Sullivan's Broken Windows — Intent

Sullivan’s Broken Windows — Intent on exposing the New York Times as the center of a giant left-wing anti-war conspiracy, Andrew Sullivan claims that the following Times paragraph is the acme of editorialization hidden as news:

Already, the federal budget deficit is expanding, meaning that the bill for a war would lead either to more red ink or to cutbacks in domestic programs. If consumer and investor confidence remains fragile, military action could have substantial psychological effects on the financial markets, retail spending, business investment, travel and other key elements of the economy, officials and experts said.

Sullivan’s reply: “Could it get any more obvious? One question: wouldn’t lots of military spending help the economy?”

Yes! And, No! It could get a lot more obvious that the Times is trying to muffle the war drum — everything they say is correct. Why is any of that editorializing? It seems a likely and straightforward consequence of ramping up for war.

And NO, NO, NO, lots of military spending will not help the economy. Money spent on tanks and guns and planes and missles and bombs, much of which is promptly destroyed to the tune of billions, is money not invested on the stock market and not used to produce and buy motorcycles and slacks and dishwashers and dildos and cigarettes, etc. Military spending is a largely a transfer program from computer programmers, farmers, and insurance salesmen–you know, regular folks like you and me–to the employess and executives of Lockheed and so forth. This does not help the economy. It does not create wealth.

It does two things mostly. First, it moves a great deal of diffuse wealth and concentrates it in the hands of the war industry. Second, it simply destroys wealth. When the government takes huge amounts of taxpayer money and transfers it to the “military/industrial complex,” no new wealth has been produced. Old wealth has been collected and moved. And when the war industry goes on to produce billions and billions worth of stuff that is intended to be utterly destroyed, and then the state goes and destroys it (destroying the enemy’s wealth in the process), it should be obvious that all that expensive destruction is the opposite of production. War spending is like dumping money by the truckload into an enormous bonfire in the hope that the towering conflagration will scare off our enemies. We’ll be glad if the enemies go away. But we will not have been enriched by dumping our cash into the flames.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center