hectare" has slightly more than doubled since 1968, the first year for which this data is available to the site. The Internet doesn't seem interested in the postwar history of the German grain harvest, but the mid-70s harvest is normally taken as double the immediate postwar yield, because of the Green Revolution and all of that. While I tend to doubt the deep historical insight of people who burble on about how the high natural fertility of western European farms naturally makes them grain exporters -- a notion that would have had a pre-1939 agronomist spitting up his rich, smooth, Nabob Breakfast Blend coffee (Look for it at your local Safeway), I'll take the numbers as given. After all, 11ish million tons, doubled twice, takes us into the rance of 48ish. Precision!

So, had Nazi agronomists a crystal ball, they would have concluded that the country did not need elbow room so much as tractors, fertilisers, and pesticides. Given those, Germany could feed itself and export grain. It's also not clear that this point could not be grasped by contemporaries. A troll through Google Books reveals that German yields (bushels per acre) were almost half those of the Netherlands, which, in turn, had somewhat higher yields than Belgium.

Annual Statistical Report of the New York Produce Exchange For the Year 1884, Prepared by E. H. Walker, Statistican of the Exchange (New York: Jones, 1886): 182. 
This arguing with the past is probably a bad idea. These guys knew farming. If hindsight tells us that there was plenty of room for the German harvest to grow, it was not obvious at the time, whatever statistics I pull out of the available literature. (Comparative data for the Netherlands and Belgium in 1937, for example, eludes me.) 

Ruling out a technocratic solution, labour imports also look dicey. After all, bringing in 7 million foreign workers to bring in the German harvest implies feeding 7 million more people. Pushing through the inanities of Nazi policy, one ends up in a situation where "Eastern" workers are brought in and directed to be fed a subsistence diet, so that labour exploitation and genocide could go hand in hand, while "Western" workers were to be fed as well as possible, so that the wayward Germans of Flanders and their ilk could be integrated into the common European struggle against Bolshevism. Subsequent trials and investigations have revealed that the German farmers who employed "Eatern" labour were kinder than official policy; and while it is possible to be cynical about this, there is a curious connection between Germany and Ukraine, forged in this period. (When I say "curious," I assure the reader that I'm aware that an explanation exists. I'm just not entirely convinced, whatever the new President's best friends might say.)

But, like I said, I can hardly break new ground in matters of genocide and anti-Semitism. Fortunately, Dr. Collingham has given some coverage to Europe's most-easily forgotten country. So remarkable did Dr. Collingham find Belgium's wartime experience that she gives it (and poor, famine-struck Greece) its own sub-chapter heading. 

On its face, Belgium should have been just like France, where artificial exchange rates, war reparations, and the simple facts of occupation combined to produce brutal food exploitation and a steady decline in the harvest as French farmers declined to play a rigged game. Instead, Belgium faced a crisis. Far from being self-sufficient, like France, it had imported 1.2 million tons of grain a year.. Germany, which considered it strategically necessary to sustain the Belgian industrial workforce, scraped up 890,000 tons of grain to replace the imports -- that is, 890,000 tons over five years. This was obviously utterly inadequate, and the occupation authorityhad to sttep in. By closely controlling the farms and strictly rationing food, the Corporation Nationale de l'Alimentation et de l'Agriculture was able to distribute a ration of between 1000 and 1500 calories per person, per day. Since this was far short of a subsistence diet, all the Belgians, of course, died.

Or, wait, no. It was by no means an easy war for the Belgians. Eighty percent of Belgian children suffered from rickets in 1945, according to one source, whose accuracy I somewhat question. However, the Belgians did feed themselves. 

How? Well, the black market, obviously. But the curious thing here is that the black market, operating outside and in parallel to the official apparatus, not only fed the Belgian population, but also made up that 1.2 million ton grain import deficit. 

