In recent years, public officials in the United States and abroad have expressed increasing concern over the economic effects of defense spending. It has been alleged that defense spending is a major cause of the budget deficit and is at the root of America's economic “decline.” Even in the Soviet Union, questions are now being raised about the impact of military spending on the civilian economy.
As director of a research program at Harvard that focuses on economics and national security, I decided it was important to offer a course on the “political economy of national security.” While Harvard and other major universities in the Boston area offer courses in political economy on the one hand and national security on the other, students have few opportunities to examine national defense from an economic perspective. Given that national security is the largest single economic activity in the United States and many other countries, and given intense student interest in the topic, the time was ripe to devise such a course.
The course was first offered in the Harvard Summer School, which is open to undergraduate and graduate students from Harvard and other universities. The only prerequisite was an introductory course in economics. As it turns out, most of the students were more than adequately prepared; among those who attended were students from Harvard Business School, the Kennedy School of Government, some local defense industry executives, military officers, and a number of Ph.D. candidates. For those who might consider offering such a course, I would suggest that the required economics course not be waived in any circumstances; otherwise you will spend a lot of time explaining basic concepts.