Thursday, August 2, 2012

The return of the defense Keynesians

About six months ago while watching a conservative video I spotted in the background a tri-fold display about how cuts to the military budget would harm certain towns and cities that depend on them for jobs. The clip never got into the details of the subject, but I got the gist of it and knew one day I would have to fight those arguments

That day is today.

House and Senate Republicans are saying a stalled budget discussion that would result in a $55 billion cut to next year's defense budget is going to harm local communities in their districts that are built around military bases or arms companies.

There are two major ways to tackle claims like these. One is to challenge those assumptions and say the position is based on faulty logic, while the other is to say, "So what?" This is a "So what?" argument.

Spending cuts always cost someone their job. I think the Republicans are correct that there are specific communities that will shrivel up and die when the paycheck is yanked out of their war factory, but why should that stop us?

When a town or city dies, the people living there are not summarily executed. They are free citizens able to find a home elsewhere. It can be expensive, and it's not a pleasant experience, but what is the alternative? Why should we prop up zombie towns that no longer have a foundation?

If a community sprung up around the logging trade because it was near forests and strong rivers, the march of progress eventually made those features obsolete. If that community can't find something new to do and has nothing going for it, what use is there to keep people wandering aimless inside? That community is dead. Just because it was fruitful at once doesn't mean the outside public has an obligation to maintain it as a mausoleum for all eternity.

I can understand someone having an emotional connection to the town where they grew up, and of course, I can understand a politician wanting to bring home the bacon for his constituents. However, the rest of the country is not entitled to pay for those fancies. That is a parasitic relationship.

If we need that military spending, argue that the military spending itself is good for the county. Don't say it's worth wasting money to prop up dead communities.

As if that wasn't enough nonsense for one flawed political position, these Republicans have to go further and make classic Keynesian arguments that defense spending creates jobs, so we need to waste money on the military for the sake of the economy.

This inconsistent vision was already lampooned last year as "Defense Keynesianism" by Matthew Yglesias, where politicians who normally reject the aggregate demand model are willing to invoke it to protect military spending. Consistency aside, the counterargument was already laid down in 1946 in chapter nine of Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.

1 comment:

  1. The only argument in favor of continuing any defense spending that we do not need is that doing so would reduce our ability to ramp up production of something useful in the future, but as you say, that would be spending we actually need, not that which serves no purpose other than to buy votes.