Most discussions about the costs of war focus on two numbers, the cost in dollars and cents and the more profound and heartbreaking cost in lives. Yet even as depressing as these numbers are, the figures discussed rarely encompass the whole truth. Over many generations those in power have learned there are benefits to keeping the populace as ignorant as possible when it comes to the true costs of war.
American politicians never talk about all the people killed in war, just American service members. Everyone else who is killed, even Americans arbitrarily classified as “enemy combatants,” are marginalized as mere collateral damage. Dollar costs consider only the “official” Defense Department budget, not the funds scattered and hidden throughout the federal budget. And the tally sheet deliberately excludes the cost of caring for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines physically and emotionally scarred by war.
The Eisenhower Study Group at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies has compiled a comprehensive study of the human, economic, social and political costs of war. It’s available online. As you might imagine, the real numbers of wars we are presently involved in are staggering and stunning: more than 224,000 lives lost, more than 365,000 wounded, and in excess of seven million refugees.
The total estimated cost to the American taxpayer for our current wars is $3-4 trillion dollars through 2020 — plus an additional $1 trillion just to pay the interest on the money borrowed to fund war. Funding war by borrowing money is one of the devices politicians have devised to pay for war, particularly for unpopular wars. This means our children must pay tomorrow for the wars we are involved in today.
In the modern era, including Word War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War and our present conflicts, the United States has funded its wars through debt, taxation or inflation, or sometimes a combination of these methods. In each case, according to a recent report by the Institute for Peace and Justice, the result has been detrimental to the economy in the long run. In each case, the burden has fallen on the American taxpayers and the private sector, through increased taxes, increased cost of goods and shortages. In short, in each case the result has been a depressed civilian economy.
The report also found that excessive military spending can displace more productive non-military outlays in investments in high-tech industries, education, or infrastructure. The crowding-out effects of disproportionate government spending on military functions can affect service delivery or infrastructure development, ultimately affecting long-term growth rates. In simpler terms, the more the government borrows and spends for war, the less the private sector is able to grow and prosper.
For the period after World War II, if the wars had not happened the report concludes “it is likely taxes would have been lower, inflation would have been lower, there would have been higher consumption and investment and certainly lower budget deficits.” That can lead, in my view, to only one conclusion, a conclusion I reached years ago and one that is familiar to any libertarian: War is a waste. Peace is profitable.
War disrupts and distorts the free market, steals resources and workers from construction and diverts them to destruction. War does not produce anything except death. It only destroys. Jobs supposedly created by war industries, including drafting men into the military, is not full employment, it is slavery.
The businesses that profit from war are not free market entities, but “merchants of death” who would not exist if there were no war. “They are economic parasites, who take society’s resources but do not produce anything for civilian use in return,” wrote Jacob H. Huebert, author of Libertarianism Today. Again, we see that war is waste.
War spending is a monstrous manifestation of the broken window fallacy. In the war politicians’ perverted view of economics any war, no matter how many people are killed or how widespread the destruction, is an opportunity for them to increase their power and control by “jump-starting” the economy with projects to rebuild what they’ve destroyed. They deliberately ignore and discount the illogic and immorality of their actions. They have no concept that the money and resources squandered to break things, and then rebuild them, and to kill people, could have been better used building news things and saving lives.
War breeds war. War does nothing but devour valuable resources and destroy precious lives for the sole purpose of perpetuating itself. On the other hand, peace breeds prosperity. In peace, valuable natural resources can be preserved and used at home where we need them most. When there’s peace, people prosper. There have been economic booms, scientific advancements, and cultural progress after every conflict America has fought.
War is waste. Peace is production. War means we all lose. Peace means we all profit and prosper. What does America need more of right now?
R. Lee Wrights is a writer and political activist living in Texas. He is currently the Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party national committee. He is the co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.