Guns or Butter

The old political economic argument of guns vs. butter has come to the forefront of the 2012 election.  Those running for President, did not use those terms, but this is what is going on. I was watching the GOP debate last night and I almost fell off my chair when I heard, the GOP nominees say they will dismantle Obama’s social programs, but not touch the holy cow of the military.  I do not think that will win them many votes, but whatever.  It is their election to lose. What people do not realize is the problem with the guns or butter issue is it is not that simple. It is less of an either or than you think.

Looking back at history, countries from Spain in the 17th century to Germany in the 1930s, countries that spend a lot of their GDP on military and financed it with debt, dug their own graves. They lost both guns and butter. Countries that peacefully focus on their own problems like Switzerland or Sweden enjoy peace and prosperity.

  • The GOP will replay the 2008  election, when John McCain said: “we will stay in Iraq 100 years if we have to” – this GOP Neocon arrogance does not inspire any warm feelings in me, I do not know about you?
  • Interview on War or the economy by Ron Paul is well worth listening to on


guns or butter
It is actually quite simple, if you choose guns over butter you will have neither.

Military tends to be a wasteful special interest and the US government is not looking out for you personally

This post is about why I believe in homeland defense, not empire building.  It will  clarify the guns vs. butter argument. Why I believe patriotism is not about beating militarily drums of war, as much as defending the constitution, economic prosperity at home and encouraging free market innovation to keep our technological security edge. I am not against defense, I just think national defense is different from military expenditures, which is something inefficient, wasteful.

  • Let me illustrate, my friend who is a computer contractor with the US Navy in Jacksonville, earns three times what the average American makes, does not even know how to open a zip file (sorry if you do not) and still uses Internet Explorer 7 (sorry if you do).
  •  When I was attacked overseas, as an American citizen, I did not feel I got super support from the State Department.  Therefore, I am unconvinced that defense of US citizens is synonymous with large conventional armies in the Middle East or the government is watching out for you . They watch out for themselves.

I also think the 15,000 people who die in crimes in the USA are more than those who die in domestic terror attacks. Maybe it would save more US lives to amp up the local police more than hunting people on the other side of the world? If they really cared about US citizens they would care about crime in the USA.  Further, one of the GOP nominees said something to the effect, we should stamp a green card to the passport of foreigners with Masters degrees if they wanted to come to the USA, so we could continue to attract the best and the brightest.  What about just focusing on the education of US citizens than attracting foreigners, if you cut the military in half you could fill the universities of young Americans with free tution.  I think if you analysis the guns or butter argument you have to ask yourself what evidence do you have that Washington has your best interests in mind?

The term ‘military intelligence’ or innovation at least, is a contradiction in terms. Currently we do use some cutting edge technology. However, to achieve that cutting edge it is coupled with ridiculous waste. My father was the Treasurer for a defense contractor ( United Technologies) when I was growing up and I in retrospect saw how much of a special interest that was. The problem is, the economy is different now then the 1960s, and I do not think the current economy can support that type of business as usual defense contractor special interest.

 Basis of US foreign policy

Our foreign policy is based on control the whole world by looking under ever stone for a terrorist. This can not be done, as there are too many people, and we will go bankrupt trying. Better focus on our own shores. Defend the USA, not try to make the whole would the USA.

Something that everyone knows but is afraid to say is, a lot of our foreign policy is based on Israel. I am for the defense of Israel if attacked and have good feelings toward the Jewish people. Very much so in fact. I just believe that Israel has proven time and time again they can take care of themselves. And us meddling and dictating in the micromanagment of the Middle East is not in your personal interst as a US citizen. Look at Egypt. We supported the last regime for 30 years and pumped them with arms and money, and now it is civil war.

We stir up bees nests in the Middle East and choose sides when we should be minding our own bees wax. When I was in Palestine most of the people were poor and friendly and welcoming. They did not impress me as ‘the enemy’. When I was in Israel I felt they were a little more heavy-handed.

People say we must support Israel at any cost, because they are a democracy. My reply is this:

  • Why? Sure we can help them if attacked but like Ronald Regan realized when he pulled out of Lebanon, Middle East Politics is an endless quagmire we do not want to be sucked into.
  • The Obama-Bush doctrine of preventative Middle eastern Wars – is nonsense, it stirs up trouble and anger more than helps Americans, does it help you personally?
  • Israel has a questionable human rights record. – read up on it.
  • Is the USA a democracy and is our mission to spread this to the world? I think the USA is a Republic. The word Democracy is not even mentioned in our Declaration of Independence, Bill of rights or US constitution, check this. The US was based on protecting the citizens from government, foreign wars and entangling alliances, if you read the original documents you will see this. Most Americans do not understand what this constitution is about, and they would gladly surrender their rights to usurpers of the law in the name of security. I would not say our manifest destiny is to spread ‘democracy to the world’. As an American citizen I am pledged to defend the US constitution, the highest law in the land, not a Middle Eastern country who has spied on us and even involved in a questionable accident like the USS Liberty. America should stand up for Americans.
  • Ukraine is a democracy and ally but do we care they just put Yulia Tymoshenko in prison for ten years in a kangaroo court and human rights are violated? We the USA have a double standard.
  • Is our view of the Arab nations like our view of Native Americans 150 years ago? How would you feel if foreign soldiers were in your backyard imposing their ideas of how you should live?

I the best way to be a patriot in the USA is to focus on homeland defense and economy, not Pax America, trying to be the British Empire of the 19th century.

If we want security, defend the constitution and promote the free market and stay out of Middle Eastern politics and let science and technology lead us into battle rather than ground forces.

