June 13, 2014

"The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth."

A foreboding title to a column by Tyler Cowen, published in the NYT.

A spiffier title expressing the same concept is found in the text of Cowen's column: "War! What Is it Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization From Primates to Robots," which is the title of a book by a classics and history professor named Ian Morris:
Morris considers a wide variety of cases, including the Roman Empire, the European state during its Renaissance rise and the contemporary United States. In each case there is good evidence that the desire to prepare for war spurred technological invention and also brought a higher degree of internal social order.
That reminded me of the old Camille Paglia quote: "If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts." Searching for it on line, I found it in a discussion — in the corner of Reddit called "MensRights" — of the statement "If women ran the world there would be no wars." But here's a better source for the Paglia quote, the 1990 review of "Sexual Personae," in the NYT, written by Terry Teachout:
... Ms. Paglia heats things up considerably by drawing a flashy assortment of extreme conclusions from her basic premises. Not only does she praise ''the spectacular glory of male civilization,'' she flatly rejects Rousseau's vision of ''benign Romantic nature'' and its offspring, ''the progressivist strain in nineteenth-century culture, for which social reform was the means to achieve paradise on earth.'' Feminism, she claims, is ''heir to Rousseau'' in that it ''sees every hierarchy as repressive, a social fiction; every negative about woman is a male lie designed to keep her in her place. Feminism has exceeded its proper mission of seeking political equality for women and has ended by rejecting contingency, that is, human limitation by nature or fate. . . . If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.''
Now that I've gotten this far afield, I feel I must note that Tyler Cowen had nothing to say about the rise of women in the modern West. 

33 comments:

Lyle said...

War was behind the rise of women in the West for sure. Mass conscription of the industrial brought lots of women out of the homes and doing things men did.

surfed said...

Will there be constraints on biological warfare in the future as there was in the past ( non withstanding small pox blankets and diseased humans launched by catapult over the walls)? I'm taking bets that the second Atomic war begins in South or Southwest Asia.

Michael K said...

I doubt we will see any NY Times feminists interviewing women in Tikrit or Mosul. Doesn't fit the narrative.

Larry J said...

"War as economic stimulus" is the Broken Window Fallacy writ very, very large.

David said...

War and threat of war has certainly driven technology, and has also profoundly affected human organizational ability and political structure. You can argue quite effectively that the relative lack of political and technological development in the Americas prior to European Settlement was a product of the vast area and scattered population. Nation states did not grow or progress on the European or Chinese model because there was less conflict with neighbors and greater abundance of resource.

Ancient Greece was in a constant state of war. It was innovate or die.

The Drill SGT said...

"If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts."

I won't touch that one, but I do agree with the maybe Orwell statement:

"Gentle folk sleep peacefully in their beds, because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf"

madAsHell said...

We need to break more windows!!
Breaking windows will stimulate the economy!

traditionalguy said...

The New World Eco-Religion is re-writing these stale Malthusian screeds they pass off as new insights.

OVERPOPULATION, is still the Fear of the ruling Classes. They fear all their problems arise from allowing humans to exist on earth, and ipso facto to defile the aristocracy's once pure earth

A sustainable world population of a few million Phd Aristocrat snobs is a real goal...as nasty as that many people sounds to true purists.

Thomas Malthus set down this games rules in 1800:
1)Exponential human breeding must be fought,
2)The people's food supply growth and its delivery must be allowed to stay low in order to weaken a starving population,
3)Diseases must be left unchecked or promoted among the famine areas.
5) Finally wars should be fought to exterminate the remaining surplus people.

Welcome to ObamaWorld, where NYT elites are still playing the 200 year old Malthusian game.

SGT Ted said...

Economic bunk based on discredited Keynesian theories.

Bobber Fleck said...

Camille Paglia's honesty is refreshing. She is not afraid of seeking the truth and going wherever it takes her. It would be a delight to engage her in conversation over dinner.

William said...

