Guest Column (Sept. 4, 2008)

 Sept. 4, 2008
By Susan Shaer

Creating jobs with better investment

Good jobs are simply the backbone of what keeps a society running. They pay for houses, food, education, recreation, transportation and government. As jobs evaporate, the huge engine of our economy sputters and slows, so it’s no wonder we are so protective of any project that creates or protects good jobs.

This atmosphere of protection wraps itself around the elements of the federal budget that create jobs, and affects our federal spending priorities more than most of us could possibly imagine.

The biggest sector of that economy is the military. It eats up over half of our federal discretionary budget pie, leaving crumbs for human and environmental needs. But changing those budget slices has proven nearly impossible over the years since President Dwight Eisenhower warned after World War II that the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience.”

Almost every debate about cutting the military budget circles back to the issue of jobs. The military establishment is good at creating jobs, and at educating Congress about how those jobs are central to our economy. What this means is that every member of Congress who guards the jobs in a district ends up protecting the military projects that generate these jobs.

When Congress considers the prospect of cutting a military project — e.g., a weapons system or a military base — legislators have to consider how many jobs will be lost. Losing jobs means losing votes; defying the military means losing support.

How, then, can we begin to scale back the enormous military machine that our country has built since World War II? It’s a daunting, yet hardly impossible, task. In fact, it’s almost simple; we can create jobs in other areas that have proven to provide more employment opportunities per dollar spent.

In late 2007, economists at the University of Massachusetts published a report that compares the number of jobs generated by investing $1 billion in different sectors. Here is what they found:

1) Investing $1 billion in the military creates 8,500 jobs.

2) Allocating $1 billion of tax revenue to tax cuts for personal consumption generates approximately 10,800 jobs.

3) Investing $1 billion generates either 12,800 construction jobs for home weatherization and infrastructure; 12,900 health care jobs; 17,700 education jobs; or 19,800 mass transit jobs.

The bottom line is that investing public dollars in areas other than the military — such as health care, education, mass transit or home weatherization — creates significantly more jobs than investing that same amount in the military. Investing in education and mass transit creates twice as many jobs as investing in the military.

So what’s holding us back? A lot of people and corporations have hugely vested interests in keeping that money where it is.

The numbers say a lot. In 2007, 27 cents of each tax dollar went to the military. In that year alone, the defense sector spent $127,514,836 on lobbying activities. One corporation spent more than $10 million. By contrast, a group that advocates for rational arms control and nuclear disarmament spent $80,000. In 2006, defense corporations spent $18 million in campaign contributions. A top defense contractor contributed over $2 million.

It’s time to rethink how we spend our tax dollars. The truth is, when we invest federal funds in projects that are not military related, we generate substantially more jobs.

Susan Shaer is executive director of Women’s Action for New Directions.