The Cost of War and Lost Job Opportunities


Heidi Garrett-Peltier, assistant research professor at PERI, explains how we can create jobs and get closer to the targets we need to hit in order to prevent catastrophic climate change

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Over 350,000 people have been killed directly from war-related violence according to a new study done by Brown University on the cost of war. And of course many more have been killed, directly and indirectly, but the same study states that we have spent almost $4.4 trillion as of 2014 on these wars. But these wars in the long term will likely cost us much more. The question is, to what end? The threats that were stated as the reasons for going to war still exist today.

And since 2007-08 financial crisis, one of the more common arguments used to sustain wars is that it creates jobs. Well, with me to discuss this issue and findings of a paper she wrote titled The Job Opportunity Cost of War, is Heidi Garrett-Peltier. Heidi is an assistant research professor at Political Economy Research Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Thank you so much for joining us.


PERIES: So Heidi, let’s have a layout of what your hypotheses were here, and what your key findings are.

GARRETT-PELTIER: Well as you mentioned, war spending, military spending, is often seen as a way to create jobs. Certainly we don’t go to war in order to create jobs, but it’s been used as one of the defenses for keeping the budget and federal spending on war, on military-related spending, as high as it is. The notion that it creates jobs. So we wanted to look at this question and say, how many jobs are created for each million or each billion dollars of war spending, and what are the alternatives? What if we were to spend that same billion dollars instead on clean energy, or healthcare, or education? What would that do in terms of jobs?

So Bob Pollin and I, Bob Pollin is a co-director here at the Political Economy Research Institute, we’ve been looking at this question ever since I think 2007, was the first time we wrote a paper on this. And every couple of years we’ve updated it with new data. And the results are always the same, that military spending in fact doesn’t create as many jobs as the other areas I mentioned. And the Watson Institute at Brown University started a project a few years ago called the Cost of War Project, where they’re looking at not only the economic cost of war, but also the human cost, the political cost. And there are 25 or 30 of us, lawyers, anthropologists, economists, political scientists, looking at various aspects of the cost of war.

But the piece that I focus on is the job cost. And what we have found is over the length of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the amount of spending that we have done on those three wars and increases to the Pentagon base budget and so on, we could have actually created many more jobs domestically through clean energy and healthcare, and education, and other forms of domestic spending.

PERIES: Now, when you take infrastructure into consideration, and in the comparison you do with the possible jobs created in the green economy, were you looking at, example, the issue of the Amtrak is looming in my head in terms of the lack of spending and cuts to spending in terms of infrastructure. And perhaps if we were having speed trains and building a green economy we wouldn’t be faced with the kind of disasters we saw last week.

So I am wondering whether your study actually made that kind of comparison in terms of the infrastructure we spend on in the military compared to the, to green jobs and green economy infrastructure.

GARRETT-PELTIER: Yeah, we didn’t detail infrastructure in the military versus infrastructure elsewhere, but we did include the category of rail transportation in our clean energy and overall spending number. We include wind, solar, bioenergy, rail transportation, public transportation more generally. Building weatherization, which is a big source of energy efficiency, and job creation. And importantly, weatherization is a source of job creation that is really geographically dispersed. There are buildings all across the U.S. in every community that are energy-inefficient, and could put people back to work or put people to a greater number of working hours by weatherizing buildings.

PERIES: And so give us an example of the more specific cases that would, society would benefit from spending in a green economy.

GARRETT-PELTIER: Well, this is a big area of my research. And we have so many ways that we can benefit from spending in clean energy. Number one is to reduce carbon emissions. And to get closer to the targets we need to hit to prevent catastrophic climate change, or even less catastrophic climate change that will still affect populations, ecosystems and so on.

There’s the job creation benefit. Like I said with weatherization, that’s geographically dispersed. The renewable energy sector creates various types of jobs, so there are the manufacturing jobs that are created in wind energy and solar energy, and that’s one way we can revitalize our manufacturing sector in the U.S. There are also all the installation jobs that come along with those. So there really are a number of advantages to investing in clean energy. Particularly in comparison to investing in the military, that creates certainly fewer advantages in terms of both jobs and climate.

PERIES: Heidi Garrett-Peltier, thank you so much for joining us today.

GARRETT-PELTIER: Thank you very much for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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