February 5, 2009

The Warfare State

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about war. This is not really much of a change from my earlier adolescent years when I idolized war heroes and played violent video games for hours. Some things never change, but my thoughts on war have definitely been refined over the years. There’s a lot to say about war, but I wanted to stick with some misconceptions that I have had or hear commonly.

Some people claim that war stimulates the economy, so it is good for economic growth. I heard this a lot in school, especially in the context of WWII. The theory is that the war brought us out of the Great Depression. Plenty has been written on this to disprove the idea, but I am interested in refuting the broader theory. The fact is that war cannot possibly be good for an economy, just as natural disasters cannot make us better off economically. War redirects the resources of an economy away from consumer demands toward destruction. Instead of producing goods for domestic consumption and trade, war channels production for destructive ends. Soldiers are consuming, not producing, and factories are making bombs to blow up bridges instead of steel and concrete to build them. This is all beside the fact that productive people are being killed, greatly reducing future abilities to produce.

Sure, war increases government spending, but the money government spends has to come from somewhere. People pay for war through higher taxes. Usually outright taxes are unpopular, so governments find other ways to get the money they need now—the ‘buy now, pay later’ gimmick that you saw last time you stepped into a furniture store. The easiest way to do this is debase the currency by inflation. The people pay the tax through higher prices instead of explicit taxation. Thus, a hidden tax levied without representation. I want to emphasize that I am not arguing that war is never necessary; I am simply refuting the claim that it has economic benefits per se.

Randolph Bourne astutely observed that war is the health of the state. War makes government thrive like nothing else. In wartime, governments increase their power over their subjects by nationalist rhetoric, taxes, and curtailing of individual liberties. The examples of this are numerous, and one need only look to the history of virtually any war to find that governments increase in power—particularly the governments of the victors but often the governments of the losers as well. In US history, war has followed the ratchet effect. After the war, the government’s power is sometimes decreased, but it never returns to the level it was previously, creating an ever-expanding state.

But above all other considerations, I must insist that war is nothing less than the conglomeration of every evil, horror, depravity, perversion, and violation of natural law of which man is capable of. In other words, it is the breeding ground for the sum of all the most terrible vices that man has ever expressed. It seems clear to me that much of the emotion I feel when watching a war film is a conflict between the apparent necessity of violence and the utter horror at witnessing what awful things we can do to each other under the guise of powerful ideologies.

Again, I am not advocating pacifism here. I am not saying that war is never justified, but I am saying that it is quite rare—much rarer than widely considered—and must morally be only in blatant defense. The idea of pre-emptive war feeds on this justification in a most pernicious way. To accept the doctrine of preemption is to make war totally subject to the whims of government. Under this doctrine, defense becomes offense and a country cannot defend itself without violently preempting every conceivable threat to any one of its so-called interests.

What are your thoughts on war? When is it justified? What wars in history do you think were just/unjust? Why?

9 comments:

S. Logan said...
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S. Logan said...

Which is interesting considering more Utah Guard have died from suicide since 2005 than from active combat (http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_11620245). The Army can't figure out why... Apparently the Army can't wrap its mind around the idea that man wasn't made for war; that we, as sons and daughters of God, were designed for peace. It is against our nature to be otherwise. When there is a clear and persistent danger; when the enemy is at our door and has already attacked us; when we are led by men who love peace more than bloodshed... Then the Lord will carry us forward and sustain our cause, because we are then fighting the Lord's cause. Just to kill because we *think* we'll be killed is not a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. D&C 10 comes to mind...

Taylor and Stephanie said...

I don't think the Army really believes that man was made for war. Anyone who knows people in the armed forces would know that. Unless you believe in a conspiracy that holds that the Army is secretly trying to start wars and believes it's somehow man's destiny to kill others and dominate the world.

Anywho, so I liked you posting, I noticed most of your blog entry was focused a lot on wars' economic impact. With that, I totally agree, I don't think it's war itself that fixes anything, in fact it might set us back economically, what it does provide though is more consumer confidence. But that only occurred after America felt like they won a just war. There really wasn't an economic boost after Vietnam for example. There was actually just more inflation.

Taylor and Stephanie said...

sorry if I sounded like a jerk in my previous posting, didn't mean too

BEN said...

Well there are certainly more disadvantages to war than simply economics but I assumed that those were easily recognized and agreed upon (such as mass death and destruction). I mainly wanted to touch on the misconceptions that it seems some have about war.
On your point about consumer confidence, it would certainly be boosted by a victory, but that doesn't necessarily help the economy. Producers drive the economy, not consumers. We can ultimately only consume what we produce.

Taylor and Stephanie said...

uh, ok I'm learning different things in my business class Ben. Consumers drive the economy, almost entirely. Producers only produce what consumers what, and the amount of it that they'll buy. Which is exactly why giving people tax rebates won't do a thing for the economy right now because consumers won't spend it, they'll save it because confidence is low....

Taylor and Stephanie said...

*classes (macro, micro econ, accounting, etc)

BEN said...

Right, but there is one part that is commonly left out, which is why so many are having trouble understanding how we could be in the mess we are in now.
F.A. Hayek explained this with a triangle (thus called the Hayekian triangle). One leg of the triangle is investment. The second leg is production, and the third leg is consumption. Increased investment means that we forgo production and consumption for the moment. Increased consumption means we forgo investment and production and so on.
I am not sure how well I am explaining it but let me try another approach. In order for us to increase actual production, there has to be investment. But in order to invest, there has to be capital (savings) available. Savings means that we are forgoing consumption of capital now for increased production later.
The problem with the government trying to boost consumption is that there is not enough production now to sustain the consumption. This is because the government encouraged consumption before, destroying savings of capital and thus investment into future production. Thus, we are facing a "credit" crisis because we haven't been saving for years and there is no real capital to invest. What we need now is not more consumption but more savings. But the government is artificially creating "savings" by printing money and calling it savings. This is nothing more than stealing from our grandchildren, who will wake up to find the situation worse than it is now, just as we have woken up to find out how awful our situation is.

Taylor and Stephanie said...

AMEN Ben, you speak truth my friend. I haven't really read much about Hayek yet but I'm sure I will. So war..... I agree there are a lot of people out there who are misinformed about war and it's "positive" effects on the economy. There really are none. But hey I bet the shrink industry really gets a boost.

p.s. I'd love to talk about doctrine of preemption