Back in 2010, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal spotted our old friend, former Enron advisor Paul Krugman rejoicing over the economic “miracle of the 1940s,” or as the rest of us call it, World War II. Today, on the 70th anniversary of VE Day, Kevin D. Williamson of NRO spies another member of the left eager to celebrate, as Williamson writes, the “‘Mass Destruction of Capital’ as a Liberal Economic Panacea:”
One can look back at the immediate postwar era and cherry-pick whatever policy one likes, crediting it with the generally satisfactory state of affairs in those years: the relatively high tax rates and strong unions of the Eisenhower years if you’re a progressive, the relatively small public-sector footprint and stable families if you’re a conservative. The desire to return to that state of affairs is alluring for some. Writing in Salon* this week, Conor Lynch is positively wistful: “The mass destruction of capital around the world created a much more even playing field than before, while also placing the United States at the forefront of the world economy.”
“Destruction of capital” is a cute way of describing the slaughter of some 80 million people and the burning of their cities. There were good policy decisions and bad policy decisions in the postwar era, but the fundamental fact of economic life on this planet during that time was that humanity was rebuilding after the single worst event in its history, a conflagration that killed more people than the Mongol conquests and the Chinese civil war combined.
When our old friend Frédéric Bastiat described the broken-window fallacy — the nonsensical belief that we can make ourselves richer by destroying wealth and thereby providing ourselves with the opportunity to replace it — he could not have imagined how many windows would be broken less than a century later. American involvement in that war was necessary, but it did not make us any better off in real terms, despite the persistent myth that the war led us out of the Depression. (Solve unemployment now — draft everybody!) Nobody understood this better than the commander of the Allied forces in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose subsequent presidency would be buoyed by the postwar boom. Wars do not create real wealth — they destroy it, a fact that he lamented in his famous “Cross of Iron” speech:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
An interesting turn of phrase from a man named Eisenhower (“iron-worker”).
I don’t want to spoil the punchline of Williamson’s article, so definitely read the whole thing.
* A publication that in recent years has always been eager to unleash their inner liberal fascist — first seeking to nationalize all the industries, then wanting to see “a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back,” and now, as Williamson writes, quoting Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, begging for rebirth as “a minister of death, praying for war.”