It's enough to bring a tear to a Libertarian's eyes. Except, being slightly skeptical of Libertarian thinking in general, I'd like to know a bit more about how this was achieved. In Ukraine and in France, we have plenty of evidence of farmers withdrawing from  market agriculture and scaling back efforts to aim for subsistence. That seems like a rational approach to a world in which government had all but disappeared apart from random gangs of mass killers. (The problem with the Ukrainian occupation as a test of the effectiveness of government by terror is that the Germans were unable to deploy terrorists in large enough numbers to say that a trial had been fairly made. Which must have been a considerable consolation to the mass-murdered.) 

In the Belgian case, it looks like a withdrawal of the actually-existing state structure, and its ostensible replacement by the occupation authority, led to a rise in agricultural productivity! What  the heck happened?

I don't know, but I do know that, while the Common Penny was revoked quickly, Belgium was still technically part of the Burgundian Circle when the French Revolution broke over it. If I were goiung to theorise this, I'd go back to my post about the Coal Wood, and point out that while we all know that Belgium is the cockpit/crossroads of Europe, we are less aware of the reason for it, which is that the gentle remains of the Variscan orogeny of the Old Red Aeon have created a ridge that, paradoxically, slopes downhill from Bologne to Cologne. Along its northern and southern slopes, a spring line runs, with northern streams running into the North Sea, and southern ones into the Somme. The old, traditional roads run along the top of the orogeny, and between spring line and plain to either side lie the charcoal forests of the Walloons,the wild folk. (Because, oddly enough, in Teutonic Euorpe, the wild folk speak Romance langauges. Or Welsh.) 

So maybe it is something special about Belgium and its history. Or, maybe, it is just necessity. Whatever be the case, we now know that more food could be won from the European ground than Europeans permitted themselves to win in the 1930s. We know that a crisis that drove a genocidal war need have been no crisis at all. 

I wonder if we'll learn anything from all of this? I mean, the Belgians aren't that bright. They put mayonnaise on their fries. 

Potatoes, tallow, a cauldon, charcoal. Then, egg yolk and "salad oil," with lemon, salt and pepper to taste. 


  1. But the curious thing here is that the black market, operating outside and in parallel to the official apparatus, not only fed the Belgian population, but also made up that 1.2 million ton grain import deficit.

    Do we actually know this? The point that the Belgians survived is obviously true, and if they ate, the food must have come from somewhere. But I'm not seeing where you show that the gap was *completely* filled or that it was filled with grain vice anything else.

    In that light, I'd check again that the 890k tonnes number isn't actually annual. I can believe making up (some fraction of) a 310k tonne gap more than I can a 1.2m tonne gap (i.e 1,200 liner trains' worth - getting on for four trainloads a day, a seriously non-trivial lift.

  2. At this point I can only throw to Collingham, who relies here on John R. Gillingham, "How Belgium Survived: The Food Supply Problems of an Occupied Nation." In Agriculture and Food Supply in the Second World War: Landswirtschaft und Versorgung im Zweiten Weltkrieg. 69--88. Eds. Bernd Martin and Alan S. Milward. Ostfildern [BRD]: Scripta Mercaturae, 1985.

  3. Business History Review found a Belgian economic historian to review Gillingham when a longer version of the article appeared as a monograph. This view from the cockpit of Europe emphasises the long-running controversy over Belgian collaboration with Nazism. Was the "Production Politics" a cynical attempt by Belgian business elites to profit from the war, increase their control over the nation, and prepare Belgium's position in a postwar, German-dominated Europe, or a desperate improvisation to preserve the body of the nation in impossible circumstances?

  4. So, recalling that Belgium had already been through an Occupation-driven famine in the last war, what do we make of the Galopin Committee's work on food? Belgium introduced drastic food rationing on the first day of the war, and the German occupation only continued it. The sparse food imports can be explained as a means of coercing Belgian industrial production --uhm, because reasons? Anyway, there was a point to it --the Germans thought.

    The basic point is that food rationing was imposed by the state, and food prices rose. The black market that developed was unusually well-developed. Prices were scandalously high, but various forms of indirect evidence are adduced to show that coordination was good. Smallholding farmers went in for growing bread grains because they could reliably expect to sell their crops at a good price, as opposed to being shot in the back of the head by the Gestapo, Rexists, etc.

