Are There Benefits to War?
What is it good for?
— Edwin Starr
In the summer of 1970, Gordy Records released Edwin Starr's version of the counterculture hit song “War.” I'm sure you've heard the song a million times.
Starr was a one-hit wonder. But the track was a powerful and dramatic tune that perfectly characterized the anger and disapproval felt by the anti-war movement toward America's involvement in Vietnam.
The song remains one of the most popular and well-known anti-war tracks to this very day. But the lyrics' claim that war is good for “absolutely nothing” is, in fact, most certainly a gross overgeneralization.
Truth is, depending on which side of a war you're on, the benefits of war can outweigh the costs.
The economic impacts of war are well examined. Wars can cause massive economic losses due to damage to buildings and infrastructure, a declining working population, consumer and investor uncertainty, inflation, and increases in national debt.
But the economics of war is a double-edged sword. Government spending associated with wars can also stimulate national economies in the short term, particularly through spending on military and health care.
There is much debate over whether or not economies benefit from war in the long term. It's true that most American wars have been followed by an economic boom. (The only exception was the Gulf War, which was followed by a recession.) But the United States has also built up an inexorable national debt as a result of military conflicts.
The debate over the economics of war will continue. But war has other dynamic impacts on a nation.
Of course, the loss of human life in war throughout the centuries is an obvious tragedy. Estimates of the total humans lost to wars throughout history range from 150 million to 1 billion. But as macabre as it might sound, it seems that wars might ultimately result in long-term social benefits.
Many of the technologies we use and depend on today were developed as a result of war. These technologies include GPS, radar, microwave, rocket science, cell phones, weather forecasting, and modern air travel. And these are just a few.
In fact, if it weren't for wars, we might not even have the internet — or at least not the internet we know today. That's right: The system you're using to read this editorial right now, used by over 3 billion other folks around the world, was first invented by none other than the U.S. military.
Aside from these technologies, wars can also free people from despotism and tyrannical governments.
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James Madison once said, “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded.” But throughout history, wars have cleared out authoritarian leaders and governments. Just in the 20th century, wars killed Hitler, suppressed Mao Tse-tung, and held back Stalin from gaining global power.
Fact is, without the Revolutionary War, the United States of America wouldn't even exist. You'd still be paying taxes to the King of England. Perhaps Mr. Madison should have considered this.
War can also stimulate a sense of national unity and shared identity. Researchers have found that even in the most war-torn areas, survivors tend to become more active in their communities and more likely to participate in politics. Let me ask you this: How many American flags do you remember seeing flying outside of people's homes following 9/11?
War is a double-edged sword. There are obvious tragedies. But there might be far more less-obvious benefits.
In an ironic twist, even Edwin Starr benefited from war. Without the Vietnam War and the great opposition to America's involvement, the one-hit wonder might have never seen any success at all.
Human beings have been at war with each other for over 90% of all recorded history — some 5,000 years. And while wars do carry significant costs — including hundreds of millions of deaths throughout the centuries — we can't say there are no benefits at all.
What is it good for?
A lot, actually.
Until next time,
As an editor at Energy and Capital, Luke’s analysis and market research reach hundreds of thousands of investors every day. Luke is also a contributing editor of Angel Publishing’s Bubble and Bust Report newsletter. There, he helps investors in leveraging the future supply-demand imbalance that he believes could be key to a cyclical upswing in the hard asset markets. For more on Luke, go to his editor’s page.
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