The Permanent Arms Economy

  • M. C. Howard
  • J. E. King
Part of the Radical Economics book series (RAE)


Perhaps the most obvious (and certainly the most sinister) difference between the post-war and pre-war worlds was the level of military expenditure carried on by the victorious powers. Disarmament had not been complete even after the First World War, but there was no precedent in the peacetime history of capitalism for the scale of arms spending which was now being undertaken. In 1950 military expenditure accounted for 6.6 per cent of the United Kingdom’s GNP, for 5.5 per cent in France and 5.1 per cent in the United States; a decade later the figures were 6.5 per cent, 6.5 per cent and 9.0 per cent respectively.1 One explanation for this persistent militarism was what the liberal economist James Tobin was later to describe as the ‘naive theory’ of arms spending, which saw it simply as ‘a response to world events’.2 However, this is less naive than it sounds. Undoubtedly there were serious political barriers to disarmament after 1945. France and (less desperately) Britain were embroiled in colonial wars, the United States was defending its newly-won ‘informal empire’, and all three were engaged in the long Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union and China.


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Copyright information

© M. C. Howard and J. E. King 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. C. Howard
    • 1
    • 2
  • J. E. King
    • 3
  1. 1.University of WaterlooCanada
  2. 2.University of CaliforniaRiversideUSA
  3. 3.La Trobe UniversityAustralia

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