YouTube video

As unemployment in the US rises, old War on Terror appeals to national security are taking a backseat to economic justifications. The US military industry has adjusted to this new reality by crafting its requests for government funding on the basis of its capacity to provide employment. This despite evidence that military spending is one of the least effective means of job creation.

Story Transcript

Weapons programs rebranded

JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: As debate over the economic stimulus package gripped Washington this week, the elephant in the room was the US’ trillion-dollar military budget. Democratic Congressman Barney Frank was a lone voice in the mainstream media calling for cuts to that budget. In recent weeks, Frank has taken his message directly to This Week on ABC, as well as NBC’s Meet the Press, where he said the following:

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA): —some of the arguments you’ve been hearing now about how government spending never helps the economy. You’re going to hear the absolute reverse when military spending comes up. We have an airplane, the F-22, that is designed to defeat the Soviet Union in a war, and I think we can save billions. And the defense budget has gone way up under George Bush. But somehow to my Republican friends, enormous amounts for the war in Iraq, which I thought was a mistake, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars for weapons to fight the Cold War, they don’t count those. But you’re going to hear an argument about how important military spending is to the economy.

FREESTON: When Frank published an op-ed three days later, the exact argument appeared in a Google context ad alongside his article in The Nation. The ad links to a petition pressuring Congress to release more government funds to build more F-22 Raptors, the same plane that Frank and others have pointed to as an example of wasteful military spending. The focus of the campaign is on the Raptors’ importance as a job provider. The ads in the accompanying petition are being run anonymously and appear alongside most articles that deal with the topic of military spending. One voice that has been leading the charge for increased defense spending is the ostensibly fiscally conservative economist Martin Feldstein, former chief economic advisor to President Reagan. Bloomberg TV spoke to Feldstein as he entered a meeting with leading House Democrats.


Courtesy: Bloomberg

MARTIN FELDSTEIN, PROF. ECONOMICS, HARVARD UNIV.: —the ability to use increased defense spending as a way of creating jobs.

REPORTER: Defense spending—tell me exactly why you think that’s going to be good fuel for this economy right now. And do you think Democrats have an appetite for that?

FELDSTEIN: Well, we’ll find out the answer to whether they have an appetite, but I think the defense programs can increase very quickly. They can hire people; they can put out orders; they can move much more quickly than, say, infrastructure spending.


FREESTON: We asked military expert Miriam Pemberton whether or not military spending is helpful in stimulating the economy.

MIRIAM PEMBERTON, MILITARY ANALYST, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: A group of economists at the University of Massachusetts did a study two years ago looking at how many jobs could be created from a billion dollars of military spending versus the same amount spent on health care, mass transit, home weatherization, and education, and personal consumption—that is, tax cuts. And what they found was that military spending is nearly the worst job creator among all those categories. The only thing that was worse was cutting taxes for personal consumption. So home weatherization, mass transit, education, health care, all of those would create more jobs than would be created by an equivalent amount of military spending.

FREESTON: Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan provided a similar conclusion in testimony before the House in 1999. Then, as now, it was Barney Frank asking the questions. Frank asked, “Military products, as you previously said here, to the extent you could put those same dollars into other areas, maybe education and job training, maybe into transportation, you are dollar-for-dollar more likely to have a better economic effect. Is that an accurate reference to what you are saying here?” Greenspan responded, “Yes it is, Mr. Frank.” Frank continued further: “To the extent you can reduce military spending consistent with your security needs, that is going to have a good economic effect?” Greenspan: “Yes.” While it remains to be seen if the military industry will be able to capitalize on the government’s attempts to stimulate the US economy, what effect that the crisis is already having on the military is providing a surge in recruitment. All four branches reported that they had met or exceeded their recruitment targets for the month of January, a task that has been exceedingly difficult over recent years.

PEMBERTON: The president has talked about expanding the size of the armed forces by 100,000. And in an economic downturn, I would say the economics works in favor of fulfilling that goal, because as people lose jobs, the military becomes the employer of last resort.

FREESTON: President Obama’s ambitious recruitment target is made even more achievable with favorable media coverage like this local six o’clock news report from CBS affiliate WNCT in North Carolina.


Courtesy: WNCT

ALLAN HOFFMAN, NEWS ANCHOR, WNCT: With the economy, though, they could face an uphill battle to find jobs. But as our Phillip Jones explains, some local high school students got an up-close look today at one employer that’s always hiring: the military.

PHILIP JONES, REPORTER, WNCT: —but these students are getting more than just a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on here at Cherry Point on a daily basis. With an economy that’s in turmoil and so few businesses in the private sector hiring, they’re getting an up-close glimpse at a career field that could offer them some serious job security.

VANESSA LAWRENCE, COMMUNITY PLANNER, US MARINE CORPS: I think, first of all, that many young people are looking to the stability and security in these turbulent times.

JONES: But Cherry Point community planner Vanessa Lawrence says a career in the military offers unparalleled job security and job satisfaction. She would know: she joined the Navy and served in the Gulf War after she attended National Groundhog Job Shadow Day when she was in high school.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Miriam Pemberton is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She heads a group that produces the annual "Unified Security Budget for the United States" and she is a former Director of the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament. She is co-editor, with William Hartung, of "Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding the Next War".