Robert P. Murphy: The Myth of Wartime Prosperity

Roundup: Talking About History

Robert P. Murphy is author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism. His blog is Free Advice.

When pressed for a "success story" of their policies, Keynesians point with pride to World War II. They claim that it is the perfect illustration of the ability of massive government spending to lift an economy out of the doldrums.

In the effort to battle this myth, Steve Horwitz and Michael J. McPhillips offer an interesting new article that analyzes diaries, newspapers, and other primary source documents from the wartime era. They show that average Americans on the home front certainly did not think they were living amidst a great economic recovery. Yet as I’ll show in this article—relying on the pioneering efforts of Robert Higgs—we can use even the official statistics to turn the conventional Keynesian account on its head.

Before diving into the data, let me make a quick observation. I have heard many conservatives say, "FDR’s New Deal had nothing to do with fixing the economy. It was World War II that got us out of the Depression!" Yet when they say this, they give away the whole game. They are admitting that government spending can cure an economic downturn, and are just quibbling over whether it was FDR’s spending on schools and bridges, versus his spending on tanks and aircraft carriers.

Now let’s get hip-deep in the actual numbers...  

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