    It's inferentially understood that it was the substitution of grain for fodder that was the key to increased grain production in Europe during the Occupation period. Certainly, that is what happened in the Netherlands. I throw in the "inferentially" because we lack direct evidence for Belgium. (In the Netherlands, we can compare agricultural exports to Germany and see a shift from animal products to grain over the course of the war, plus we have the famine of 1944/45 to shine the light of research.)

    Other possibilities: alternative cash crops like flax for linen, or forest land, were sacrificed; more potatoes; most speculatively, a beginning to the postwar European agricultural miracle in response to high black market prices.

    Before any libertarians in the audience high five each other, I'll point out that it might be the Galopin Committee that we can credit here for presiding over this extraordinarily robust and perhaps only nominally "black" market. (In which case I guess any alt-righters in the audience will pat themselves on the back, instead. Sigh.)

  5. You might like to look at Denmark - also a major grain importer, but mostly for pig-feed.

    My guess is that you can make up for a lot by switching grazing land (pigs, horses, spring lambs...) to arable and gardens to food. Britain did. And the Soviet Union managed to feed itself (badly) on allotments and rationing, after the loss of the Ukraine.

  6. Professor Collingham covers the Danish case, albeit not at length. The Germans treated Denmark relatively leniently, ostensibly for ideological reasons. (The fact that it had a border with neutral Sweden surely played its part, however.) Rations were set leniently, unlike Belgium, where, admittedly, the emergency ration scale was set before the armistice, and perhaps reflected the experience of WWI in a more realistic way than Dr. Collingham is willing to admit.

    Unlike Belgium, Denmark was known as a significant food exporter, and this continued during the war. Moreover, Denmark is a country of pastures (Geoff Crowther likes to compare it to Ireland), and those exports were comparatively high-end animal products, and this, too continued. "Denmark provided the Reich with about one month's worth of butter, pork and beef a year" is one way of putting it. Another is that Denmark exported 200,000 tons of butter to Germany between 1940 and 1943, compared with France's 49,000t.

    In Germany, pork production was maintained by using potatoes as fodder. Wile the Danes surely did that, too, I am going to guess that a great deal of skim milk went into the mash, as well. Dairy is another matter. High-protein fodder is not negotiable here, and the Danish coping strategy is radically different from Holland, where there was a shift from animal exports to arable over the war years. (Dr. Collingham cites public health data that tends to support the idea that the Dutch shifted to a more vegetarian diet, with deleterious consequences even before the famine.)

    Again, a tentative conclusion, in no way supported or advanced by Dr. Collingham, is that the right price structure was capable of winning dramatically higher grain yields from European farmlands than were being seen in the late 1930s. The problems of world agriculture in the Depression era were on the demand side, and insofar as actual demand was not being met, we're seeing a market failure, dramatically solved in some countries by the imposed autarky of German occupation. (And not in others, of course, particularly France, although it is Greece that Dr. Collingham singles out.)

  7. The Soviet case is interesting, and raises issues on an almost unimaginable scale. Official Lend-Lease brought in enormous amounts of high value foods. Dr. Colllingham cites the example of a factory that lived on American chocolate bars for a month, while Red Army field kitchens served buckwheat, dried fish, potatoes and "as much fat as possible" --almost 40lbs/year, on average, in 1945. (Which I assume is the ration entry, and not an attempt to estimate how much fat there is in a can of Spam.) The complete list of American Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union includes a line item for 235 million pounds of edible fats. (Also, 103 million pounds of soya flour and 1.5 million pounds of yeast, which explains the Russian factory worker's memory of living on soya milk and yeast soup.) I found this while looking for quantification of the fabled Ceylonese coconut oil from the Prime Minister's reply to the question about Russian war assistance made on 16 April 1946, but Atlee did not provide numbers then, and no-one seems to have dug them up since. (Total value of British and Empire food assistance is given at over eight million pounds sterling, for what it's worth.)

