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The Paradox of Planning: The Controlled Materials Plan of World War II


  • John Landon-Lane
  • Hugh Rockoff


According to most standard accounts of the mobilization of the U.S. economy in World War II, things started out badly because the agency nominally in charge, the War Production Board, lacked sufficient authority and relied on faulty techniques. But then the War Production Board installed the famous Controlled Materials Plan, a form of central planning, which solved the major problems and turned disaster into triumph. Here we re-examine the Plan and argue that it was too little and too late to account for the success of the mobilization. As an alternative we argue that the delay in the flow of munitions may simply have been the inevitable result of time-to-build and that a good deal of coordination happened through the market. The appropriate historical analogy may not be form of European central planning, but rather the American gold rush of 1849.

Suggested Citation

  • John Landon-Lane & Hugh Rockoff, 1996. "The Paradox of Planning: The Controlled Materials Plan of World War II," NBER Historical Working Papers 0083, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0083 Note: DAE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jondrow, James & Knox Lovell, C. A. & Materov, Ivan S. & Schmidt, Peter, 1982. "On the estimation of technical inefficiency in the stochastic frontier production function model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2-3), pages 233-238, August.
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    3. Schaefer, Donald F., 1983. "The Effect of the 1859 Crop Year Upon Relative Productivity in the Antebellum Cotton South," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(04), pages 851-865, December.
    4. David, Paul A & Temin, Peter, 1979. "Explaining the Relative Efficiency of Slave Agriculture in the Antebellum South: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(1), pages 213-218, March.
    5. Craig, Lee A., 1991. "The Value of Household Labor in Antebellum Northern Agriculture," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 51(01), pages 67-81, March.
    6. Aigner, Dennis & Lovell, C. A. Knox & Schmidt, Peter, 1977. "Formulation and estimation of stochastic frontier production function models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 21-37, July.
    7. Field, Elizabeth B, 1988. "The Relative Efficiency of Slavery Revisited: A Translog Production Function Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(3), pages 543-549, June.
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    JEL classification:

    • N42 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-


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