A trillion dollars. It’s a lot of money. In a year it could send 127 million college students to school, provide health insurance for 206 million people, or pay the salaries of seven million schoolteachers and seven million police officers. A trillion dollars could do a lot of good. It could transform or save a lot of lives. Now, imagine doubling the money; no, tripling it.
How about quadrupling it, maybe quintupling it, or even sextupling it? Unfortunately, you really will have to imagine that, because the money to do it isn’t there. It was (or will be) spent on Washington’s disastrous post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
War, the military-industrial complex, and the national security state that go with it cost in every sense an arm and a leg. And that, in the twenty-first century, has been where so many American tax dollars have gone … //
… Early Experiments in Civilianizing the Military Economy: … //
… Downsizing the Global Military Mission, Building a Civilian Economy:
These are promising examples of how to begin the process of converting from a war economy to a civilian one, and they provide reason for optimism, but they are also small potatoes when compared to what might be possible. Consider the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, a vast facility that repairs and rebuilds submarines. It spans 800 acres, contains 30 miles of paved roads and four miles of waterfront, employs 6,750 civilian workers, and has its own police and fire departments. Examining the current job categories at the shipyard reveals a skills base ready to be tapped to develop and produce green-energy technology. From electrical engineers and chemists to machinists, metal workers, and crane operators, there’s plenty of overlap between existing man- and womanpower in military industry and what’s needed for the robust growth of this country’s green energy sector.
For now, though, the shipyard is still doing submarines. And it will keep doing them until Congress makes new and different plans for this country.
A great deal of good can happen if military contractors and militarized communities, one by one, see the writing on the wall and move away from economic dependence on Cold War weapons systems, investing instead in new energy technology. But for such a transition to happen on a national scale, there would have to be a lot more of that writing on far more walls. Even though cuts to the military budget have gone from fantasy to reality, many lawmakers still don’t support substantial reductions in military spending and hope to prevent additional cuts from taking place in 2014.
To really move this country in a new direction, the Pentagon budget would have to be cut substantially. Not by 7% as now, but by at least 20%, and for that to happen, the American global military mission and posture would have to be downsized in significant ways. Recent polling around the Syrian crisis indicates that the public might indeed be ready to consider such changes. Whether Congress and the rest of Washington’s elite would be is obviously another matter.
Right now lawmakers are loath to cut funding if it means erasing military jobs in their districts, and the military-industrial complex has been particularly clever in the way it has spread its projects across every state and so many localities. Converting military contracts into green energy contracts would make redirecting wasteful military spending more politically feasible, and the federal government already operates an array of programs — including the Pentagon’s own Office of Economic Adjustment — that could be expanded to help businesses and communities make the transition.
Moving public dollars into this country’s renewable energy sector could begin to lay the groundwork for a vibrant economy in the second and third decades of this century, while creating good jobs in a growth sector, working toward energy security, and helping this country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Like the construction of our interstate highway system in the 1950s, it’s an investment that would pay dividends for decades to come.
Or we can skip all that and launch the next war.
(Mattea Kramer is Research Director at National Priorities Project and lead author of A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget. Miriam Pemberton is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and during the post-Cold War period, she worked for Seymour Melman at his National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament.
This article first appeared on TomDispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, co-founder of
the American Empire Project, author of The End of Victory Culture, as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, Haymarket Books).