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Are Wars Good for the Economy?
[Part 3: Are Wars Good for the Economy? - Broken Windows and Wars]
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Are Wars Good for the Economy? - The Myth
• Part 2: Are Wars Good for the Economy? - The Broken Window Fallacy
• Part 3: Are Wars Good for the Economy? - Broken Windows and Wars
• Part 4: Are Wars Good for the Economy? - Have Your Say
 Related Resources
• Glossary of Economics Terms
• Investing During War Times
 

From the Broken Window Fallacy it is quite easy to see why the war will not benefit the economy. The extra money spent on the war is money that will not be spent elsewhere. The war can be funded in a combination of three ways:

  1. Increasing taxes
  2. Decrease spending in other areas
  3. Increasing the debt
Increasing taxes reduces consumer spending, which does not help the economy improve at all. Suppose we decrease government spending on social programs. Firstly we've lost the benefits those social programs provide. The recipients of those programs will now have less money to spend on other items, so the economy will decline as a whole. Increasing the debt means that we'll either have to decrease spending or increase taxes in the future; it's a way to delay the inevitable. Plus there's all those interest payments in the meantime.

If you're not convinced yet, imagine that instead of dropping bombs on Baghdad, the army was dropping refrigerators in the ocean. The army could get the refrigerators in one of two ways:

  1. They could get every American to give them $50 to pay for the fridges.
  2. The army could come to your house and take your fridge.
Does anyone seriously believe there would be an economic benefit to the first choice? You now have $50 less to spend on other goods and the price of fridges will likely increase due to the added demand. So you'd lose twice if you were planning on buying a new fridge. Sure the appliance manufacturers love it, and the army might have fun filling the Atlantic with Fridgidaires, but this would not outweigh the harm done to every American who is out $50 and all the stores that will experience a decline in sales due to the decline in consumer disposable income.

As far as the second one, do you think you'd feel wealthier if the army came and took your appliances away from you? The idea of the government coming in and taking your things may seem ridiculous, but it's not any different than increasing your taxes. At least under this plan you get to use the stuff for awhile, whereas with the extra taxes, you have to pay them before you have an opportunity to spend the money.

So in the short run the war will hurt the economy of the United States and their allies. It goes without saying that flattening most of Iraq to rubble will decimate the economy of that country. Hawks are hoping that by ridding Iraq of Saddam, a democratic pro-business leader can come in and improve the economy of that country in the long run. The economy of the United States could improve in the long run due to the war for a couple of reasons:

  1. An increased supply of oil

    Depending on who you ask, the war either has everything to do with Iraq's vast oil supplies, or absolutely nothing to do with it. All sides should agree that if a regime with better American relations were set up in Iraq, the supply of oil to the United States would increase. This will drive down the price of oil, as well as driving down the costs of companies that use oil as a factor of production which will certainly help economic growth.
  2. Stability and Economic Growth in the Middle East

    If peace can somehow be established in the Middle East, the U.S. government might not have to spend as much money on the military as they do now. If the economies of the countries in the middle east become more stable and experience growth, this will give them more opportunities to trade with the United States, improving both the economies of those countries and the U.S.
Personally I do not see those factors outweighing the short term costs of the war in Iraq, but you can make a case for them. In the short term, however, the economy will decline due to the war as shown by the Broken Window Fallacy. Next time you hear someone discuss the economic benefits of the war, please tell them a little story about a windowbreaker and a shopkeeper.

Next page > Part 4: Are Wars Good for the Economy? - Have Your Say > Page 1, 2, 3, 4.

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