Essay about Wars are Not Good for the Economy

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One of the more enduring myths in Western society is that wars are somehow good for the economy. Many people see a great deal of evidence to support this myth, after all World War II came directly after the Great Depression. This faulty belief stems from a misunderstanding of the economic way of thinking.

The standard "a war gives the economy a boost" argument goes as follows: Let's suppose that the economy is in the low end of the business cycle, so we're in a recession or just a period of low economic growth. The unemployment rate is high, people may be making less purchases than they were a year or two ago, and overall output is flat. But then the country decides to prepare for war! The government needs to equip its soldiers with
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In it, Hazlitt gives the example of a vandal throwing a brick through a shopkeeper's window. The shopkeeper will have to purchase a new window from a glass shop for a sum of money, say $250. A crowd of people who see the broken window decide that the broken window may have positive benefits:

After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business? Then, of course, the thing is endless. The glazier will have $250 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $250 to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum. The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles.

The logical conclusion from all this would be ... that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor. (p. 23 - Hazlitt)

The crowd is correct in realizing that the local glass shop will benefit from this act of vandalism. They have not considered, however, what the shopkeeper would have spent the $250 on something else if he did not have to replace the window. He might have been saving that money for a new set of golf clubs, but since he has now spent the money, he cannot and the golf shop has lost a sale. He might have used the money to purchase new equipment for his business, or to take a vacation, or to purchase new clothing. So the glass store's gain is another store's…