War, kidnapping, and data theft:  Is it some fiction pot-boiler that’s come over the transom? No, it’s the chapter on how the gross domestic product (GDP) came into being in Germany.

Today’s excerpt comes from pages 117-8 of the book The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP by Philipp Lepenies, translated by Jeremy Gaines (Columbia University Press, 2016).


“[John Kenneth] Galbraith was surprised by the results of his calculations and surveys because they, for the first time, provided a clear picture of the Nazi economy. Because no set of tools comparable to gross national product calculation existed on the German side, the military leaders had obviously not been in any position to correctly assess the country’s productive potential, let alone tap it. Although an immense amount of data had been collected, the key that would have made it into useful information was missing. In methodological terms, the Germans had nothing to set against gross national product. No statistical tool provided the Nazis with a useful report, therefore, Galbraith acknowledged that [Simon] Kuznets and his successors had seemingly contributed just as much to the Allied victory as several infantry divisions together.” ª


The book is 156 pp or 186 pp, including the index.