Is War Necessary for Economic Growth: Military Procurement and Technology Development.

Author:Cypher, James M.
Position::Book review

Is War Necessary for Economic Growth: Military Procurement and Technology Development by Vernon Ruttan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. pp. 219. ISBN 978-0-19-518804-2. $45 cloth.

In this relatively short book Vernon Ruttan argues that war, or the preparation to engage in conflict, has been the motor-force for fundamental technological developments in the United States at least since the early 1940s. Only military objectives have been sufficient to galvanize great blocs of scientific energy and talent, combined with virtually limitless public funding to yield what he terms general-purpose technologies. These technologies are extremely broad based, and generate a wide and sustained economic impact, underwriting whole new industries that are fundamental to the process of economic growth. The examples Ruttan analyzes are:

(1) The American System of Manufacturing--arising from military expenditures in the Government-owned Armory System leading to interchangeable parts, the modern machine tool industry and eventually "Fordism."

(2) The Aeronautics and the Aircraft Industry--formed in the early twentieth century and then sustained through government intervention until WWII when it leaped to the forefront of the industrial base due to military demand and innovations arising from sustained efforts at Research and Technological Development sometimes undertaken in the private sector through public funding and oversight.

(3) The Nuclear Energy Industry--the god that failed--which Ruttan argues would never have otherwise arisen had reliance rested on the invisible hand.

(4) The Computer Industry--spun off from fundamental military research shortly after WWII.

(5) The Internet--the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's greatest triumph to date.

(6) The Space Industry--that has revolutionized telecommunications and generated important industrial and consumer-related spin offs from the development of satellite technologies.

Each of the above areas receives a chapter-long treatment, complete with a considerable bibliography and often rather detailed discussion of the individuals involved and the technical elements that have given rise to the new technologies. In this regard, the book has a certain "science-based" cast to it--Ruttan's strong point is not in the search for far-ranging economic theories of growth and development that might be important to the discussion. As such, economic theoreticians such as Joseph Schumpeter are scarcely...

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