The growth of US military power has rarely, if ever, been the result of legitimate concerns about defensive strategy, let alone about the national welfare. Instead, it’s more often a consequence of a waste, corruption, and imperial ambition that together have produced the modern military-industrial complex. This history receives some well-deserved attention in Paul Pedisich’s book Congress Buys a Navy: Politics, Economics, and the Rise of American Naval Power, 1881-1921, which offers an in-depth look at the history of Congressional involvement with the US Navy. I’ve written a more general review of the book for those interested (here), but in this post I want to focus on some of the economic implications of US naval history over these four decades.
The main emphasis of the book is on a series of Congressional battles over appropriations for the Navy, and how these disputes influenced its growth and change. This process, Pedisich argues, was not driven by strategic questions of national security, but by a wide range of political interests. Pedisich provides a wealth of information about Congressional voting blocs and committees, as well and the personal and professional ties between politicians, the Navy, and the war industries. These consisted most often of conventional rent-seeking: members of Congress wanted appropriations channelled to their own constituencies, and the Navy’s budget provided an excellent opportunity for those states that stood to gain from the Congressional spoils system (pp. 28-29, and throughout).
This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on Jan 23, 2017.