Guns versus butter model

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"Guns and Butter" redirects here. For the song, see Guns and Butter (song).

In macroeconomics, the guns versus butter model is an example of a simple production–possibility frontier. It demonstrates the relationship between a nation's investment in defense and civilian goods. In this example, a nation has to choose between two options when spending its finite resources. It may buy either guns (invest in defense/military) or butter (invest in production of goods), or a combination of both. This may be seen as an analogy for choices between defense and civilian spending in more complex economies.

The "gun or butter" model is used generally as a simplification of national spending as a part of GDP. The nation will have to decide which balance of guns versus butter best fulfills its needs, with its choice being partly influenced by the military spending and military stance of potential opponents. Researchers in political economy have viewed the trade-off between military and consumer spending as a useful predictor of election success.[1]

Typically, this model does not correlate well with free market economies.[vague][2]

Origin of the term[edit]

One theory on the origin of the concept comes from William Jennings Bryan's resignation as United States Secretary of State in the Wilson Administration.[3] At the outbreak of World War I, the leading global exporter of nitrates for gunpowder was Chile. Chile had maintained neutrality during the war and provided nearly all of the USA's nitrate requirements. It also was the principal ingredient of chemical fertilizer in farming.[4] The export product was sodium nitrate, a salt mined in the northern part of Chile that often is referred to as, Chile saltpeter.

With substantial popular opinion running against U.S. entry into the war, the Bryan resignation and peace campaign (joined prominently with Henry Ford's efforts) became a banner for local versus national interests. Bryan was no more pro-German than Wilson; his motivation was to expose and publicize what he considered to be an unconscionable public policy.

The National Defense Act of 1916 directed the president to select a site for the artificial production of nitrates within the United States. It was not until September 1917, several months after the USA entered the war, that Wilson selected Muscle Shoals, Alabama, after more than a year of competition among political rivals. A deadlock in Congress was broken when Senator Ellison D. Smith from South Carolina sponsored the National Defense Act of 1916 that directed "the Secretary of Agriculture to manufacture nitrates for fertilizers in peace and munitions in war at water power sites designated by the President". This was presented by the news media as "guns and butter".

Quoted use of term[edit]

Perhaps the best known use of the phrase (in translation) was in Nazi Germany. In a speech on January 17, 1936, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels stated: "We can do without butter, but, despite all our love of peace, not without arms. One cannot shoot with butter, but with guns." Referencing the same concept, sometime in the summer of the same year another Nazi official, Hermann Göring, announced in a speech, "Guns will make us powerful; butter will only make us fat."[5]

While president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson used the phrase to catch the attention of the national media while reporting on the state of national defense and the economy. [6]

Another use of the phrase was British premier Margaret Thatcher's reference in a 1976 speech that, "The Soviets put guns over butter, but we put almost everything over guns."[7]

The song "Guns Before Butter" by Gang of Four from their 1979 album Entertainment! is about this concept.

Prodigy's 1997 album The Fat Of The Land has the following text on the fold-out booklet: "We have no butter, but I ask you /Would you rather have butter or guns? /Shall we import lard or steel? Let me tell you /Preparedness makes us powerful. /Butter merely makes us fat."[8]

Ving Rhames's character in the 2001 film Baby Boy makes a speech using this concept.[citation needed]

This phrase as the title for an episode ("Guns Not Butter") in season four of the hit television show The West Wing (1999–2006) that focused on the portion of the federal budget devoted to foreign aid.

Great Society example[edit]

United States President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society programs in the 1960s are examples of the guns versus butter model. While Johnson wanted to continue New Deal programs and expand welfare with his own Great Society programs, he also was in the arms race of the Cold War, and Vietnam War. These wars put strains on the economy and hampered his Great Society programs.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]