New Math for a New (We Hope) Era

Posted by Bobbi Murray on June 12, 2008

Long, long ago, children, in 1981, Ronald Reagan became President of the United States and expanded the military budget by 43 percent over what it was during the U.S. war in Viet Nam.

He also scared the holy hell out of most of the planet when he decided to site nuclear missiles in Western Europe and did other things that pushed the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

Millions around the world mobilized, and there was even a demonstration in New York with a million people — geez, the google shows us it was June 12, 1982, exactly 26 years ago to the day.

So you see that was in the olden days, instead of now, when you can demonstrate until you’re blue in the face and the Bush Administration STILL attacks Iraq. Because the mobilizations, plus other political factors, actually seemed to have an effect.

The Reagan Administration, adamantly against anything that could be seen as a soft line on the Cold War, entered into disarmament talks with the Soviet Union, compromised on strategic nuclear weapons and took other surprising steps.

But I’ve been thinking about another aspect of the work against military buildup that we might dust off for modern times. Activists back then could reel off examples of what each billion that went to “defense” spending hardware could yield in terms of jobs and societal benefit when expended on civilian purposes like education or infrastructure.

Maybe we should re-tool that tactic now that political change could be in the offing —get ready to spit out the stats about what kind of jobs we could create, what infrastructure we could build, what social needs we could meet if we redirected some of the military’s bloated allowance.

I got thinking about this when I read Robert Scheer’s recent piece on “Indefensible Spending” wherein he writes about a Pentagon budget this year that “set a post-World War II record at $625 billion, and that does not include more than $100 billion in other federal budget expenditures for homeland security, nuclear weapons and so-called black budget — or covert — operations.”

He didn’t mention one of my favorite expenditures, which was $7 billion the U.S. gave to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf over several years to help with The War On Terror.

Did Musharraf spend it counter terrorist efforts — like maybe looking along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for the guys behind the operation that flew jets into U.S. buildings? Nope, he spent it on big-time hardware more suitable for menacing India in the two countries’ ongoing tensions.

Read the Los Angeles Times story on the Web site here.

Scheer notes that the contractors that soak up the military budget gravy are developing weapons systems more suited to vanquishing our erstwhile Cold War superpower enemies than addressing any low-tech terrorist threat.

One of his main points is that the candidates haven’t mentioned the record military spending at all during the present election because, Scheer says, pols on both sides of the aisle benefit from the spending.

For one thing, it brings donations to campaign coffers — the thanks of grateful corporations.

The military projects also bring jobs to the district, Scheer notes.

Scheer, who has been writing about this stuff for a very long time, no doubt knows the statistics about how many more jobs could be created with equal expenditures in civilian sectors.

That wasn’t his point and would have dragged him from the bracing clarity of the central argument in his piece.

That’s why I’m bringing it up here.

Military spending is painfully embedded in politics. But if a political shift is imminent, as we sure hope it is, it can’t hurt to raise the question about how much cluck for our buck we get from military spending. Maybe do some new math that shows, say, how many high quality “green” jobs could be created, or teachers hired or bridges built with the $300 billion underwriting the Joint Strike Fighter Program.

Now that such terms as “global warming” and “ozone layer” are part of the common vocabulary, I’ll bet our citizens would be more inclined to discuss the ways public investment could create jobs that benefit the environment instead of destroy it.

Of course, there are people who are way ahead of me. In October 2007, Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, came out with the study The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities.

Pollin and Garrett-Peltier explain:

Specifically, we have shown that spending on personal consumption, health care, education, mass transit, and construction for home weatherization and infrastructure repair all create more jobs per $1 billion in expenditures relative to military spending.

It is true that jobs generated by military spending tend to pay relatively well, which is part of the reason that fewer jobs are created per dollar of expenditure than through alternative spending targets. However, we have also seen that $1 billion in spending on education, on average, generates more than twice the number of jobs as does military spending, and higher-paying jobs.

So, for those of you who are better at math than I am, pick a weapons system, find the price tag and figure out how many good jobs we could drum up while providing adequate health care.

Hey — when I Googled for this report, you know one of the places I found it? On Barack Obama’s Web site. Just sayin’.

If you like this article, please subscribe to Shelterforce in print or make a small donation to keep Rooflines strong.



There are no comments on this article yet. Start the discussion below.

POST YOUR COMMENTS register or login