After the end of World War II, a pervasive, but unfortunately fallacious, economic perspective took hold. Based on the United States’ successful emergence from the Depression, the idea that war was good for an economy became fashionable. However, linking the United States economic recovery with its entry into World War II is a prime example of flawed economic thinking.
Supporters of the war benefits economy theory hold that a country at war is a country with a booming economy. Industry must produce weapons, supplies, food, and clothing for the troops. The increased production necessitates the hiring of more people, reducing unemployment.
More employment means more money in the pockets of citizens, who are then likely to go out and spend that money, helping the retail sector of the economy. Retail shops experience an increase in business and may need to hire more workers, further reducing unemployment and adding to the economic momentum. While this scenario sounds good in theory, it does not accurately represent what truly happens in a war time economy.
In reality, the government can fund a war in a combination of three ways. It can raise taxes, cut spending on other areas, or increase the national debt. Each of these strategies has a negative impact on the economy. An increase in taxes takes money out of an individual’s hands, leading to a reduction in consumer spending. Clearly, there is no net benefit to the economy in that case. Cutting spending in other areas has its costs as well, even if they are not as obvious.
Any reduction in government spending means the imposition of a greater burden on the benefactors of that government spending. Cutbacks in a particular program mean that the people who normally depend on that program now must spend more of their money to make up for the government cuts. This also takes money out of consumers’ hands and leaves the economy depressed. Of course, a government could go into debt during the war, but such a strategy simply means that at some point in the future, taxes must be increased or spending decreased. Plus, the interest on the debt must be paid as well.