Modern war has frequently been described as “total” war. While such a description may not be precisely meaningful, it serves to emphasize the magnitude of the social changes which are now inevitably associated with a major war effort. Modern war has been well described as an industrial art, whose effective prosecution necessitates fundamental alterations in the manner of operation of the democratic peace-time economy.
The basic problems which confront a country in time of war may be classified as follows: (1) producing the goods and services necessary for carrying on the war; (2) paying for the goods and services used for war purposes; (3) supplying the everyday needs of the civilian population. While it is with the second problem, that of financing the war effort, that we shall be directly concerned in this paper, the fundamental and most immediate problem is that of production, to which all others must always be subordinated. Because of the enormous technological advances in the methods of modern warfare, World War II presented all of these problems on a scale vastly greater than ever before.
In time of war there occurs a revaluation of social ends, and maintenance of the state itself becomes the supreme social objective. To accomplish this objective under conditions of modern warfare, it is essential that, the organization and expansion of war production be accomplished with the utmost, possible speed. This point was well illustrated by the experience in World War II, where the problem of mobilizing the required quantities of productive resources was extremely complex, and where various nations with superior economic war potentials found themselves in imminent danger of suffering defeat before their full economic strength could be directed effectively against the enemy. Under these circumstances, where speed is the essence of effective economic mobilization, the sudden demand for an ever-increasing quantity and variety of war goods and services is likely to be highly inelastic, since the needs must be satisfied, if at all possible, regardless of price. But in the short run, supply is also relatively inelastic, and the government consequently finds itself confronted with immediate problems of procurement.