“The market economy involves peaceful cooperation. It bursts asunder when the citizens turn into warriors and, instead of exchanging commodities and services, fight one another,” wrote Ludwig von Mises in his magnum opus, Human Action. Historically, war and socialism differ very little, if at all. Both rely heavily on the concept of central planning. The government has a monopoly on national defense, and therefore every penny spent on “defense” was obtained, like any socialist program, at the public expense. The military is one of the largest public spending programs our country funds, and during times of war, this situation is exacerbated. Furthermore, each time the government raises defense spending to fight a new war, the postwar defense budget never settles back to where it was before the war.
War, like socialism, also has a nasty habit of destroying wealth and decreasing the potential to generate new wealth. The costs of World War I along these lines are nearly incalculable. Economics professor Jeffrey Herbener agrees with the estimate that “The Great War disintegrated the world economy to a level of integration significantly below what it had achieved by 1860.” It is not particularly difficult to see why. During a war, each side has basically the same goal, and that is to destroy as much of the other side as possible. Contrary to some mainstream beliefs, the idea that wealth can be created through nothing but the destruction of property is just as absurd as it sounds.
In war time, the general public is expected to conform to, and even work to support, the war effort. People are expected to trust the state and all decisions made by it in the name of patriotism, whether or not their honest views are in support of the war. Under socialism, that same principle is applied, but more broadly, with regard to healthcare, education, infrastructure, and anything else.
War, even in the new form of “war on terror,” causes a massive restriction in civil liberties, as anyone living in the post-9/11 US would agree. All too often the state uses war as an excuse to curtail basic rights, presenting safety as something we should be willing to gladly give up our freedom for. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Throughout history “public safety” has been used to justify the greatest expansions of state power. In fact, during the French Revolution, a committee whose duties included executing dissidents was actually called the “Committee of Public Safety.”
Don’t get me wrong; I am not someone who wants to eliminate the military. Nearly all modern nations maintain militaries, and mostly manage to do so peacefully. Given the consequences of waging war, though, we should not be willing to intervene militarily in other nations’ affairs when there is no legitimate threat to our own country. This much more modest view of the role of the military would not only eliminate the vast majority of expenditures on “defense,” but would also mostly avoid the incalculable losses in wealth and human life which come from war itself.
Image credit to onthenorthriver.com.