Since 2009, the example of the economic boom following World War II has been used by Keynesians to justify their record “peacetime” levels of borrowing intended to lift the U.S. out of the doldrums. Indeed, the more the contemporary borrowing fails, the more the vast indebtedness of the war years is invoked to reassure us. On occasion a wry lament follows that if only a spaceship full of dangerous aliens were to appear, we might have the requisite excuse to follow our grandfathers into a new collective frenzy of economic stimulus and public debt.
Citing the benefits that accrued from World War II, of course, is ironic for lots of reasons — aside from the horror of 50 million dead. Modern liberalism has argued that defense spending, in all its manifestations, is ipso facto an uneconomical use of national resources. Money spent building an artillery gun and training a youth to fire it supposedly could be better spent subsidizing higher education or producing a hybrid car — as if the modern college turns out better disciplined, more motivated, and better educated young people than does the Marine Corps or Air Force; as if deterring aggression is more costly than meeting it on the battlefield at a disadvantage; as if the habitual exactness and lasting skills acquired in building a huge fleet carrier are comparable to those required for building a Chevy Volt.