When I hear the Generals complain that we are at our weakest since WWII, that pure nonsense. They are barking not at cuts in military but a deceleration of the rate of growth.

Guns vs. Butter is an economic phrases that represents is a simplification of the economic tradeoff between prosperity at home, focus on the family vs. military expansionism. It is a choice that every empire has to make. The Soviet Union choose guns and the economy collapsed.

The great free market leader Margret Thatcher said:

 The Soviets put guns over butter, but we put almost everything over guns.

Look who won the arms race and why. Economics and innovation determine long run security.

There is also a trade-off between personal liberty, freedom,economic growth, prosperity and innovation at home or guns around the world. The result and my thesis is:

 Any civilization that falls behind economically and with innovation (which comes from the free market) will fall behind in terms of security and the ability to defend its citizens, then collapses or their national security is really at risk.

What is happening to the USA now economically? Has there been any great innovation in the last ten years?

The spokes people representing the ‘Guns’ side (Many people in the GOP) use perpetual fear to keep people believing that we need a security that is a blank check for the military, your money.

Newt Gingrich promised the American people:

 All of Us Will Be In Danger for the Rest of Our Lives

He is a Orwellian Machiavellian. The GOP will lose as the Universe will not let that happen, to have such a war monger in office.

I think it is a bit more complicated than simply dismantle Obama’s social programs and replace it with military as the GOP has suggested. I think we need a strong economy and free market innovation that will keep us one step ahead of the enemy. The militarily as it exist today is a WWII mentality of ground troops and submarines with innovation because we still have some economic juice left. But the innovation comes because we have money. What if the money runs out?

  • If the economy collapses I can tell you what will happen with innovation, it will slow down, if it has not already.

The GOP Noe-cons always says ‘ they will drop a nuke’ in one of our cities if we do not spend more. And if it happened deep down some of them would be saying ‘see I told you so’. They would feel hurt and pain of course, but another side would say ‘see I told you so’.

I say they will nuke a city if our economy collapses and we can not afford to stay cutting edge technology. They will drop a nuke if we are in 150 countries in the world and choose to play the dangerous game of Middle Eastern politics. We can not have a Camera in every person in the world’s house. Further, let’s be real, to construct a nuclear weapon and detonate it in an US city is next to impossible, a dirty bomb maybe or a biological weapon maybe, but a real nuke is hard to build and get the material for.

 Why the US should focus on butter over guns

Here is the reality. We need to maintain a strong economy so we can have a technological edge and prevent this from happening. Building more attack subs or trying to control the whole world is not the way we do it. It is a war based on technology and international intelligence and this is fueled by free market innovation.

Coupled with the fact that we should not be involved in Middle East politics like we are, that is the reason they want to attack us, because they see the US as invading their homeland. Shocking but true.

Why do the terrorists not attack Japan or Iceland or the Swiss or the Swedes? These are rich free countries? Maybe it has to do with the fact that we behave like and empire.

The 9/11 attack was not caused by lack of military spending, we had lots of submarines in the ocean, it was lack of awareness of who the enemy was and their motives.

 Know thy enemy Sun Tzu – The Art of War

Many people jumped on Ron Paul for saying this about 9/11, but he was not saying that the victims caused the attack, not at all! He said something to the effect the attack was partly motivated because we act like and empire, fight undeclared wars, support political assassinations etc. This is what the Terrorist themselves said.

 Know thy enemy Sun Tzu – The Art of War

Bin Laden stated that the objective was to wear down the USA in a war of attrition. Are we playing into their hands?

George Bush said ‘they attacked us because of our freedom’. What an idiotic statement.

 The term Guns Vs. Butter

The term Guns or Butter was first used by William Jennings Bryan in his resignation from secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson, however, it had another history.

Living in Poland many years and at my University studied a lot of history. What many people do not know is why War II started when it did. What was happening in Germany in the 1930s?

The truth is the Germany economy in 1939 was on the brink of collapse. While everyone was singing praises of the party that was keeping Germany safe from the ‘ Jewish threat’, the economy was on the brink of failure. The economy could not maintain its military expenditure. Yes it was a classic boom and bust cycle brought about by government and a crazy evil leader.

Germany’s militarization was causing a grand fiscal expansion in their industrial military complex. He was keeping people on the military payroll and paying benefits and the arms makers were profiting. But that leader knew this the economy could not go on like that forever and felt war was the only solution to keep his political machine going before the economy collapsed. It did not cause the war of course but, they needed the war to keep their economy from collapsing.

So the political spokes people for that nation started to make statements about security from the ‘Jewish threat’ and the Bolsheviks and anarchists.

We can do without butter, but, despite all our love of peace, not without arms. One cannot shoot with butter, but with guns. Guns will make us powerful; butter will only make us fat – Hermann Göring

For me, that is another politically manipulate simpleton speaking.

I prefer the philosophy of security through innovation and an economic strength. I do not believe in politically playing like Otto Von Bismark did with realpolitik , that is politics based on practical rather than moral considerations. In contrast, I believe in the US constitution.

Two last thoughts on the guns vs. butter argument

  1. In your household do you spend 25 to 50% of your budget on security? What if a business did this, it would have little disposable income for R&D or anything else. This is not life it would be a basic existence and this is what many in the USA have, just go to Walmart and look at the people shopping there.
  2. Although I think religion should be kept out of politics, and it is distasteful when people in politics use religious language,  I can not help thinking that the Bible says ‘he who lives by the sword will dies by the sword.’.
  3. ‘What good is one gains the world but loses their soul in the process’.

Related Posts




This is my Youtube Channel: EconLessons


Leave a Reply