Military Spending Talking Points

The following is an email I published to the Peace Action network on November 4, 2009. The points made in that email are still valid today. This post represents a break from making the case from denying President Barack Obama a second term to a focus on restructuring the Democratic Party to adopt a whole new set of policies to change the destructive course of the nation.

The high cost of military spending is usually illustrated by reference to what the rest of the world spends, to its inefficiency as a job creator or to the cost of individual weapons systems. There is a much more complete case to be made of the deleterious effects of military spending and I hope the following information will help others to make that more comprehensive case.

I. Overall Economic Performance

The Council on Economic Priorities has found through its studies that the more a country spends on the military as a part of the economy, the slower the economic growth, the higher the unemployment rate and the slower the productivity growth. (1)

The Council’s studies are buttressed by a noted study conducted by three economists, which concluded that the alleged Reagan-Bush “boom” was really a bust. The study compared four post-World War II periods: 1948-1966, 1966-1973, 1973-1979 and 1979-1989 on three measures of economic performence: Real GNP Growth, Investment Pace and Productivity Growth. The period 1979-1989 performed well below the first two periods on all three measures and below 1973-1979 on Investment Pace. The latter period bettered 1973-1979 by only one tenth of a percent on Real GNP Growth and by four tenths of a percent on Productivity Growth. (2) The study further found that Productivity Growth in the 1979-1989 period was well behind that of leading competing economies. (3)

Economic performance in the 1973-1979 period was severely battered by inflation, due to the sharp cut in production by oil-producing nations; moreover, a central characteristic of the 1979-1989 period was the huge Reagan military buildup.

In regard to job creation, the Council of Economic Priorities’ studies show that for every $1 billion of governmental expenditure, civilian service jobs (like teaching) employ far more people that does spending $1 billion on weapons production. (4) For example, an unemployment research group concluded in the early 1980s that $1 billion in expenditures would create an average of 24,000 jobs in nuclear weapons production and an average of 38,000 jobs in civilian industries. (5)

II. Effect on Rate of Inflation

Military spending tends to drive up the rate of inflation because: 1) it uses up capital, raw materials and research talent with little or no positive economic benefit; 2) it doesn’t make things that consumers can buy; and 3) it uses up huge chunks of the federal budget, meaning there is little money for the kinds of investments that make the economy more efficient. (6) Furthermore, cost-plus contractors are guaranteed a profit over their costs, so there is no incentive to hold down costs.  

III. High Rates of Military Spending Drown Out Civilian Research

As a direct consequence of the big surge in military spending in the Reagan 80s, the U.S. spent the highest percentage of its resources on militarily-related research on a comparative-nation basis. (7) In the mid-1980s, 70 percent of the U.S. Research and Development budget was devoted to militarily-related activity and even as late as FY 1993, 57 percent was in the military research category. (8) One Reagan-initiated program alone, the University Research Initiative, doled out $85-100 million to universities for militarily significant basic research. (9)

IV, The Military Is a Voracious Consumer of a Highly Skilled Workforce

As of 1992, and according to the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, it was estimated that 342,000, or 18 percent of the nation’s 1.86 million engineers were engaged in military work, including 73,000 employed directly by the Department of Defense. (10) Moreover, based on 1986 National Science Foundation survey data, 69 percent of aeronautical and astronautical engineers, 50 percent of oceanographers, 34 percent of physicists, and 32 percent of electrical and electronic engineers worked in military jobs. (11) Former German Chancellor Willy Brandt estimated that out of every 1,000 scientists all over the world, 200 were occupied with research into arms technology. (12)

V. The U.S. Military Is a Major Polluter

In an early 1990s study, the Pentagon’s Defense Environmental Restroration Program found 17,482 toxic hot spots at domestic military institutions. (13) The Worldwatch Institute reported in a 1991 strudy that the world’s militaries accounted for six to ten percent of global air pollution, (14) while a much more recent finding is that the U.S. military is the biggest polluter in the world, generating an estimated 750,000 tons of toxic waste every year. (15) According to the media group, Project Censored, the Pentagon has 10,000 employees who do nothing but handle the legal technicalities of military pollution. (16)

That the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency are not pulling in the same direction is exemplified by the fact that Donald Rumsfeld, while secretary of defense, requested and was granted more exemptions from environmental protection legislation than was the case with any other secretary of defense after the EPA was established.

VI. The  Military Is a Major Contributor to U.S. Oil Dependency

Early in the 21st century, the U.S. military was consuming 330,000 barrels of oil a day. (17) According to a former secretary of the air force, Thomas C. Reed, the eight-engine B-52, — some of which are still flying today — uses up 15 tons of fuel in one hour at full-throttle flight. (18) At a “fully burdened” cost of $400 a gallon, 15 tons of fuel would cost about $1,440,000.

Besides high oil consumption, the U.S. military was consuming more aluminum, copper, nickel and platinum in the early 1990s than was much of the Third World. (19) We are, in effect, shortening the useful life of the earth’s finite resources through our reliance on a huge military establishment — a resource-use crime of unimaginable proportions. This crime encompasses our arms export program, which leads to other nations devoting a larger share of their resources for weapons of war.

VII. Rank Inflation Contributes to High Military Cost

The trend in the U.S.military has been to increase the ratio of middle-rank and flag-rank officers to enlisted men and women. In 1985, the armed forces had about one-sixth (2.2 million) the 1945 number of enlisted men and women but employed one-half the number of generals and admirals, and nearly the same number of field-grade officers than it had 40 years before, during a world war. (20)

VIII. “Fully Burdened” Fuel Cost Highlights Overseas Bases Cost

Finally,  the startling revelation by the Pentagon that the “fully burdened” cost of a gallon of gasoline used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan is $400 has brought glaringly to home the high cost of supplying and maintaining our vast overseas military base complex.

(1) Robert DeGrasse, Paul Murphy and William Ragan, The Cost and Consequences of Reagan’s Military Buildup (New York Council on Economic Priorities, 1982).

(2) Samuel Bowles, David M. Gordon and Thomas Weisskopf, “The ‘Boom’ a Bust,” The Nation, February 10, 1992.

(3) Ibid.

(4) DeGrasse

(5) Marion Anderson, Jeb Brugmann and George Ericheck, Destructive Investment, Nuclear Weapons and Economic Decline (Lansing, Michigan: Economic Research Associates, 1983).

(6) David Walsh, “Economic Impact of Buildup Argued, ” Boston Globe, January 5, 1982.

(7) DeGrasse.

(8) Gary Chapman and Joel Yudkin, Briefing Book on the Military-Industrial Complex (Washington, DC: Council for a Livable World Education Fund, December 1992).

(9) Ibid.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Willy Brandt, Arms and Hunger ( New York: Pantheon Books, 1986).

(13) John W. Miller, “The Militaries’ War on  the  Environment,” The Nonviolent Activist, November-December 1992.

(14) Ibid.

(15) Graydon Carter, What We’ve Lost (New York: Straus and Giroux, 2004).

(16) Ibid.

(17) Ibid.

(18) Thomas C. Reed, At the Abyss (New York: Ballentine Books, 2004).

(19) Miller.

(20) Rich West, “Military Mania,” SANE World, Summer 1987.

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