A very common misconception is that both elimination of unemployment and rapid economic growth (German economy was the fastest-growing among developed nations by far) were the result of but one Hitler’s activity and policy – the proverbial rearmament.
While rearmament (that started long before Hitler came to power) did make a significant contribution to “all of the above”, it was only one of the three destinations of public expenditures (i.e. government financing) undertaken in 1933-36. The other two were construction and transportation.
More specifically, most civilian budget financing went into the four programs:
- Reforestation – restocking of German forests and woodlands that have been depleted, usually through deforestation. Which not only increases production of timber and non-timber forest products (that can be used for both civilian and military purposes), but also improves the overall quality of human life
- Land reclamation – creating new land from oceans, riverbeds, or lake beds. Mostly agricultural, of course – to help achieve the fundamental Nazi objective of making Germany self-sufficient in foodstuffs
- Motorization –developing the motor vehicles industry and the building of improved roads, including, but not limited to the world-famous autobahns.
- Expansion of the housing sector and public buildings – to radically improve living conditions of ordinary Germans.
Contrary to another (and related) very popular misconception, for Adolf Hitler it was never “guns instead of butter”. On the contrary, until 1943 he honestly and sincerely tried to balance these two objectives (and thus maintain relatively high living standards of German population).
Just one example – after a “total war economy” was finally instituted in 1943, Hitler had the women’s cosmetics industry gradually closed down rather than banned outright to avoid upsetting German women.
These attempts led to an unnamed Wehrmacht general fuming “Our Führer wants us to fight war with refrigerators”. And he was right – this policy ended in disaster. Germany was too late at adopting the policy of “total war” (mobilization all of the resources of society to fight the war) which contributed significantly to the defeat in World War II and the demise of the Third Reich.
The cumulative effect of the abovementioned policies was to triple public investment between 1933 and 1936 and to increase government expenditure by nearly 70% over the same period. By early 1936, the economic recovery was well advanced and emphasis began to further turn towards rearmament.
Which was institutionalized by the development and execution of the Four Year Plan (the idea shamelessly copied from the Soviet five-year plans). The primary purpose of the plan (adopted in 1936 and made public in September of that year) was to provide for the rearmament of Germany, and to prepare the country for self-sufficiency in four years, from 1936–1940 (both objectives were deemed necessary for fighting and winning the inevitable war).
However, it continued the fundamental Hitler’s policy of trying to “balance guns and butter” as the Plan sought to reduce unemployment; increase synthetic fiber production; undertake public works projects (under the direction of Fritz Todt and his Organization Todt); increase automobile production; initiate numerous building and architectural projects; and further develop the Autobahn system.
The Four Year Plan was by Adolf Hitler himself, who put Hermann Göring in charge of them. Göring was made a Reich Plenipotentiary whose jurisdiction cut across the responsibilities of various cabinet ministries, including those of the Minister of Economics, the Defense Minister and the Minister of Agriculture.
Thus the Office of a Four Year Plan (idea no less shamelessly copied from the Soviet Gosplan – the State Planning Committee) became a part of the alternative governmental structure created by Hitler.
Hitler extended to Göring the power to make law simply by publishing decrees, which enabled him to create other plenipotentiaries in overall charge of various industries. Göring constantly expanded the scope of the plan, until he became the de facto master of the German economy.
Given the subsequent astounding military victories of German Wehrmacht on the battlefields of Europe and the Soviet Union, its resilience in the 3.5 year long war of attrition with the adversary (“Anti-Hitler Coalition”) who was far superior in natural, material and human resources (at the same time maintaining acceptable living standards of German population), Göring did a pretty good job.