breaking window

War is Bad for the Economy

It seems to be common knowledge that war is good for the economy. After all, following World War II the US was no longer in a recession. However, this view is false. War is actually bad for the economy. The reasons that destruction is bad for the economy is explained in Economist Claude Frédéric Bastiat’s broken window fallacy. The broken window fallacy explains that destruction does not benefit the economy. Bastiat explains this by providing the example of someone breaking a window.

An excerpt from Bastiat’s work “That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen:”

Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B., when his careless son happened to break a square of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact, that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation: “It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?

The spectators in Bastiat’s example are explaining that the shopkeeper’s broken window provides the glazier with an increase in income. The spectators believe that this increase in income benefits society. Bastiat goes onto explain that the spectators are ignoring the fact that the broken window causes the shopkeeper to lose money. What results from the broken window is an exchange of money between the shopkeeper and the glazier, as a result, society is no better off with the broken window. Society is actually worse off since the window lost value.

The belief that war is good for the economy is another version of the broken window fallacy. How can deaths of thousands of people and the destruction of infrastructure be good for the economy? It isn’t good for the economy. During wartime, the economy loses labor, resources, and infrastructure. These losses can never be recuperated.

When looked at from a global perspective, war in one country means that the global economy will be working less efficiently. While one country may experience a boom after war, another country will be experiencing the impacts of destroyed infrastructure and resources. In fact, all countries that were involved in war will at least have to deal with the impact of the loss of labor. Additionally, during wartime economies shift towards producing more wartime materials that do not promote economic well being, such as weapons. As a result, resources that could have been used to promote well being are wasted on the production of wartime materials. As Bastiat would say “if that which is not seen is taken into consideration,” then war would obviously be considered bad for the economy.

Image Source: Life Magazine