    But there's far more than that. The Soviet Union had a uniquely open internal frontier. To the extent that Britain wanted to support its ally, for example, it was perfectly free to buy everything that Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey could produce, and ship it across the frontiers. Within the Soviet Union is the whole of Siberia, obviously not a major food exporting region in general, but one with a certain under-utilised potential for pastoral and marine production. The "Russian steamroller's" potential has sometimes been framed in terms of the country's unlimited access to horses as well as the assumed unlimited fecundity of Asia.

    The food history of the wartime Soviet Union might also be seen as one in which the wash of Lend-Lease wealth briefly mobilising the Eurasian rural economy. Besides anecdotes of living on yeast soup, chocolate bars and Spam*, there are stories of Muscovites (and German city dwellers, too), heading out into the country to trade curtains for food. Notwithstanding Four Year Plans, totalitarianism, secret police and the steely eye of the Leader, the fact remains that a peasant out on the open Russian landscape lived beside the road down which a Bashkir or a Kalmyk horse trader could come down at any moment. Russia received 3,500 dozen "pliers, pincers, nippers, etc." from the United States under Lend-Lease. I'd think that trading a dozen of those for a sheep that would otherwise have been eaten as a lamb on a Pushtun range would be a solid contribution to the war effort!

    1. Except that the only entry points into the Soviet Union were Vladivostok (15 days on an overloaded rail network), Murmansk/Archangel, and Iran. In practice, most went through Murmansk. The Red Army had priority for food, so civilians cultivated their little plots, factories organised canteens and turned vacant land into vegetable gardens, and so on. From memoirs I've read, the situation was dire up to late 42, and then gradually improved.

    2. The Soviet Union is the biggest country on Earth, and most of its frontiers were with land borders with at-best distantly friendly neutrals with poor transportation infrastructure.

      That said, it also had an air frontier with the United States. The Northwest Staging Route supplied the Soviet Union with 7,983 American-made aircraft, including numerous DC-3s which flew loaded with cargo.) There were, indeed, only three rail-served ports through which the Allies could move bulk cargoes: 3.964 million tons through Murmansk, 4.16 million through the Persian Gulf, 8.224 million tons (all "non-military").

      The points I want to make, however, is that the Soviet Union is big, and that cows can walk! The amazing thing about the food situation in the wartime Soviet Union isn't that it was in crisis in 1941--2. It's that it recovered! Is this entirely a story of totalitarian command-and-control combined with Lend-Lease, or did the wealth of all the world washing into Soviet Russia mobilise the food-producing capabilities of inner Eurasia in a less coercive fashion as well?

    3. What do you mean by "inner Eurasia" here? You sprinkle it around as a trope all the time, but what am I meant to be imagining (especially as a lot of it is desert, mountain, or Afghanistan)?

    4. "Inner Eurasia" is a substitute for "Central Asia," which apparently offends, or seems inappropriate, or something. Afghanistan, Mongolia, Iran, Siberia, Soviet Central Asia, Tibet, Xinjiang.

    5. Now, before you object and say that those aren't real countries, well, yes. Eurasia is our planetary supercontinent, and its inside bits are big, but it is a large zone of harsh climate and small population. Even including the nice bit that the Russians took over doesn't get you very far, and, anyway, they can be visualised as under the totalising economic control of Soviet Communism. As for Siberia, well, really now.

      Even so: Afghanistan is the size of France, as is Iran. Tibet, Mongolia and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are all about twice as big as that. You don't have to ask them to answer to their weight to realise that that's a lot of room for economic activities to happen in.

      Yes, yes, small historic populations do reflect a lack of cities, industry, even arable agriculture, but their failure to develop also reflects the more attractive alternative of pastoralism.

