Monday, October 31, 2011

Arming the Keynesians

As any Republican will tell you, government spending doesn’t create jobs. Unless, as Paul Krugman points out, it’s military spending. Then it does.

Thus Representative Buck McKeon, Republican of California, once attacked the Obama stimulus plan because “more spending is not what California or this country needs.” But two weeks ago, writing in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. McKeon — now the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee — warned that the defense cuts that are scheduled to take place if the supercommittee fails to agree would eliminate jobs and raise the unemployment rate.

Oh, the hypocrisy! But what makes this particular form of hypocrisy so enduring?

First things first: Military spending does create jobs when the economy is depressed. Indeed, much of the evidence that Keynesian economics works comes from tracking the effects of past military buildups. Some liberals dislike this conclusion, but economics isn’t a morality play: spending on things you don’t like is still spending, and more spending would create more jobs.

So there’s bad government spending — schools and bridges — and good government spending — F22’s.

It puts the lie to the fact that any spending — government or not — can create jobs and boost the economy, and the Republicans would rather not admit that. There is one small problem: we end up with a lot of jobs building things that are designed to kill a lot of people, and to quote Maj. Margaret Houlihan, “this war can’t last forever.”