[Marxism] War is the health of the state
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jun 15 11:28:04 MDT 2014
Wartime brings the ideal of the State out into very clear relief, and
reveals attitudes and tendencies that were hidden. In times of peace the
sense of the State flags in a republic that is not militarized. For war
is essentially the health of the State.
Randolph Bourne, http://www.antiwar.com/bourne.php
NY Times, June 15 2014
The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth
by Tyler Cowen
The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has
prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak
demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation,
inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas
as possible culprits.
An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention,
however. It is the persistence and expectation of peace.
The world just hasn’t had that much warfare lately, at least not by
historical standards. Some of the recent headlines about Iraq or South
Sudan make our world sound like a very bloody place, but today’s
casualties pale in light of the tens of millions of people killed in the
two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. Even the Vietnam
War had many more deaths than any recent war involving an affluent country.
Counterintuitive though it may sound, the greater peacefulness of the
world may make the attainment of higher rates of economic growth less
urgent and thus less likely. This view does not claim that fighting wars
improves economies, as of course the actual conflict brings death and
destruction. The claim is also distinct from the Keynesian argument that
preparing for war lifts government spending and puts people to work.
Rather, the very possibility of war focuses the attention of governments
on getting some basic decisions right — whether investing in science or
simply liberalizing the economy. Such focus ends up improving a nation’s
It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but
a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so
easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and
the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government
eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The
Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear
exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting,
not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of
the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and
technology, to the benefit of later economic growth.
War brings an urgency that governments otherwise fail to summon. For
instance, the Manhattan Project took six years to produce a working
atomic bomb, starting from virtually nothing, and at its peak consumed
0.4 percent of American economic output. It is hard to imagine a
comparably speedy and decisive achievement these days.
As a teenager in the 1970s, I heard talk about the desirability of
rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge. Now, a replacement is scheduled to
open no earlier than 2017, at least — provided that concerns about an
endangered sturgeon can be addressed. Kennedy Airport remains
dysfunctional, and La Guardia is hardly cutting edge, hobbling air
transit in and out of New York. The $800 billion stimulus bill, in
response to the recession, has not changed this basic situation.
Today the major slow-growing Western European nations have very little
fear of being taken over militarily, and thus their politicians don’t
face extreme penalties for continuing stagnation. Instead, losing office
often means a boost in income from speaking or consulting fees or a
comfortable retirement in a pleasant vacation spot. Japan, by
comparison, is faced with territorial and geopolitical pressures from
China, and in response it is attempting a national revitalization
through the economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Ian Morris, a professor of classics and history at Stanford, has revived
the hypothesis that war is a significant factor behind economic growth
in his recent book, “War! What Is it Good For? Conflict and the Progress
of Civilization From Primates to Robots.” Morris considers a wide
variety of cases, including the Roman Empire, the European state during
its Renaissance rise and the contemporary United States. In each case
there is good evidence that the desire to prepare for war spurred
technological invention and also brought a higher degree of internal
Another new book, Kwasi Kwarteng’s “War and Gold: A 500-Year History of
Empires, Adventures, and Debt,” makes a similar argument but focuses on
capital markets. Mr. Kwarteng, a Conservative member of British
Parliament, argues that the need to finance wars led governments to help
develop monetary and financial institutions, enabling the rise of the
West. He does worry, however, that today many governments are abusing
these institutions and using them to take on too much debt. (Both Mr.
Kwarteng and Mr. Morris are extending themes from Azar Gat’s 820-page
magnum opus, “War in Human Civilization,” published in 2006.)
Yet another investigation of the hypothesis appears in a recent working
paper by the economists Chiu Yu Ko, Mark Koyama and Tuan-Hwee Sng. The
paper argues that Europe evolved as more politically fragmented than
China because China's risk of conquest from its western flank led it
toward political centralization for purposes of defense. This
centralization was useful at first but eventually held China back. The
European countries invested more in technology and modernization,
precisely because they were afraid of being taken over by their nearby
But here is the catch: Whatever the economic benefits of potential
conflict might have been, the calculus is different today. Technologies
have become much more destructive, and so a large-scale war would be a
bigger disaster than before. That makes many wars less likely, which is
a good thing, but it also makes economic stagnation easier to countenance.
There is a more optimistic read to all this than may first appear.
Arguably the contemporary world is trading some growth in material
living standards for peace — a relative paucity of war deaths and
injuries, even with a kind of associated laziness.
We can prefer higher rates of economic growth and progress, even while
recognizing that recent G.D.P. figures do not adequately measure all of
the gains we have been enjoying. In addition to more peace, we also have
a cleaner environment (along most but not all dimensions), more leisure
time and a higher degree of social tolerance for minorities and formerly
persecuted groups. Our more peaceful and — yes — more slacker-oriented
world is in fact better than our economic measures acknowledge.
Living in a largely peaceful world with 2 percent G.D.P. growth has some
big advantages that you don’t get with 4 percent growth and many more
war deaths. Economic stasis may not feel very impressive, but it’s
something our ancestors never quite managed to pull off. The real
questions are whether we can do any better, and whether the recent
prevalence of peace is a mere temporary bubble just waiting to be burst.
Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University.
Follow him on Twitter at @tylercowen.
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