Most technological advances are made to facilitate the murder of our enemies or to make a pile of money. I suppose there's an odd duck like Jonas Salk who wants to serve mankind, but kindness has not been a great driver of technological change........ As a general rule, people are no kinder than they can afford to be. The plus side of capitalism is that it has made many people rich enough to be able to be very kind. Bill Gates was able to eradicate river blindness in Africa. Andrew Carnegie was able to fund several foundations that reveal the evils of capitalism.

Jane the Actuary said...

I'm going to flog the book I just read, on Nazis and the Holocaust -- which said that pre-WWI, Germany was very disunified politically, and the elites figured that war would be a good way to bring the country together for a cause.

http://janetheactuary.blogspot.com/2014/06/from-library-how-could-this-happen.html

Didn't work out so well.

But something that I've been meaning to look into, on economic growth: what happens to all our metrics if we look at growth per capita? Population growth slow-downs ought to produce equivalent GDP growth slow-downs, right? But no one ever talks about this.

SGT Ted said...

Oh and Rousseau is so off base on the "romance of nature" and the "noble savage", I am surprised he has any credibility whatsoever.

Anyone who has actually had to live without the creature comforts of civilization in the country for any amount of time understand just how stupid Rousseau's ideas about nature are.

Nature is beautiful when it's a Disney Movie or a picture on a coffee table book, or even when you are on vacay in your safe, maintained camp ground.

But the moment you have to actual live within nature, you are just a potentially tasty meal for another, stronger predator or disease or injury that will kill you if you don't have access to the modern medicine of civilization. There are no funerals or hospitals in the natural world. Old animals are dragged down by other predators and eaten.

The Circle of Life is a romantic characterization of Eat or be Eaten. Raw nature makes life nasty, brutish and short.

SJ said...

In each case there is good evidence that the desire to prepare for war spurred technological invention and also brought a higher degree of internal social order.

Why does this feel suspiciously like Woodrow Wilson?

I seem to remember that he wanted the same political cohesiveness of wartime powers for his domestic agenda.

And certain later Presidents opened up a War on Poverty, and a War on Drugs...probably hoping to draw on the political cohesiveness of wartime power.

(When are we going to bring the troops home...er...End the War on Poverty? I notice that poverty stats have not changed noticeably since the War on Poverty started, but I also note that the number-of-people-in-Poverty rate was declining before the War on Poverty started.)

broomhandle said...

Certain to be a self-correcting problem. Soon enough.

Drago said...

David, less conflict in the Americas prior to European settlement than elsewhere?

Hmmm, does that include the aztecs?

Dont tell crack but of course there were slaves in the aztec empire. And they were big on human sacrifice.

Probably because of the neo-cons.

Rusty said...

Larry J said...
"War as economic stimulus" is the Broken Window Fallacy writ very, very large.

Nailed it.

The Drill SGT said...

Piling on SGT Ted's comment above and Feminism, she claims, is ''heir to Rousseau'' in that it ''sees every hierarchy as repressive, a social fiction; every negative about woman is a male lie designed to keep her in her place.

That is complete BS: It is exactly organized society (organized for war/defense) that has made women's lives and outlook better than being chattel slaves. That male hierarchy that feminists resent is the mechanism that prevents the strongest males from abusing the weaker males and both from subjugating females...

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I think people mentioning the Broken Window fallacy are missing his argument. He is not saying that replacing the thinks broken by war result in economic growth. He is saying that the competition of war encourages technological advances in the same way that capitalism does, only more so.

I don't know if he is right, but he can't be disproven just by pointing to the Broken Window fallacy.

BDNYC said...

This isn't quite the Broken Windows Fallacy writ large. Cowen is pointing to the less tangible effects war has on a people. It gives people a sense of purpose, a reason to step up their game (for the good of the country), and even to volunteer their services for free. That's not a sustainable model for economic growth, but in short spates it probably yields huge dividends.

Anyway, if war is necessary or inevitable, then sure, the increased spending (if done right) might boost economic output for a time, especially if the damage caused by war is relatively minimal. The case of WWII is interesting. In relative terms, the United States benefited tremendously, since it emerged relatively unscathed (apart from the soldier deaths) and its main economic competitors were basically decimated. The world became ours, although the world we inherited was poorer and less stable than it should have been.

