is often been claimed that war is good because it brings out the
human traits of courage, bravery, and patriotism. War makes for
exciting times, stretches our endurance, and allows us to achieve
our destiny. War can even get us out of economic depressions!
Nothing could be further from the truth.
is what animals do to each other. It is deadly and destructive.
It prevents us from building and achieving our goals, and brings
man down to the level of the brute animal. It destroys cooperation
and trade, and substitutes force for peaceful, voluntary interaction.
Personal and family bonds are broken while property rights are
ignored and trampled upon. Tasteful art, literature, music, and
culture in general are pushed asunder or replaced with primitive
and barbaric substitutes. Police power, economic interventionism,
and nationalism thrive. Inflation is what makes war possible,
but it makes normal economic life a nightmare. War is for the
health of the State, not the wellbeing of humanity.
the United State be properly labeled a participant in the animalistic
and barbaric behavior of total war? No, not really. It would be
more correct to say that the United States has been on the cutting
edge in adopting the ideology of total war. We were one of its
first practitioners, and one of the leading developers of its
William Tecumseh Sherman and his fellow Union generals practiced
the intentional genocide of total war during the so-called "Civil
War." He explicitly stated that he wanted to exterminate the antebellum
planter class of the South. However, he originally developed and
perfected his techniques during the war on the Seminoles in Florida
years before. His methods there included destroying homes, crops,
and food stores; poisoning water supplies; and killing women and
children, all methods the Union Army would continue to use throughout
the 19th century.
was certainly total war at its worst, and so was WWII. Hitler,
Churchill, and Roosevelt all condoned continuous and indiscriminant
bombing of civilians. Truman authorized the incineration of more
than a quarter of a million civilians, mostly women and children.
You can try to argue that these actions were efficient, effective,
or necessary, but you cannot deny that they were barbaric. We
don't like to think of ourselves as barbaric, and perhaps we are
not the most barbaric of nations, but we are barbaric in war nonetheless.
economist Ludwig von Mises showed that the only policy consistent
with humanity is peace. He showed that war is the result of interventionism,
protectionism, and the welfare state. He further shows us that
peace can only be achieved with a consistent ideology and a persistent
policy of laissez faire.
precautionary note: when describing the effects of war it is important
to distinguish between war and recession. Even though their causes
are intermingled and they are both bad from an economic point
of view, it is important to keep the two separate.
Effects of War
CASE OF FOUR ECONOMIES
Economy: Land, Labor, and Capital Harmed By War
- Real estate
- Art and
and capital intensive industries
and Non-defense capital goods
Economy: Technology and Entrepreneurship Harmed By War
- New businesses
Economy: Benefits From the Destruction of People, Peace, and Privacy
(CIA, FBI, etc.)
- The News
Economy: Benefits From Government and War
- Wall Street
- Big Banks
- Oil Service
the battle against Osama Bin Ladin seems like a small war, it's
actually the perfect war for the government. It's in a faraway
place not easily accessible for media coverage. The opposition
is small and poorly equipped so they don't represent much of a
threat. They are also spread out (and the enemy is even poorly
defined terrorists?) so that great quantities of resources can
be used up in chasing down Bin Laudin and his gang in many countries
around the globe. Even their clothing makes them look elusive
and therefore provides a good excuse for not being able to catch
White House has announced that they expect the war to last for
six more years (although most Americans now see the war as over).
It's also perfect in the sense that the terrorist hit the American
homeland and killed innocent citizens. If only one of twelve federal
bureaucracies had done their job, this calamity could have been
avoided in the first place.
enough the tragedy provides the government with a rationale for
all sorts of new interventions and, while also producing the support
and patriotism necessary to extract the great quantities of resources
from the economy and to subvert a whole host of liberties and
freedoms. To top it off, the timing of the war was excellent because
the economy had sunk so far into recession that even government
statistics revealed the truth. Nothing trumps a recession like
a good war and the popularity ratings of President Bush and government
in general are sky high. It's almost too perfect.
Lasting Effects of War
of the best sources on the role of war in increasing the size
of government is Robert Higg's book, Crisis
and Leviathan he is also the person who showed that WWII
did not get us out of the Great Depression. Higgs shows that crises
such as war and depression provide an impetus for governments
to grow dramatically. After the crisis is over government shrinks
but does not return to its previous level, but maintains higher
taxes, higher levels of spending, and reduced levels of rights
this war ends, does anyone think that airport security will be
privatized or that the Office of Homeland Security will be disbanded?
