David Cronin


Arms companies like BAE, the former Nato secretary-general George Robertson, and members of the French Economic Defence Council, a body set up by the Paris government, have been arguing that at least 2% of the national income of EU states should be allocated to defence. Four of the EU-27 – Britain, France, Greece and Bulgaria – already exceed that target, while another three – Italy, Poland and Romania – are just beneath it.

It is instructive that none of the aforementioned countries have hit a more laudable objective: the UN\’s decades-old call for rich countries to earmark 0.7% of national income to fighting global poverty. Surely, it is obscene to believe that more public money should be used to drum up new business for the arms industry than for feeding the hungry or curing the sick.

Given that the first duty of the State is to defend that State no, it doesn\’t seem terrible that 2% should be spent to do that while 0.7% is spent on foreign aid.

But there\’s two much deeper misunderstandings in his statement. One is a basic economic misunderstanding. That defense of the State is something that can only be done by the State, for it must be both collective and financed coercively, via taxation.

Foreign aid is not something that can only be done by that State. It\’s entirely possible for individuals, on their own (via say Kiva) or for individuals to gather together and collectively provide it, via say Oxfam, Cafod and other charities. As, indeed, recent calculations show that they do.

(Going slightly off track here: "I suspect the data slightly, but it appears private charity can make up for deficiencies in state provisions to some degree." We can also read the same information the other way around. High rates of taxation to pay for State foreign aid can crowd out private foreign aid. You can make your own mind up about which is more efficient and thus which more desirable.)

Given that one is something that only States can do, the other something that States, individuals and voluntary collectives can do comparing the State\’s spending on one to solely the State\’s spending on the other looks very much like a logical error.

The second mistake is, well, it depends upon how you view it really, as to whether it is a mistake or not. It might indeed not be a mistake, rather a piece of mendacious rhetoric. "Curing the sick" for example, swallows 8-11% of GDP of the more advanced EU states: sure, that\’s at home, not abroad, but it\’s still curing the sick. The "food security" arguments for CAP (however silly they are) might be counted as feeding the hungry, so that\’s 50% of the EU budget (is it still that much? More?) right there.

Each individual country spends vastly more as a percentage of the economy of feeding the hungry and healing the sick than they do on armaments or the military. Even the US does so by a huge margin in the middle of a war. The only exceptions I can think of would be places like North Korea, where they hardly heal the sick and it\’s doubtful whether they feed the hungry either, while they dedicate a vast proportion of the economy to the armed forces.

Hmm, I think I\’ll go with mendacious rhetoric here.

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