“The Political Economy of Democratic Militarism: Evidence from Cross-National and Israeli Public Opinion”

Abstract: If defense is a public good, then its provision should have redistributive consequences. This paper uses median voter theory to analyze the effects of two widely-acknowledged secular trends within many contemporary democracies: rising economic inequality and the increasing capital-intensity of their militaries. A highly capitalized military, with a low probability of conscription and casualties, allows the median voter to shift the costs of building and using a military to the wealthy. This cost-shifting increases the median voter’s demand. Analysis of public opinion data across a number of democracies confirms this cost distribution theory’s prediction that one’s relative wealth predicts one’s support for defense spending. A closer inspection of Israeli public opinion confirms this finding, and shows that relative income contributes to one’s willingness to use force and unwillingness to make concessions to avoid military conflict. The paper concludes by exploring the theory’s implications: if a majority of voters can dampen their aversion to war by the shifting of costs onto a wealthy minority, then a democracy with high income inequality and a capitalized military may more readily resort to an aggressive and militarized foreign policy.

Jonathan Caverley is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, where he co-chairs the Working Group on Security Studies at the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies. During the 2011-12 academic year he is a Visiting Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University. Dr. Caverley is currently writing a book on militarism in democracies. His research has been supported by the Buffett Center’s Crown Family Middle East Research Fund; the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University; the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation; and the Program in International Security Policy, University of Chicago. Professor Caverley previously served as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy and as an Assistant Professor of Naval Science at Northwestern University, where he taught undergraduate classes in Naval Engineering and in Leadership and Management. He has consulted for the RAND Corporation, where he helped develop scenarios for responding to a biological weapons attack in East Asia. Dr. Caverley received his Ph.D. and M.P.P.from the University of Chicago, and an A.B. in History and Literature from Harvard College. He is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.