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Synthesis/Regeneration 48   (Winter 2008)

Military Spending Is Bad for the Economy

by Mary Ann McGivern

Military spending is bad for the economy. Because it is capital-intensive, whatís made in the US doesnít create very many jobs. Parts and assembly are frequently outsourced and most of the arms exported to other countries are built at least in part in those countries as part of the purchase deals.

But a deeper and more pernicious problem is that military spending and weapons production drain the economy of its most highly skilled labor force, capital, and high-tech processes and product. Engineers and mathematicians at the top of their class want intellectual challenge ó and a high salary to pay off student loans. Military contractors offer both.

Capital and money, but even more, machine and machine tooling capacity, are also drained from the economy by the arms industry. The Pentagon orders and pays for priority delivery of the best. In the process, the Pentagon is driving up the cost of these capital goods and limiting the productive competence of commercial industry. And of course weapons manufacturers absorb capital investment that could be driving new energy efficient or medical or transportation industry.

Ö the brutal truth is that none of our military products generate wealth.

High tech processes run from software to paint application methods, and product examples include composite materials (thin sheets of fabric glued together to make airplane bodies), fighter plane windshield wipers that function at 1000 mph, oxygen delivery valves in fighter pilot suits. Investment in these narrow applications, the stockpile of patents shelved because the firms have no interest in commercial applications, and the top secret stamp on research all inhibit development of better coal exhaust scrubbers, photovoltaic cells, nursing home oxygen tank valves, etc.

Economist Lloyd J. Dumas makes the point that military spending is a value choice. Another example of such a choice was the building of the cathedrals, also a drain of skilled labor, capital and technology from general economic well-being.

Finally, the brutal truth is that none of our military products generate wealth. They donít stimulate support industries like gas stations or computer repair. They donít enhance the productive competence of industry. The best we can hope for is that these glittering, glamorous guns and warships and missiles will rust out on some back lot. The worst is that these weapons will be used, laying waste to wealth, killing the future.

As we speak about health care, energy, transportation, education, agriculture ó all the elements of our vision of a better world ó we must also name the costs in money, waste and lost opportunity of our investment in weapons for ourselves and for all the nations and paramilitary forces we arm. If you want to see how much the US spends and how we compare with other nations, go to http:\\www.warresisters.org and click on the pie chart at the bottom of the page.

The money is there to build a better world. We just need the political will to claim it.

Mary Ann McGivern lives in St. Louis where she tries to develop community alternatives to the military/prison industrial complex. She is a gardener.

[17 dec 08]

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