Published on
The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Spending to Stimulate Peace

Tom Hastings

With each new day comes more bad economic news. Will this reach our home, my job, my savings, and will I have health care and a roof over my head by this time next year?

In the swirl of the economic terrorism that is a far greater threat to far more of us than Osama bin Laden ever was, let's try to think our way to a bit of an overview.

We have just finished eight years of massive overspending on the military. During this period, more defense dollars shifted from paying personnel to paying corporate contractors than during any other period in U.S. history. While some jobs are created in this way, it turns out that fewer of them are created when we "invest" in the military than in any other sector of the economy -- thus a net loss of jobs.

So we spend on the military and it loses jobs, produces many U.S. casualties, causes massive numbers of dead Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and wrecks infrastructures. That "investment" thus transmogrifies millions of foreigners from those who used to see America as a bit of a blundering well-intentioned global giant into our sworn enemies. Bin Laden's victory is nearing completion.

Military spending creates far fewer jobs (8,555 per $1 billion) than any other form of public investment, be it health care (12,883), education (17,687), mass transit (19,795) or infrastructure/home weatherization (12,804).

Is it any wonder that our economy is drained flat? It was ordered by George "The Decider" Bush, a man who inherited the largest surplus ever, from the boom years of the 1990s, and who invented new ways to use it all up as fast as possible, leaving us right where we sit today. He didn't even have the cajones to include all his wars in his budget, since it would have looked even more lopsided than it did. Instead, he came to Congress once or twice each year with a ransom note for tens or hundreds of billions of your dollars. All wasted. All gone. All the worst investment possible.

And now, as we sit bloody on the pavement after the crash of the economy, the Pentagon and its contractors have the unimaginable gall to tell us how much we need to keep spending on Cold War relics, on overseas bases, and on contractors so no one in the armed forces has to peel a potato. They claim it creates jobs. They think we are unutterably stupid. With "protectors" like these, who needs foreign enemies? Oh, that's right: They do.

As someone who works in a field -- education-- that creates healthy, knowledgeable minds and generates about twice as many jobs per billion dollars invested as does our war machine, I'd say it's time to crunch the numbers and be the Deciders to invest in our nation's future: in mass transit, in education, in infrastructure and conservation, in the kind of civil society that can produce good food, efficient transport, excellent health care for all and a new generation of talent to compete in the global marketplace. Time to make our economy run on sweat and the bright light of good ideas, not blood. 

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Tom H. Hastings teaches at Portland State University and is director of PeaceVoice.

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