Ruth Leger Sivard, an internationally known economist who sought to demonstrate the cost of militarism by compiling and comparing statistics on global spending for soldiers and doctors, defense and literacy, as well as other measures of national priorities, died Aug. 21 at her home in Washington. She was 99.
The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said her daughter, Susan Sivard.
First as a government analyst and later as an independent researcher and publisher, Ms. Sivard became a foremost authority on how the United States and other nations allocate their resources, great or small, among defense and other societal needs.
She conducted her early comparative studies of military and social spending in the 1960s at the federal Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, where she rose to chief of the economics division.
The reports, as she presented them, were discontinued in 1972 after Melvin R. Laird, defense secretary under President Richard M. Nixon, complained that they “contained misleading comparisons . . . and were complicating the Pentagon’s task of presenting the defense budget to Congress,” as his objection was described by the New York Times.
Ms. Sivard left the arms control agency and formed the Washington-based nonprofit organization World Priorities. With support from groups including the Carnegie Corp. and the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, she began publishing regular installments of an independent report, “World Military and Social Expenditures,” that was widely read among policymakers.
Particularly during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the reports documented “an arms race out of control” and military costs that ballooned amid rampant global ills such as poverty, famine, illiteracy and unemployment.
“With what she knows, she has every right to get on a rooftop and scream,” Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy wrote in 1986. “Instead, after 10 years of analyzing what 142 of the planet’s governments spend their citizens’ money on, she remains a clarifier. The field is small. Few are as skilled.”
Ms. Sivard distributed tens of thousands of copies of her reports, at $5 each, in the 1980s. They were stocked with statistics illuminating what she regarded as “grotesque” excesses in defense spending.
In 1985, she reported that annual global military expenditures had reached $800 billion and that there were enough nuclear weapons in existence to kill 58 billion people — 12 times the world’s population.
There was one soldier for every 43 people in the world — but only one physician for every 1,030.
Saudi Arabia, she reported, spent $500,865 per soldier per year — the highest such rate in the world — but ranked 120th in national literacy rates. By comparison, Finland had the highest literacy rate in the world but ranked 34th in per-soldier costs.
“The Soviet Union,” she said, “in one year spends more on military defense than the governments of all the developing countries spend for education and health care for 3.6 billion people.”
In a report released in 1988, she wrote that “U.S. expenditures on education are barely three-fourths of military expenditures. West Germany, by comparison, spends 40 percent more on public education than on military defense, Japan five times more.’’
Ms. Sivard received wide attention for her reports, which she continued to publish into the mid-1990s.
“The trends so clearly illustrated and documented in this volume . . . are all trends to which, unless they are reversed in time, it is impossible to see any outcomes other than catastrophic ones — and catastrophic in the most extreme meaning of that term,” George F. Kennan, a historian and former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, wrote in a foreword to one installment.
Kennan further observed that “these volumes paint . . . the irrefutable statistical picture of the way in which our civilization is hurrying, in its anxious preoccupation with armed conflict, towards its own destruction.”
Ruth Lucille Leger was born in Queens on Nov. 25, 1915. Her mother immigrated to the United States from Germany and worked as a seamstress, and her father sold fabrics.
Ms. Sivard received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., in 1937 and a master’s degree in economics from New York University in 1942.
During World War II, she worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. After the war, she went to Europe, working with the United Nations in Austria and the International Refugee Organization in Switzerland.
Later, back in Washington, she joined the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, where she ascended the administrative ranks and began her work on the distribution of resources between military and social programs.
“A lot of people wanted to know the total numbers on expenditures, but the government wasn’t ready to let them,” she told the New York Times in 1986. “They say military spending doesn’t have anything to do with social needs. I have always thought that the two were related.”
Ms. Sivard also prepared reports on women, including their role in the economy and government, their education and their health. “Women around the world have one thing in common,” she observed in 1985. “Inequality with men.”
Her husband, Robert Sivard, a former art director for the U.S. Information Agency, designed many of the charts in her reports. He died in 1990 after 46 years of marriage. Survivors include two children, Susan Sivard of New York and James Sivard of Leesburg, Va.; and two grandchildren.
In her decades of statistical analysis, Ms. Sivard concluded that “there is no global security. Governing authorities who expect to achieve it through military power and the suppression of protest have lost touch with reality and their own sense of humanity.”
“We are all involved,” she said. “The money comes out of our pockets, and it may kill us.”