War Bonds, Pt 2: Financial Education and Propaganda

The amount of investment information that was available to the American versus Canadian student, in the World War II savings bonds albums, is striking. The ten year return on investment (ROI), i.e. earned value divided by the the invested value, that the United States was offering public school students was clearly stated at 33.3%.

US War Savings Bond: ROI = $6.25 / $18.75 = 33.3%

After ten years, according to the American stamp album, the U.S. Government was offering a maturity value of $25 on Series E bonds. The student was being offered an annual interest rate of 2.9% backed by the “full faith and credit of the United States Government.”

In contrast, the Canadian pupil’s War Savings Pass Book offered little to no investment information or financial education. The Canadian certificates themselves, Dominion of Canada War Loans and Victory Loans, earned 3% interest per year.

But the student’s savings book was focused on the costs to outfit a Canadian soldier. The field service cap, gas mask, rifle and bayonet, steel helmet uniform and boots together cost $114.82. It cost $5.47 to keep a soldier in reserve per day, and $8.22 for a soldier to be in action overseas.

This war must be won…

The Canadian savings book was more propagandistic. My Uncle Don’s album was pro-war as it was. [That’s Uncle Don Tompkins. I have another Great Uncle Don Coulson, originally from Capreol, Ontario.] But in another year the War Savings Committee asked children to “stamp out” jingoistic portraits of 3 Axis leaders.

Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Imperial General & Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and a third individual who is only recognizable to me as a cartoon. Looking at a list of the West’s enemies was no help.

  • Kingdom of Bulgaria
  • The Third Reich (Germany)
  • Kingdom of Hungary
  • Kingdom of Italy
  • Empire of Japan
  • Kingdom of Romania

Do you recognize the man with the bulbous chin? In Canada, children were encouraged that each “stamp will buy 12 bullets.”

[Update! My good friend Gil and cousin Bryce both confirmed that the man with the fat chin is in fact Uncle Benny, Benito Mussolini, Prime Minister of Italy and Duce of Fascism. Perhaps the raptor on the hat should have given it away.]

Il Duce

American students had more visibility into the earnings potential of savings bonds, but in both cases the annual rate of return was right around 3%. Neither booklet explained that much more money could be earned by investing in defense contractors directly.

As Jon Schwarz wrote for The Intercept in August 2021, just as the United States and Canada’s longest ever overseas conflict in Afghanistan was concluding, war can be far more profitable. Using a dividend reinvestment program (DRIP), if a young investor was able to make a $100 contribution back in September 2001 when the conflict was signed into existence, and distributed evenly across Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics, their money would now be worth $973. That is a 20-year 873% return on investment.

Defense Contractors: ROI = $873 / $100 = 873%

As a whole, Standard & Poor’s index of the performance of 500 large companies on American stock exchanges or the S&P 500, has been on a tear over the same period. War over there is just good for business here.

S&P 500: ROI = $516 / $100 = 516%

Supplying war though is more profitable. Four of the five top defense contractors beat the market. Lockheed Martin earned investors a 1,236% 20 year return or 13.9% annualized interest rate. If you can get in on the action by selling the bullets yourself, the rewards can be even more lucrative.