Opinion

Felix Salmon

Eisenhower charts of the day

By Felix Salmon
January 21, 2011

My fabulous editor, Jim Ledbetter, had a party a couple of days ago for his new book about Dwight Eisenhower. He asked for the most famous passage from Eisenhower’s 1953 “Chance for Peace” speech to be turned into updated charts, so here you go:

schools.png power.png
hospitals.png highway.png
wheat.png homes.png

Sources: The price of a bomber, according to the Air Force, is $1.2 billion in 1998 dollars, which works out to about $1.6 billion today. It costs $18.5 million to build a school. For the power plant, I’m assuming energy usage of 11.4 kW per person (obviously this is up sharply from 1953) and a cost for building a power plant of $1,050 per kW, which works out at about $700 million. Hospitals are coming in at about $260 million apiece. Highway costs are about $10 million per mile.

A fighter costs $150 million; a bushel of wheat is $8. Destroyers run about $1.75 billion apiece; and construction costs on a new single-family home are $222,511.

And here’s the passage in question, which still carries enormous force:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms in not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Comments
6 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Speechless – but not at all surprised.

It could be said that the boom during the 1990s was a direct result of the end of the cold war in the 1980s, allowing government spending to fall as less was spent on armaments, thus boosting the world economy. It could also be said that the reverse is true today.

OK, so I found something to say! Great charts, and a lovely quote. From a General, too.

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive
 

That was one of the most profound speeches every made. Sadly, America is too proud wearing the cross of Iron.

“In this book, published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Eisenhower’s farewell address, journalist James Ledbetter shows how the government, military contractors, and the nation’s overall economy have become inseparable. Some of the effects are beneficial, such as cell phones, GPS systems, the Internet, and the Hubble Space Telescope, all of which emerged from technologies first developed for the military. But the military-industrial complex has also provoked agonizing questions. Does our massive military establishment—bigger than those of the next ten largest combined—really make us safer? How much of our perception of security threats is driven by the profit-making motives of military contractors? To what extent is our foreign policy influenced by contractors’ financial interests?”

Thanks. It sounds like a must read for the generations since WWII. (I just ordered it for my son)

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive
 

We are seeing the military-industrial complex in full operation today as an institutionalized philosophy. The Republicans want to cut everything in the budget, except for military spending even though Gates and Mullen have been asking for some cuts. Eisenhower’s prediction has come true as they want to cut Social Security in order to pay for more fighter engines.

Posted by ErnieD | Report as abusive
 

Well, those bombers are replacing a dozen older bombers. The number of US Air Force wings are less than half what they were when Eisenhower made his speech. Procurement is also down a lot. The US is spending only about half now on R&D and procurement than they did during the Cold War in real terms.

Posted by FuManchu | Report as abusive
 

That may be true, FuManchu, but the Cold War is over. And the “War on Terror” doesn’t need fighter jets, bombers, and destroyers.

Posted by Jules717 | Report as abusive
 

I’m not sure this ends up saying what I think you intended.

You’re arguing that military expenditure is destruction of capital (true) and is becoming increasingly expensive (which may or may not be true), but you are ignoring possible increases in efficiency in the production of consumption goods.

The cost differentials between relative expenditures could be caused by the increase in the bomber cost, or by a decrease in the the cost of producing the compared resource. I’d go back to the drawing board and include a comparison between the [real] cost difference between the 1950s item cost and the today cost, and then compare it to the bomber.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive
 

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