The Labor Theory of War

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Socialists
who still embrace the discredited ideas of Marx believe that the
ultimate value of a service or product is the labor put into it.
As they see it, profits exploit workers by providing them with compensation
worth less than the labor they put into their work. Even socialists
who dismiss many of Marx's doctrines have a soft spot for the idea
that profits are exploitation, and employees should receive wages
according to the sheer effort they put into something. It is this
sympathy to the labor theory of value that leads socialists to call
for a "living wage," even though many jobs don't produce
enough wealth to pay for such a wage.

I
peruse the news accounts about Iraq and think about the billions
of dollars spent on the war. I think about the Americans and Iraqis
killing each other, and the expensive bombs and weapons employed
in that senseless violence. I think to myself: Wow, this war sure
requires a lot of labor to keep it going. I wonder if socialists
would value it more than something that would require much less
labor, like a peace agreement.

There
are a lot of things that most people value that require much less
labor to produce and maintain than a war. Ten billion dollars worth
of food does a lot more good than a hundred billion dollars worth
of bombing campaigns. Some things that leftists especially claim
to value — such as an untouched rainforest — they value specifically
because so little human labor has been invested.

Should
we champion an economic system that would value things based solely
on how much work they require, when there are so many historical
examples of incredibly laborious enterprises that didn't seem to
benefit very many people at all? Aside from a small ruling class,
who benefited from the incredibly labor-intensive destruction involved
in World War I?

Almost
everyone would be better off if the United States packed up and
left Iraq. Unfortunately, the central planners have used the power
of the state to wage a war that the free market would have never
produced, and the planners want to maintain that war.

Sure,
Halliburton and some other companies benefited from the war. Leftists
cried that the war was about oil and corporate profits. Even if
that's true, it's hard to imagine those companies so attracted to
war in a free market, in which they would have to fork over hundreds
of billions of dollars to hire soldiers and make bombs just to go
and steal oil. It wouldn't be profitable, and people would look
on in horror.

In
a free market, I doubt that a company would have been able to convince
the American people to spend hundreds of billions of dollars — about
a thousand dollars per person — to pay for the Iraq War. Americans
would have done their homework and researched the credibility of
WMD allegations before they were convinced the war was worth it
to them. Even if they were won over by the humanitarian reasons
for ousting Saddam, they would have wanted assurances that their
money would be used in a way that would not hurt the very people
it was meant to help.

Since
the government supplies the funding for war, taxpayers kid themselves
into believing the war makes sense. I would guess that some people
figure they have to pay for war no matter what, and so convince
themselves, just to stay sane, that their money is going to a good
cause. Americans would feel ripped off beyond belief to think so
much of their income, forcefully taken from them, was spent on hurting
people far more than helping people.

Many
on the Left complain that the money the government spends on war
should go to jobs. Of course they are right, but if they want the
government to create jobs by spending that money, rather than giving
it back to the people who earned it, they should recognize that
wars are the quintessential way that governments "create"
jobs.

War
is the archetypal government program and the perfect example of
trying to use the coercive state to create value out of violence
and destruction.

Of
course, domestic government programs, from public schools to drug
prohibition, also require far more labor to maintain than they are
worth, and hurt far more people than they help, but wars are worse
in these regards than anything else the state inflicts on people.

Only
in a free market will true value determine which projects, large
and small, people undertake. Politicians base their decisions on
what's politically viable, and when they make a miscalculation that
kills and maims countless people all for nothing, the worst that
happens to them is that they get voted out of office, and must live
the rest of their lives in luxury and with cushy tax-funded pensions.
After a politician is voted out of office the system remains in
place, and someone new is elected and given more power than anyone
should ever have. The government continues creating disasters and
hurting innocents, and the new ruler is held no more accountable
for bad decisions than the replaced ruler. The Iraq War fits well
within democratic principles, though it doesn't make economic sense.

It
never really makes economic sense for people to spend billions on
killing thousands, when they have to foot the bill and take responsibility
for their actions, such as they would in a free market. One day
that might be the order of the day, and we won't have so many wars.

But
as long as there are so many socialists who don't see how central
planning of the economy leads to war, and as long as there are so
many conservatives who don't see that war is the apex of socialism,
both socialism and war will continue to plague America.

April
12, 2004

Anthony
Gregory [send him mail]
is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned
his bachelor's degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president
of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute
and has written for Rational Review, the Libertarian
Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See
his webpage for more
articles and personal information.


        
        

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