Why No Trade-Off Between Guns and Butter?

Armed Forces and Social Spending in the Advanced Industrial Democracies, 1960-1993

Published in: American Journal of Sociology, v. 112, no. 2, Sep. 2006, p. 473-509

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2006

by Brian Gifford

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Studies of nations' military efforts and social well-being are a staple of sociology, economics, and political science, but have produced ambiguous results. This article argues that the standard measure of military efforts--defense spending--inadequately captures the social and political impact of military preparedness. It instead suggests that military personnel policies impact social welfare efforts to the degree that they alter citizens' relationships to labor markets, directly provide social welfare benefits to military personnel, or create discursive obstacles to other groups seeking benefits. The results indicate that net of military spending, nations with relatively large armed forces make smaller social welfare efforts, while nations with conscription tend to spend more generously.

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