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December 1, 1971

Columbia University economist and professor of industrial engineering Seymour Melman delivered the Crego lecture on “War Economy and Capitalism.” A lifelong advocate of disarmament, Melman gave impetus to the antiwar cause in the ‘50s by his analyses of the social costs of military spending. A popularizer of the term “overkill,” Melman asked in a letter to The New York Times in 1964, “Isn’t 1,250 times overkill enough? Since the Soviets by the same calculation can overkill the United State only 145 times, are we to believe that any advantage exists here for either side?”

His talk at Vassar presented economic data that challenged the assumption that industrial capitalism required military spending on a large scale. In addition, he claimed, “with the Cold War, government entered into new relations with military spending,” shifting control of capital and “definable central executive” decision-making to the Pentagon, thus creating what Professor Melman called “Pentagon Capitalism.”

The Miscellany News

Melman’s 1974 book, The Permanent War Economy: American Capitalism in Decline, presented his case in trade-offs: one Huey helicopter, for example, could buy 66 low-priced homes, and the $4-5 billion saved with the elimination of the C5A aircraft program could eliminate hunger in America. The Crego lecture, part of the Crego Endowment, established in 1956 by Jean Crego ’32, in honor of her father, sponsored an annual lecture in the general field of economics, under the auspices of the economics department.

The Years