      At one time, it was fashionable to dismiss pastoralism as a subsistence strategy of marginal regions. We now know that largescale herding is a response to trade opportunities. People aren't raising livestock in Xinjiang for fun. They're raising it to buy consumer goods. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a Russian caravan-style tea has participated vicariously in this old economy. (Because the Russians are addicted to Chinese tea, which, until the turn of the last century, reached them in animal caravans that crossed into Russia at the Dzungarian Gates. The impossible romanticism of it doesn't change the quotidian economic facts.)

    6. As for the scope of this trade: China's beleaguered public relations offices note that Xinjiang had 46 million in 2001, up 2.8 times since 1955, when census returns began. (46 million is an enormous number; Mongolia had only 30 million head in 2012.) Siberia doesn't seem to accommodate the same kind of statistical records keeping. I found a great resource that I will append below, but after giving precise numbers for the Central Asian republics and (the whole of China), it just throws its hands up at Siberia. Five million reindeer, it says. 63,000 tons of butter exported in 1917, Wikipedia says. (And less than half of that in the late 30s. Thanks, communism! 63,000 tons of butter is 3kg a year for every citizen of the USSR in 1945. Every little bit helps, etc.)

      So, anyway, besides wool and draft horses, plenty of room for Inner Eurasia to make a contribution. The collapse of the Siberian butter industry between 1917 and the high collectivist era, and its partial recovery during the war years is a pretty good example of the process. Note that this industry, located in the border regions with Manchuria and Mongolia, would also have been able to exploit immigrant labour.

    7. But why, specifically, is it such an all purpose explanation?

    8. You're forcing me to reflect, and it makes my brain hurt.

      I guess the point is that we have two models for state intervention to secure food supply in WWII: the first is coercion: "Evil as strategy." The second is paying farmers more. I think that the case studies are showing that the former drives agricultural surplus down as farmers retreat into self-sufficiency. The latter seems to work. Why didn't all the belligerent powers do that? It's not just an inability to meet the costs. There is an element of lack of insight/empathy here that is hard to describe without using words like "evil."

      Nevertheless, fantasies of infinite power and irresistible coercion nestle at the heart of many projects of state power without regard for the lessons of history. Myth-historical lessons serve instead.

      From this perspective, I suspect that the omniscient control of the NKVD-state is myth history. The standard history of the Soviet garden plot is that the profit motive wins more crops from the ground, after all. Proving this would be a deep dive into the sociological history of the former Soviet Union, however.

      However, there's an easier way to sidestep the issue. Whatever measure we take of the weight of the Inner Eurasian economies, it cannot be debated that Russia trades with them. The NKVD-state ends at the Soviet border --if not before. A look into Dzungaria and Afghanistan is a look into a zone where food and industrial agricultural goods to sustain Soviet military mobilisation can only be won by paying for them.

  8. Again, a tentative conclusion, in no way supported or advanced by Dr. Collingham, is that the right price structure was capable of winning dramatically higher grain yields from European farmlands than were being seen in the late 1930s

    Well, your type case is probably the UK and the Agriculture Act '47 then. Obviously that was in some sense a continuation of the wartime settlement, like the NHS and the wider Keynesian macroeconomy.

    This only raises the question, however, of where inputs were coming from.

  9. Well, agriculture is a self-sustaining system, in that outputs are inputs. Hmm. When did I turn into a hippy?

    The wartime Belgian case is actually one that justifies a reading-the-Whole Earth Catalogue-in-the-bathroom fantasy. The whole country has had twenty years to think about the WWI famine and ask itself, "What would I do differently, if it happened again?" Putting up a windmill, or building a tractor that runs on pig manure is a post-apocalyptic fantasy. Survivalism is a reasonably popular hobby because people can pretend to do these things. Mostly, it falls at the level of buying a book, or working out elaborate fantasies about where you'll build that water reservoir, what you'll need for that hidden bunker. What's the point of doing all that work? It's fantasy.

    But what if Doomsday arrives on cue, with three years of build up, then nine months warning, then everything happening exactly as predicted, except perhaps the part where all the equipment of four defeated armies is left strewn across the landscape? It's a prepper's fantasy.

    In postwar Britain, I'm thinking that "oil" is probably the answer.