Ezra Klein says that while bombing Iran may not be the road to recovery, defense spending can be an important driver for public investment:
Since it’s unpalatable to simply subsidize certain industries or marshal hundreds of billions for certain investments, but it’s indisputable that you need to give the military anything it asks for, you have the military decide every tank needs to run off solar panels, or, to use an even more unlikely example, that we need a national highway system “to allow for mass evacuation of cities in the event of a nuclear attack.” You could imagine both infrastructure investments and energy independence fitting the bill today. Then you get your stimulus but you don’t need to have your war.
The Internet, of course, has its origins in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency rather then the Large Scale Investments in Communications Infrastructure Agency.
But I also think this is a bit of a self-limited process. To the extent that everyone presses their policy priorities in terms of defense-related rhetoric, the social and political prestige of the military is further enhanced. And to the extent that the military establishment’s social and political prestige goes up, the Pentagon’s leadership is better able to direct defense-related industrial policies toward its own objectives rather than to civilian ones operating under cover of national security. And I think that’s where we are today. The Brazilian military may be “placing some big orders for advanced aircraft because it would help them build a domestic airplane-manufacturing industry” but the American military is investing in robots because it genuinely wants to use automated systems to fight wars. The result in their case is a strategic investment that may or may not pay off over the long term. The result in our case is to divert scarce engineering talent away from civilian robotics applications that could be much more broadly beneficial.