American Wartime Values in Historical Perspective: Full-Employment Mobilization or Business as Usual
ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 13, No. 1, Fall 2006
24 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2007 Last revised: 12 Sep 2008
This paper explores the range of values implicated by war and compares today's dominant values with those that prevailed during previous American wars, with a particular emphasis on the World War Two and early Cold War period.
War is related to values, and as economists like to remind us, what we value becomes apparent in the movement of people and prices. Part I of this Article considers the moral, ethical and monetary values that prevailed throughout the 1940's and early 1950's. The normative threads that kept the World War Two effort on track were those of mobilization and shared sacrifice. These dominant assumptions and policies represented a distinct ¿mobilization model¿ with big government serving as the central counter-force to private business interests.
The mobilization model empowered the federal government to achieve its most important public policy objectives while enforcing limits on the self-interested activities of private actors. Those limits are perhaps best reflected in the neutralization of monetary policy and the application of administrative and regulatory authority to maintain price stability while channeling credit to the public sector. The Congress appropriated and the Executive spent on a massive scale. Resources - financial, human, technological and industrial - were mobilized.
War today reflects far different values. Today we see the imagery and rhetoric of war, but rarely the ethic of shared sacrifice. Government power is routinely constrained by private interests. Part II contrasts the World War Two mobilization with the relative complacency of America's response to September 11th and the conduct of war ever since, which is characterized by private spending, consumption and ¿business as usual.¿
It is the failure to mobilize massive resources under conditions of shared sacrifice that has left the United States weakened at home and therefore with limited capabilities to exert its will abroad.
Keywords: Monetary Policy, Fiscal Policy, Central Banks, Wartime Planning, Foreign Assistance, Constitutional Law, Public Finance
JEL Classification: E42, E58, E62, E64, H60, N12, N40, N42, O47
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation