In the rarified world of economics and industrial engineering, there was
never anyone like Columbia University professor Seymour Melman. I grew
up reading and listening to the prophetic, factual and hard-nosed
arguments he made for his anti-war and worldwide disarmament causes in
the specialized and, occasionally, the major media as well.
There were Seymour Melman's op-eds and letters to the editor in the New
York Times starting in his twenties. There were his cogent Congressional
testimonies about the permanent war economy and its damage to our
civilian economy and necessities of the American people. His economic
conversion plans and his advocacy for a muscular peace agreement with
the Soviet Union illuminated what kind of economy, innovation and
prosperity could be ours in the U.S.A.
Melman's work was detailed and he challenged what President Eisenhower
called the "military-industrial complex" like that of no other academic.
He would show how talented scientific and engineering skills were sucked
into this permanent war economy to the detriment of civilian jobs and
economic development as if people's well-being mattered. "To eliminate
hunger in America = $4-5 billion = C-5A aircraft program," he would say,
referring to Lockheed Martin's chronically bungled, defective and costly
Melman's consulting services were in great demand. His numerous books
made such sense to people for whom foresight was a valued attitude. He
advised citizen groups, unions, legislators and the United Nations. For
years he was chairman of the National Commission for Economic Conversion
Into his eighties, Mr. Melman probed the arcane regions of weapons
systems. He meticulously took apart the wrong ways the
corporate-dominated Pentagon priced the corporate cost of subs, ships,
planes and other modern weaponry, by way of explaining the staggering
spiral of weapon budgets.
The titles of his books spoke to his concerns - "Our Depleted Society,"
"Pentagon Capitalism" and "Profits Without Production". As a World War
II veteran, he knew the difference between an adequate defense and
weaponry "overkill". He calculated that US nuclear weapons had the power
to destroy the Soviet Union 1,250 times over. He asked, how much is too
much of a drain on our economy and well-being?
With the demise of the Soviet Union and the agreement on dismantling
many of those nuclear warheads on both sides, Mr. Melman looked forward
to the "peace dividends" and the economic conversion or retooling he so
long urged. It was not to happen. The military budget now consumes half
of the entire federal government's operating expenditures.
In his later years, Melman promoted the idea of self-management as an
alternative to giant corporations. For the last twenty years the media
blacked him out. He could scarcely get an article published in the
newspapers or even in the progressive magazines. On frenetic radio and
television, he did not qualify because he spoke in paragraphs and was
elderly - an electronic bigotry that is keeping many wise, older
Americans from communicating with their younger generations.
It was precisely because he had been so right again and again that print
media tired of his research even though it was up to date. How many
Americans know, for example, that 90% of the products sold in the 2002
L.L. Bean catalogue were imported? He counted them, to make his point
about the de-industrialization of America.
How many people would want to know that a recent New York City contract
for mass transit vehicles received only foreign bidders? Not one
American company was there to compete and provide the jobs for the $3
billion dollar project.
Before he passed away this month, Seymour Melman had completed a concise
book manuscript titled, "Wars, Ltd.: The Rise and Fall of America's
Permanent War Economy". He was having trouble finding a good publisher,
when I spoke with him earlier this summer. But he will leave a legacy of
wisdom, insight, humanity, consistency, and diligence.
In a society whose rulers and corporatists seal the people off from such
magnificent minds and inundate them with trivia, distraction and the hot
air artists daily bellowing their lucrative ignorance, sagacious
Americans like Seymour Melman will not receive the attention the
citizenry deserves unless we the people, who own the public airwaves,
begin to control and use our own media rights
For more information, visit www.citizenworks.org