In This Review

1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler
1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler
By Tobias Straumann
272 pp, Oxford University Press, 2019

In this engaging book, Straumann, a leading Swiss economic historian, examines a critical factor in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. In the last days of the Weimar Republic, Germany faced a punishing international economic environment: a financial crisis was radiating outward from the United States, and Germany’s opponents in World War I continued to demand reparations. Market pressure forced the German government to impose austerity by lowering wages, raising taxes, and slashing government spending. This triggered a wave of dissatisfaction with establishment political parties and made the half-truths in Hitler’s radical critique of democratic government and the Treaty of Versailles seem plausible. That, in turn, allowed the Nazi Party, up to that point a fringe group, to win enough votes to enter government. The lesson for today’s policymakers is all too clear. When establishing the euro, technocrats and politicians ignored the possible domestic political consequences of supranational economic choices, with disastrous results.