Military spending does not pay off in jobs

In 1974 I began looking seriously at the U.S. military budget because McDonnell Douglas, headquartered in St. Louis, was a booming business. In the '70s and '80s, military spending accounted directly and indirectly for 16 percent of local jobs. Everybody had family or neighbors who worked at Mac, and ordinary people routinely made the argument that we needed to build the weapons because we needed the jobs.

Arms production is capital intensive. Even in the hay day of McDonnell Douglas, it took a hundred thousand dollars to create a job there, whereas government only needed two-fifths of that to hire a teacher and even less for a bus driver or clerical staff. Today, the trillion dollars that the Pentagon spends yields less than half as many jobs as in the old days. Meanwhile, our infrastructure crumbles and our schools deteriorate.

For a long time, I've thought our willingness to spend so much on weapons was a sign of some national mental illness. Really, our choices are bizarre. We continue to stockpile nuclear weapons and modernize nuclear manufacturing sites. We can't stop the F-35 fighter which is badly designed and will cost, in the end, one and a half trillion dollars. This past week the Senate voted to require women to register for the draft. At least if we reinstituted the draft, everyone would have skin in the game.

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And now we see that somewhere between a million and three million military assault rifles are in the hands of private citizens. We do have skin in the game, and it is killing us, literally as well as economically and psychologically.


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