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Guns or Butter

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

The "guns or butter" model is generally used as a simplification of national spending as a part of GDP. The nation will have to decide which level of guns and butter best fulfill its needs, with its choice being partly influenced by the military spending and military stance of potential opponents.

This model does not typically correlate well with free market economies.[1]

This article contains content from Wikipedia. Current versions of the GNU FDL article Guns versus butter model on WP may contain information useful to the improvement of this article WP

Origins of the term[edit]

One theory on the origin of the concept comes from William Jennings Bryan's resignation as secretary of state in the Wilson Administration. 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 America's nitrate requirements, as it was also the principal ingredient of chemical fertilizer in farming. The export product was sodium nitrate, a salt mined in northern Chile.

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 against 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. It was not until September 1917, several months after America 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 usage of term[edit]

Perhaps the best known actual usage (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." Sometime in the summer of the same year, Hermann Göring announced in a speech, "Guns will make us powerful; butter will only make us fat."[2]

Another use of the term was Margaret Thatcher's reference in a speech that, "The Soviets put guns over butter, but we put almost everything over guns."[3]

Great Society example[edit]

United States President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society programs in the 1960s is an example of the guns versus butter model. While Johnson wanted to continue New Deal Liberalism, his administration was also an active participant in the arms race, the Cold War, and Vietnam War. These put strains on the economy, and hampered his Great Society programs.

Guns and Butter references in pop culture[edit]

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List of references to guns and butter in popular culture

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Reference to the dichotomy of guns/butter in popular culture, originates from politics and economics and comes in various forms as guns and butter, guns over butter, guns or butter etc.

  • Gang of Four's 1979 album Entertainment! includes the song "Guns Before Butter."
  • In the 2001 John Singleton movie Baby Boy, Ving Rhames' character claims there are "two types of niggas, niggas with guns... and niggas with butter."
  • The San Francisco jam band, Hot Buttered Rum String Band, has a song titled Guns or Butter - an anti-war song with the line "less guns, more butter."
  • The 12th episode of the 4th Season of The West Wing is titled "Guns Not Butter".
  • The Prodigy's Grammy-winning album The Fat of the Land CD-booklet asks if a nation should choose guns or butter. The text reads: "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."
  • The first album of artist rapper C-Rayz Walz, Ravipops, contains the song "Guns and butter."
  • Smoke and Mirrors, a 2005 album released by rapper O.C., contains a song called "Guns and butter".
  • KPFA Radio 94.1 FM in Berkeley, California has a show called "Guns and Butter," which investigates the relationships among capitalism, militarism and politics.
  • The song "Industrial Lies," on Cybotron's album Clear, contains the line "You take the butter from the table, use the money, buy a gun; You think the status quo will be there when you're done."
  • The Blue Scholars, a Seattle Hip-Hop group released an album in 2008 titled "Butter and Gun$"
  • The concept also has application in many turn-based strategy games and some real time strategy (RTS) games, as many such games entail simulated simplistic economies involving player decisions to invest in infrastructure and resource gathering or military units. A handful of the many such games have edged even closer to the guns/butter dichotomy with various models of satisfaction or morale or happiness for the electronic citizens of these 'societies', with subsequent increase or decrease in work rate or growth rate or some such attribute.[4]
  • One promise of the Rhinoceros Party of Canada was to ban guns and butter, since both kill.
  • The Global Dilemma: Guns or Butter is a computer game by game designer Chris Crawford concentrating on the macroeconomic relationship between military & civilian spending.[5]
  • In the 2009-2010 season of the Dalhousie University Intramural Co-ed Open Rec Hockey League, the league Champions team name was "Guns and Butter"[6]

See also[edit]


  1. Mankiw, Gregory; "Macroeconomics", Worth Publishers, 2003, for GDP model see pp15-41.
  2. The Columbia World of Quotations, Columbia University Press, 1996, #25152
  3. Speech at Kensington Town Hall ("Britain Awake"), Margaret Thatcher Foundation
  4. Happiness Civ5)
  5. The Global Dilemma: Guns or Butter at Moby Games
  6. Intramural standings Hockey Results at athletics.dal

External links[edit]