Monday, November 09, 2009

A military solution to the Great Recession

Check out this editorial from The New York Times about the jobs situation our country is facing now. It does a good job of painting the economic landscape clearly and succinctly.

President Obama is looking for "bold, innovative action" to put the country back on track.

Here's what's currently on the table:
  • stimulus spending
  • tax incentives for businesses
  • targeted incentives for industries that represent high growth potential (such as energy)
  • healthcare reform
  • education reform (not currently being pushed as strongly as the others, but doubtless to come soon)
  • immigration reform (ditto)
All of these things are important ingredients. Critical, in fact.

But for whatever reason, politicians on both sides are ignoring the single most effective tool for big-time stimulus: the military.

It was military spending that got us out of the Great Depression, and which has kept America in a global leadership position ever since.

I'm not talking about going out and starting unnecessary wars or militarizing our society.

But think about it this way. An ambitious, strategic investment in the US military would result in a number of very positive outcomes.
  1. Resource issues for Iraq and Afghanistan could be mitigated. Our current, relatively small pool of soldiers is tapped out from multiple deployments to multiple warzones for the better part of a decade, with little end in sight- save for large-scale retreats from those theaters. To preserve our military primacy, to give President Obama the widest range of options to choose from when planning our foreign policy, and to prevent our military from going down the path of the Soviet military following the end of the Cold War, we need more of the world's greatest soldiers. And there are a lot of people who are looking for jobs now who would be able to serve.
  2. The military has historically been a leading R&D laboratory for our private industry. Key advances in science, medicine, and technology came about due to the military's massive R&D budgets during the cold war. That expenditure has tapered off dramatically over the past 20 years, and with it, much of America's competitive advantage in those areas has been eliminated. Fields like green energy, battery technology, and medicine could benefit dramatically from military research.
  3. Education. The military has traditionally provided young people with education and other career-oriented benefits in exchange for service.
  4. And so forth.
So I think the Administration should enact a bold new program that provides for the creation of a large number of new military jobs (not all of which would be soldiers- not by a long shot); a large amount of military stimulus funding tied to the achievement of specific innovation benchmarks; and a new mandate to continue to keep America safe by doing three things: 1) kicking ass harder than ever when necessary; 2) providing a world-best elite research program around energy, technology, and medicine; 3) finding more ways to leverage the military's assets (people and technology) to further America's soft power around the world through humanitarian programs and other initiatives aimed at preventing war.

Perhaps the best part of all of this: I'm hard pressed to imagine Republicans complaining too much about the government increasing military spending.

So, this approach would pump a ton of money through the economy. It would do so in a manner that addresses many if not most of our key security and strategic challenges. And if done correctly, it could be pulled off in a way where liberals get to expand the size of government to solve our problems, and conservatives get to expand the only part of government they feel is worth keeping strong.



At 1:36 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I think this overlooks the fact that wasteful military spending over the past decade is part of the reason that we are where we are now.

If we hadn't printed so much money to pay our soldiers, the dollar wouldn't be so weak in international markets (part of the reason that the banks are failing).

If we had spent those billions on things like education, our nation would be better equipped to take on the future.

Not to mention that taking the military route involves countless human casualties. The military route may be the easiest way out, but barbaric violence for the sake of economy is an unacceptable solution.

At 8:21 AM, OpenID davidnewhoff said...

You make some good points, but I believe you may be looking at contemporary America through an outdated lens. Military spending has, historically, had a stimulative economic effect, but not always to positive ends (see military spending stimulating German economy). Neither the nature of our economy nor the nature of our contemporary military lends itself to the kind of massive production-line labor that was required during WWII. Take one look at Iraq, which has cost, and continues to cost, a fortune, and it is clear that, in addition to being a massive strategic blunder, it was also a free-for-all for every opportunistic thief to help themselves to our tax dollars. All of that came under the heading Military Spending and did more damage than good in every category. I know you’re not talking about spending on private military “support” industries like Haliburton and Blackwater, but once the money starts flowing, it just seems to end up in the wrong pockets.

And corruption, I believe, is really the underlying problem with the U.S. economy. Over at least the last 40 years, our business culture has become fundamentally corrupt. You don’t get the mortgage-backed securities disaster or a Madoff-size ponzi scheme without a complete breakdown in the moral consciousness of an entire society. We’ve reached a point where we value and reward the building of wealth for the few, regardless of the consequences for the many. Even in the midst of this recession, Obama can’t get traction on the idea that, just maybe, some regulation of the financial industry might be in order. Why? Because too many Americans have come to think of the country as a big casino, and one day, they’ll get their chance to game the system and get their pile; and they don’t want any “socialist” policies standing in the way of “capitalism.” Capitalism is not, “do whatever you can to make a buck,” that’s hucksterism; capitalism is about building things, and the U.S. stopped building things a long time ago.

When President Carter identified a mandate to develop new energy technology as “the moral equivalent of war,” that was an opportunity to begin building a new infrastructure, which might well have paved the way for America’s post-industrial leadership into the 21st century. Instead, we had to wait until now for those ideas to stop being liberal, weak, candy-ass, tree-hugging nonsense; and now that we’ve overspent on Iraq and bailing out what are essentially corrupt financial institutions, we don’t really have the cash to spend on new energy technology and new infrastructure, which would have a lasting stimulative effect. The Chinese are even kicking our butts in renewable energy. They have the cash from the rent we’re paying them on the parts of our country they currently own.

Finally, the idea that the republicans would support Obama on bold military spending may be predicated on a view of different breed of republican than the kind we have today. Contemporary republican strategy, like our economic mindset, is based on winning at any cost -- making the opposition look bad by any means necessary (see death panels, et al), and the only thing that makes them hornier than a dem acting like a dem is a dem acting like one of them. Did the republican-backed congress stop Clinton’s war in Somalia because there was no strategic value or because they don’t like to see a democrat win a war? If Obama called for big military spending, you can bet the house that the opposition would find a way to spin it as a negative. Moreover, Secretary Gates has said that the path to success in our current security climate demands more spending on the State Department than on his own.

Whether it’s politicians, bank presidents, or Regular Joe, we’ve institutionalized the value of feeling entitled to wealth without really earning it; and no specific type of spending is going to change that culture. Historically, it takes a disaster to change the minds of a whole nation, and apparently the ones we’ve had haven’t been big enough.


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