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Economists for Peace

Here’s a letter to the New York Times Book Review:

Jim Calio wants to reinstate the military draft because “Conscription may be the only way of putting a brake on the runaway war-making power of the president” (Letters, June 17).  Not so.  Adam Smith proposed a far less macabre way of making government officials think twice before going to war.

That great Scot proposed reining in government’s excessive fondness for saber-rattling by denying it the power to finance wars with debt.  As Smith explained, “Were the expence of war to be defrayed always by a revenue raised within the year [rather than by borrowing]… [w]ars would in general be more speedily concluded, and less wantonly undertaken.  The people feeling, during the continuance of the war, the complete burden of it, would soon grow weary of it, and government, in order to humour them, would not be under the necessity of carrying it on longer than it was necessary to do so.  The foresight of the heavy and unavoidable burdens of war would hinder the people from wantonly calling for it when there was no real or solid interest to fight for.”*

Why do people such as Mr. Calio and Rep. Charles Rangel – people who propose to temper war fever with the morally outrageous practice of holding the lives of young men and women hostage to irresponsible government officials – never propose the alternative and far-less-gruesome step of simply changing the rules of how wars are financed?

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), Book V, Chapter 3, paragraph 51.

David Ricardo, btw, argued similarly in his 1820 “An Essay on the Funding System.”  (HT Larry White)


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