By Wes Messamore
This myth that World War II got us out of the Great Depression just won’t go away! Just today New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote:
All around, right now, there are people declaring that our best days are behind us, that the economy has suffered a general loss of dynamism, that it’s unrealistic to expect a quick return to anything like full employment. There were people saying the same thing in the 1930s! Then came the approach of World War II, which finally induced an adequate-sized fiscal stimulus — and suddenly there were enough jobs, and all those unneeded and useless workers turned out to be quite productive, thank you.
There is nothing — nothing — in what we see suggesting that this current depression is more than a problem of inadequate demand. This could be turned around in months with the right policies. Our problem isn’t, ultimately, economic; it’s political, brought on by an elite that would rather cling to its prejudices than turn the nation around.
In the viral Keynes vs. Hayek music video, “Hayek” explains the flaw in this argument:
Wow. One data point and you’re jumping for joy
the Last time I checked, wars only destroy
There was no multiplier, consumption just shrank
As we used scarce resources for every new tank
Pretty perverse to call that prosperity
Rationed meat, Rationed butter… a life of austerity
When that war spending ended your friends cried disaster
yet the economy thrived and grew faster
Creating employment’s a straightforward craft
When the nation’s at war, and there’s a draft
If every worker was staffed in the army and fleet
We’d have full employment and nothing to eat
I do understand, however, that verse does not appeal to everyone, so how about an analogy instead? Actually, not even really an analogy– just a thought exercise: if war is so good for the economy, why don’t we just declare a paintball war on Canada? Without using real weapons, we can avoid the moral problems of death and destruction wrought by war– hence paintball. We could reinstate the draft just like we had during World War II and put the unemployed to work shooting paintball guns at unemployed Canadians! Think of all the “economic stimulus” that would create!
The factories would start working like crazy to produce all the thousands of paintball guns, pressurized air cartridges, and paintballs needed to win the paintball war against Canada! Not to mention padded paintball armor, military vehicles to move around our growing army of drafted paintball troops, and all of the necessary infrastructure to keep supply lines going to make sure food and equipment get to our paintball armies on the Northern front! Think of how many people we could employ just making paintball stuff!?
We could ration all the scarce resources necessary to make the weapons (because we can’t let those Canadians win the paintball war– how embarrassing would that be?), not to mention meat and sugar so that we can be sure to feed our hungry paintball army well! Our paintball soldiers who were previously unemployed would be earning checks and sending them back home to families who will spend them and “stimulate aggregate demand.” If war is so good for a struggling economy, why not seriously have a war without the death and destruction? A paintball war!
Hopefully you can see how taxing productive businesses and taking their money to pay people to run around the Canadian border shooting paintballs at each other would not actually stimulate the economy, create any actual value for anybody, or improve anybody’s standard of living. But Keynesians like Paul Krugman should think so if they really believe that war is good for the economy. I would love to hear Krugman address this. I want to actually hear him say that he thinks a paintball war with Canada would be good for the economy, or else agree that it wouldn’t be, in which case he has some explaining to do about his views on World War II and the Great Depression. Which is it, Keynesians?Published in