Post-War Capital Accumulation and the Threat of Nuclear War
The hypothesis of this paper is that the performance and, in particular, the rate of capital accumulation of the post-war U.S. economy has been influenced by the changes in the public perception of the threat of a catastrophic nuclear war. An increased threat shortens the expected horizon of individuals and firms, and thus reduces the willingness to postpone present consumption in favor of investment. The hypothesis is tested by expanding a standard savings function estimation technique to include a measure of the perceived threat of nuclear war. Four alternative measures of the perceived threat are considered, all of which are based on the setting of the clock published monthly in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which reflects the editors' judgment about the likelihood of a nuclear conflict. The tests all support a large and statistically significant impact of the threat of nuclear war on the rate of private saving. These tests are not viewed as conclusive evidence in favor of the economic impact of the perceived threat of nuclear war. Nevertheless, this research suggests that economists may have been overlooking an important source of variation in the post-war, post-nuclear U.S. economy. Conceivably, it could affect not only the private savings rate but also such things as the level of investment in human capital, the level of asset prices, the term structure of interest rates, and the rate of inflation.