Gahrie said...

I notice that poverty stats have not changed noticeably since the War on Poverty started,

Well one of the reasons is that they keep moving the goalposts. The definition of poverty is very fluid. A better metric would be to compare the standard of living of people over time. A poor person in 2014 has a much higher standard of living than a poor person in 1984, and it could be argued a higher standard of living than the middle class of 1984.

tim maguire said...

Historically, that seems to be true. But I have to wonder how Keynesianism can be wrong while "war helps the economy" can be right. They seem like very similar ideas.

Keynes imagines a multiplier effect where it doesn't matter what the government spends money on because it's the spending that matters.

War is a situation where 2 countries built lots of stuff to throw at the other country's stuff. The country that runs out of stuff first loses. Isn't this the perfect demonstration of Keynes' idea?

Paul said...

Well don't worry... Obama is working hard on turning the middle east into the grounds for the Third World War.

Fritz said...

But the huts would have nice wall paper and shelves covered with knickknacks.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

But I have to wonder how Keynesianism can be wrong while "war helps the economy" can be right. They seem like very similar ideas.

The difference is the same as the difference between capitalism and communism. In both cases producers produce and consumers consume. However, in capitalism ( and in war ) there is a constant pressure for producers to provide more bang ( in the case of war, literally ) for the buck. Communism and Keynesianism both lack that pressure.

Jane the Actuary said...

Make two lists: things that were invented because we were at war, or preparing for war, and things that were invented for other reasons and adapted for use in wartime only.

The cotton mill? The steam engine? The automobile?

True, some inventions came out of wartime, but would those inventors have invented things anyway?

rhhardin said...

The Obama regulation explosion killed off economic growth, period.

Drago said...

rhhardin said...
The Obama regulation explosion killed off economic growth, period

rhhardin has it right.

This is simply more battlespace prep by the left to explain away the economic failure of obama policies.

David said...

Drago said...
David, less conflict in the Americas prior to European settlement than elsewhere?

Hmmm, does that include the aztecs?


Not less brutality or aggression, but less organized institutionalized conflicts. As I understand it, the Aztecs quickly ran out of enemies and preyed on themselves.

n.n said...

Yeah, if women ruled the world. Is that what Democrats represent? Women's rights? Denigration of individual dignity, devaluation of human life, and redistributive change. There are too many insane women, and effeminate men, that they could ever be entrusted with leading human civilization or humanity generally.

Abortion! What is it good for? The premeditated murder of human beings for money, sex, ego, career, and convenience. It is a global genocide of several million human lives annually. The population control advocates are especially thrilled when a women contracts to murder her child and thereby reduces the problem set.

It's funny that people will condemn the loss of life in war, but will rationalize the greater loss of life in abortion. The fraud of spontaneous conception provides comfort to millions of women every year, and the advocates (e.g. United Nations, Planned Parenthood, Democrats) of this unprecedented violation of human rights.

Well, not every women, perhaps only a minority, will contract to terminate their child's life. Yet, many more, perhaps a majority, and a similar distribution of men, will tolerate this crime. The secular cult is thoroughly corrupt.

Rusty said...

I notice that poverty stats have not changed noticeably since the War on Poverty started,

Because the object wasn't to relieve to struggles of the poor. The object was to grow government. They succeeded.

Rusty said...

Lets look at it from the "Broken Window" Viewpoint. There is only one customer, the government. Economically the government controls all markets and resources. Anything surplus to the governments need is apportioned to the public and is strictly rationed. The government controls all the available wealth and can apportion that too as they see fit.
Fully one third of our wartime economy in 1943,44,and 45 went to construction of three weapons of mass destruction. The waste was enormous.IOW innovation is achieved by throwing taxpayer money at a problem. Competition is stifled.

ken in sc said...

Nasty, Cruel, Brutish, and Short--good name for a law firm. I stole that, I didn't make it up.