Higgs described the growth of government as a "ratchet effect"
where government grows tremendously during crisis and never fully
retracts when the crisis is over.
writer for the New York Times understands Higg's connection
between War and Big Government and it makes him happy. He asked,
is it really Guns vs. Butter? Do we really get fewer social programs
when the government spends more on defense? No he says, we can
have more of both when it comes to government and war. WWI gave
us pervasive government regulation of the economy and "this cooperative
approach to regulation survived." WWII saw the expansion of the
income tax from 4 million taxpayers to 44 million taxpayers. And
to save us from nuclear attack, the interstate highway system
was built during the Cold War. It cost a bundle, but the Times
writer notes gleefully "an entire industry of restaurants and
motels were built up along these roads." I suppose that they could
also argue that the interstates did indeed save us from those
Russian missiles. And letís just take a minute to think of all
the tangible benefits we received from our battle to beat the
Russians to the moon. Tang.
New York Times writer is concerned that there may be significant
barriers to starting new domestic programs in this war, but concludes
with confidence because recent polling data shows that public
trust in government has reversed its 30 year slide and that the
airport security bill was passed, what he dubs "a massive public
works program," which enlarged the federal workforce and "even
included a tax increase called a passenger fee." Almost drunk
with joy, the Times writer concludes that given the nature
of this war that it would be possible to start new programs in
medical research, health care, food safety, computer technology,
law enforcement, unemployment insurance, transportation, energy
production, and education.
the programs would be launched under the banner of the military
effort, they could create a permanent government presence in
areas unimaginable on September 10, 2001."
Examples of What Thrives
Office of Homeland Security
most tangible increase in government is the Office of Homeland
Security, which nobody in Washington questioned the establishment
of, but will surely continue to grow in size, power, and influence
over time. It will spend billions if not trillions of dollars
over the coming years and Greenspan has the inflationary spickets
going on full.
bring to your attention the cover story of the February 2002 Free
Market where economist Bob Higgs asks poignantly, what about
the massive Department of Defense? "If it does not defend our
homeland, what does it defend?" Despite trillions of dollars,
the Department of Defense could not even defend its own headquarters
and now admits that it is so ill-prepared for looming threats
that it will require endless billions to purchase every weapon
system on the shelf and develop new ones. This admission of complete
vulnerability should make Bush's missile shield a higher priority
on the federal "to do" list.
Mental Disability, Divorce
is a great fount of social problems. The Civil War caused countless
people, both soldiers and civilians, to be broken mentally or
physically, and of course financially. Many were left addicted
to drugs and alcohol. WWI killed many American soldiers and put
many more into Veterans hospitals due to mental and physical incapacity.
WWII did the same, as did the Korean War. Vietnam is famous for
all the drug use and prostitution, with many veterans never fully
reintegrated into society. This all cost money but the human cost
is incalculable. But soldiers don't have to go to war to cause
social problems. Just go to any military base and you will see
it surrounded by prostitutes, drug dealers, seedy bars and hotels,
not to mention tattoo parlors and pawn shops.
Examples of What Dies
new weapons seem to figure so crucially in the outcomes of battles
and war, historians have often been mislead to the notion that
war causes technology to move forward. However, in my research
on the American Civil War, I have found that war was not a boon
to technology. In fact, before the war, American was a font of
new technology and in the massive spread of its use. Henry David
Thoreau might have been the first person to use the phrase "Yankee
Ingenuity" in 1843.
war itself did not advance science and technology at all. Historians
agree that the war provided no impetus in science, knowledge or
technology. Robert Bruce concluded that the "Civil War was not
only not affected by applied science but also was itself a distinct
detriment to basic science." Even in military technology, very
few new things were invented. The Gatling gun was invented, but
was not put to much use. Submarine technology existed before the
war, and the CSS Hunley was only the first submarine to make a
The Case of Poetry
consulted an old edition of the
Oxford Book of American Verse and found that not a
single poet in the collection was born during a war year. Contributors
mostly lived during the 19th and early 20th
century, but there were no poets born in the Civil War decade
until 1869. I believe that the death and destruction of that war
reduced the population in such a way that it simply did not provide
the opportunity for that generation to contribute much in cultural
areas. In fact there is a large gap between the birth of Emily
Dickinson in 1830 and Edgar Lee Masters in 1869 filled only by
the birth of Sidney Lanier in 1842.
believe this gap is explained in large part by the fact that the
war killed so many, killed the spirits of many more, and left
the remainder of society with a tremendous burden to carry. I
also consulted a list of American poets mostly from the 20th
century and found that of the first 200 on the list, seven females
were born during war years and one male (who has published virtually
nothing). I would have expected about three times that many had
the average number of poets been born during war years.
summary, government, inflation, and bad behavior thrive during
war, while the economy, culture, and our standard of living dies.
No matter what the statistics say, a nation cannot achieve a higher
standard of living while it is at war. War turns everything on
its head, and diminishes us.